Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Tricking your taste buds
How one fruit causes sour food to taste sweet
By Brian Nyakundi

Imagine the initial unpleasant and jarring sour taste that comes from biting into a lime. Now imagine biting into the same lime and instead tasting an explosion of pleasing sweetness. Believe it or not, there exists a way to make this possible. Mberry Miracle Fruit tablets can dissolve on your tongue, tricking your taste buds into making sour foods taste sweet. The tablet is made from a small bright red fruit known as miracle fruit or Synsepalum dulcificum, a fruit native to Ghana. The fruit itself is bland in taste and is not relatively sweet however, when eaten it has the ability to make bitter and sour foods taste sweet. With one tablet, you can bite into a granny smith apple like it was candy or drink a glass of lime juice as if it was Kool-Aid. This sounds like black magic or sorcery; how can it possibly happen? Well let’s see how it works.
Miracle fruit contains a protein called miraculin which acts as a sweetness stimuli. To understand how this protein works, we must first understand how our tongue works. The tongue is covered with numerous taste buds (Lingual Papillae). Each taste bud works as receptors to translate food chemicals into electrical signals telling our brain what we are tasting. The taste buds contain proteins which bind to food molecules to help us recognize the five taste sensations: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. When you suck on a miracle fruit tablet, miraculin attaches itself directly to the sweet receptors on your tongue. Under neutral pH (pH 7) miraculin represses the sweet receptors, preventing them from picking up sweet flavors in food like sugar. However, under acidic conditions from sour foods, miraculin does the opposite – it intensifies your sweet receptors making them extra sensitive. The pH drop caused by eating sour foods changes miraculin’s shape. In doing so, it also changes the shape of the sweet receptors miraculin is bound to, causing a sensation of excessive sweetness which overpowers the sour taste. Not only does miracle fruit have the power to turn sour foods sweet, but it also intensifies the sweet taste in sour foods. Fear not, though miracle fruit changes your taste buds, the effect usually lasts about one hour but can range from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
While most people use miracle fruit for recreational purposes, it has been used for centuries in Ghana to enhance the flavor of food. In the 1970s, Miralin, an American company tried to develop miraculin (the protein found in miracle fruit) as a low-calorie sweetener. However, before they could take their product to market the US Food and Drug Administration classified miraculin as a food additive subjecting it to further testing. Conspiracy theorists believe that this ruling was influenced by the sugar industry to prevent loss of revenue. Miracle fruit has great benefits for cancer patients being treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy usually suffer from a loss of appetite due to the metallic and bland taste food acquires after treatments. Miracle fruit can mask this overwhelming metallic taste allowing cancer patients to enjoy a simple meal. Miracle fruit has also been shown to help diabetes patients with insulin resistance. The fruit can improve insulin sensitivity in diabetes patients, naturally helping them reduce their sugar intake without having to giving up their favorite foods, drinks or dessert.
While miracle fruit may have some therapeutic reasons for its use, there is only one reason you need to taste it. Flipping your world of taste upside down! Get yourself some tablets, your family and friends, and let the journey down flavor tripping lane begin!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Pros and Cons of Ammonia versus Freon
By Maggie Chung

On July 17th 2017 my peers Dielle Fernandez, Beatriz Michael, Paul Olabode, and I participated in the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Career Pathways Program, where we got more insights into the produce industry.

Beatriz Michael, Dielle Fernandez, and Me at Frieda’s tour. Courtesy of Dr. Lilian Were

Frieda’s Inc. and Northgate Market let us tour their facilities. Each of these places had refrigerated areas to store their products and maintain their freshness until they were ready to be shipped. Frieda’s Inc. used FreonsTM (fluorocarbons) as their refrigerant while Northgate used ammonia. These gases were chosen according to their function, need, and preference of each company. When selecting the right refrigerant, a food company needs to consider several characteristics. They must have low boiling point, high latent heat of vaporization, dense vapor to reduce the pressure, size, cost of the compressor, low toxicity, not be flammable, barely miscible with oil, chemically stable, and low in cost. 

Source: Okumura J. 2016. Frieda’s Report Purple Produce is Trending. Available at:
Source: Northgate/LA Galaxy Ticket Offer. Available from:

Ammonia is the oldest and best known refrigerant. It is mostly used in industry settings rather than households, because it requires trained individuals to monitor it due to its toxicity and flammability. When used in small industries, the refrigerant is confined in a small space as a safety measure, in case there is a toxic leak of ammonia. Ammonia is widely used in the industry because it possesses many of the qualities necessary to be a good refrigerant such as its capability to transfer heat rapidly, and it is cost effective because of its energy efficiency. The thermodynamic properties of Ammonia allow efficient heat transfer in the refrigeration cycle that involves vapor compression. However, it is toxic, flammable, and incompatible with some alloys such as copper.

Source: Bradley D. 2012. Electric Ammonia. Available at:

FreonsTM is the trademark name for fluorocarbons manufactured by the Chemours company (previously known as Dupont). Popular types of FreonsTM are chlorofluorocarbons, CFC-11, CFC-12, and hydrofluorocarbons, and HCFC-22. Fluorocarbons are not toxic and not flammable, but they can damage the ozone layer. Another negative impact these types of refrigerants have on the environment is that fluorocarbons contribute to global warming, by trapping on earth sun rays that are meant to go back to space increasing the temperature on earth. According to Bhaktar and others (2013), because of damage to the ozone layer and effect fluorocarbons has on global warming, fluorocarbons are soon to be phased out.

Source: Reporter do frio. 2016. Novo Logotipo Facilita Identificacao dos Gases Freons. Available at:

As of 2017, it is difficult to find a refrigerant that has all the desired qualities. Ammonia being the oldest and the most used, is toxic and flammable but does not damage the ozone layer. On the other hand, fluorocarbons are not toxic and not flammable, but can damage the ozone layer contributing to global warming. Hence, companies like Northgate with big warehouses would benefit more by using Ammonia since it is more energy efficient. Frieda’s used to use ammonia as refrigerant, until there was a leak. We were told that since ammonia is attracted to water, it penetrated the produce in the storage turning the refrigerated products black. Ever since the accident, Frieda’s decided to switch to Freon.

During this even, we learned that there is no one specific gas that the produce industry prefers. Ammonia and Freons have their benefit and challenges, and it is up to the management to decide between the risks and benefits of each kind of refrigerant. Thanks to PMA we were able to learn and experience the rigorous hard work it takes to deliver fresh produce to the consumers. I wanted to thank PMA, Frieda’s, Northgate, Chapman’s faculty and mentors for the opportunity to learn about the produce industry, and connect with other students and professionals in the industry.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

How to Feed a Hungry Mind With the Institute of Food Technologists

How to Feed a Hungry Mind with the Institute of Food Technologists

            Since it was founded in 1939, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) has been an organization where food scientists could come together to share their research and findings and discuss new and innovative ideas to further the advances in the field of food science.  Every year, IFT holds a meeting where members from all over the world come to be updated on the latest trends, ideas, and groundbreaking research as well as expand their professional network.  This year, the IFT annual meeting (IFT17) was held in Las Vegas, NV at the Venetian Resort and Casino.  The meeting had a variety of activities that encourage membership engagement and the development of new ideas such as educational sessions, division mixers, leadership workshops, research posters, a variety of competitions, and an expo.

Of the activities offered at IFT17, many are specifically created for student members through the IFT student association (IFTSA).  The members of Chapman University’s food science program are highly active in IFTSA.  IFTSA always holds multiple student competitions at the annual IFT meeting such as the Disney Product Development Competition, IFTSA/MARS Product Development Competition, and last but not least, the College Bowl Competition.  College Bowl is a food science based trivia competition where schools from all across the nation form teams of four or more students and compete against each other.  The competition starts on a regional level with Chapman competing in the Pacific Southwest region.  We were extremely proud of Chapman’s team players Alexa Sarcona (team captain), Vyom Meta, Natalie Tom, Alyssa Hardy, and Costa Spyrou and their coach, Dr. Were, as they took home the gold in the regional competition.  This brought them to compete on the national level at IFT17.  After multiple rounds that kept us on the edge of our seat, our little university came home as 4th in the entire nation!  We couldn’t be more proud!

Chapman University’s College Bowl Team comes in 4th place in the nation.

But that was not our only accomplishment at IFT17.  We also had eight students present their research in either a poster presentation or an oral presentation.  Of those eight students, three (Natalie Tom, Tara Okuma, Shayna Bosko) were finalists in the student research competition.  Tara Okuma took 3rd place in the Toxicology Division Competition with a cash prize of $500 and Shayna Bosko took home 1st place in the Aquatic Foods Division Competition with a cash prize of $1,000!  Wow! 

Tara Okuma (left) takes 3rd place in the toxicology division student research competition and Shayna Bosko (right) takes 1st place in the aquatic foods division.

Our accomplishments at IFT17 did not stop at students.  We even had some of our very own professors take home some prestigious awards as well.  Dr. Rosalee Hellberg won the 2017 inaugural Emerging Leaders Network Award.  This award is given to candidates who demonstrate high potential for success in leadership roles and a strong commitment to their profession.  This is such an incredible achievement and there is no one more fitting for this award than Dr. Hellberg.  Dr. Lilian Were on the other hand was awarded the IFT Muscle Foods Division Outstanding Volunteer Award for service and exemplary leadership.

After all the hard work our students and professors put in this year to accomplish all that they did, we had to have a little fun too!  On the first night of the conference, Chapman’s food science program hosted a Chapman Food Science Alumni and Student Mixer.  This was a great opportunity for students, alumni, and professors to relax, reconnect, and even meet new people all while enjoying delicious food and drinks at the Tilted Kilt Pub and Eatery on the Las Vegas Strip.  Overall, we would say IFT17 was a great time with many accomplishments and learning experiences along the way.  We would especially like to thank Chapman University’s Schmid College of Science and Technology and the Southern California IFT section for providing travel grants to IFT for many of the Chapman food science students.  These organizations, by providing these grants, give students the opportunity to further their education and grow professionally.  If you are a student and want to attend IFT18 next year, these grants can be a great option for you as well!  IFT18 will take place in Chicago, IL from July 15th-18th, 2018 but until then, there are many ways to stay involved with IFT and IFTSA.  If you are wondering how to get involved or just want to learn more, check out the link below:  We can’t wait until IFT18 and hope to see you there!