15 Comments

  1. The first is also used as a preservative! A Wikipedia paste follows….

    As a preservative
    Sulfur dioxide is sometimes used as a preservative for dried apricots, dried figs, and other dried fruits, owing to its antimicrobial properties, and is called E220 when used in this way in Europe. As a preservative, it maintains the colorful appearance of the fruit and prevents rotting. It is also added to sulfured molasses

  2. Also in wine…

    In winemaking
    Sulfur dioxide was first used in winemaking by the Romans, when they discovered that burning sulfur candles inside empty wine vessels keeps them fresh and free from vinegar smell.

    It is still an important compound in winemaking, and is measured in parts per million (ppm) in wine. It is present even in so-called unsulfurated wine at concentrations of up to 10 mg/L. It serves as an antibiotic and antioxidant, protecting wine from spoilage by bacteria and oxidation – a phenomenon that leads to the browning of the wine and a loss of cultivar specific flavors. Its antimicrobial action also helps minimize volatile acidity. Wines containing sulfur dioxide are typically labeled with “containing sulfites”.

  3. This comic is playing on a trendy (and rather expensive) fad called “molecular gastronomy“; typically found in selective restaurants with two or three stars: the kind of place I wouldn’t be able to pay for, even if I was willing to wait several months for a reservation. Recipes involve not just unusual ingredients (including refined chemicals), but also high-tech processing (such as freezing stuff with liquid nitrogen): not the kind of thing that one could duplicate at home.
    The comic is lampooning the concept by using the same kind of fancy nomenclature, but (as Mitch4 pointed out) the substances mentioned are pedestrian preservatives, found in a large number of everyday commercial products.

  4. P.S. The “E-numbers” that Mitch4 mentioned save the trouble of translating additive names into a dozen (or more) languages. Most of them stand for chemicals with complicated (or ominous) names, but many stand for common, well-known substances: E101 is vitamin B2, E170 is calcium carbonate (chalk).
    Last winter there was a minor scandal involving a top-level European football (soccer) player who ordered (and ate) a highly overpriced steak (€1200 = $1350), which had been treated with “E175”, meaning it was covered in gold leaf. (The scandal was not the price, but the unbelievably crude and insensitive comments he made when he was criticized for wasting so much money on the steak.)

  5. I recently had a fancy meal, and one of the items was fish eggs covered in gold leaf. I then spent the rest of the meal trying to calculate the value of the gold, but I had to look up the molecular weight of gold, and its size. I think I arrived at either 50¢ or 5¢. (I assumed they bought the gold pre-prepared in applique foil sheets, so that it would be close to minimum thickness of 1 atom, like the gold they applied to the Apollo helmets, and that they weren’t pounding it out in the kitchen.)
    The meal was part of an all-inclusive stay at a resort, so I don’t know the individual price of the menu item.

  6. @ larK – There is a fairly nice liquer called “Goldwasser” that is bottled with small flakes of gold leaf. There’s also another one called “Goldschlager”, but it is undrinkable. Neither one is that expensive, so the value of the gold in the bottle is probably very low.
    There was a piece in “Die Sendung mit der Maus” that showed the process of producing gold leaf. It’s not something that can be done manually, both the equipment and the process are very complex. When the sheets are very thin, they are stacked in a bundle (alternating with sheets of special paper), and then the whole stack is hammered even thinner, so that the resulting leaf is unbelievably thin. It cannot be handled manually at all, instead gilders have to blow it (with air) into position.
    In contrast to other spacecraft components that were wrapped in gold foil, I highly doubt that any of the NASA helmets were ever covered using gold leaf: it would be virtually impossible to achieve a consistent layer of optical quality. They were probably coated using electrostatic deposition.

  7. If any of you happen to find yourself wandering around Pontiac, Illinois, there’s a neat little storefront museum on the art of gilding, and shows how gold leaf was made and applied.

  8. One can prepare gold leaf as thin as 50 atoms thick by simply pounding it between smooth sheets of leather. There are statues in India that have literally millions of these layers, put on over centuries, long before modern technology.

    Also, liquid nitrogen is no more high-tech than distilled water.

  9. @ carlfink – While I agree with you in principle, I have plenty of containers in my kitchen in which I can store water, but none of them are suitable for liquid nitrogen. We have a Thermos that might work, but it is too tall and slender to be really safe. Lab dewars are usually shorter (more “stocky”), so they are not so easy to tip over.
    P.S. In a German cooking show, they once made raspberry sorbet (in a matter of minutes) using liquid nitrogen as the cooling agent. It was quite impressive, but as I said, not something I would want to try at home.

  10. “Also, liquid nitrogen is no more high-tech than distilled water.”

    I can figure out how to distill water with just equipment I already own. I don’t think I could create liquid nitrogen.

  11. My brother made ice cream with liquid nitrogen. It’s a great party trick, but you might not want to use your newest electric mixer. You can get “ice cream base” and then you just have to add the flavorings. You can try it at home, but probably outdoors and with a metal, not glass, mixer bowl.

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