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Yes, whale vomit — although some experts suspect that this smelly, grayish, waxy intestinal secretion actually comes from the other end of the whale. It’s actually been known throughout the ages as an aphrodisiac, a medication and a food flavoring. But ambergris, as it’s called, is most famous in modern times as a rare fragrance ingredient that has a sweet and earthy scent. It also helps a perfume’s scent last longer on its wearer.


There’s a problem with ambergris, though. Sperm whales are the only source of the prized substance, but they are an endangered species. And that makes it illegal in some countries (like the U.S.) to buy or sell it. But lucky beachcombers in the right countries who find ambergris washed up on the shore can fetch thousands of dollars per pound of the stuff.


Most perfume makers now use ambergris substitutes. One is made from sclareol, which they get from the Clary sage plant. There’s a bit of a problem with sclareol, too — only small amounts of it are in the plant. It’s laborious to extract and purify enough of it for perfumes. That’s why the scientists looked for a better way of making large amounts of sclareol.


In a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, scientists report a new, sustainable way to make sclareol. Their report describes isolating the genetic material (DNA) that produces the two Clary sage enzymes needed to make sclareol. They put the DNA into bacteria, which made large amounts of sclareol in bioreactors.


“Toward a Biosynthetic Route to Sclareol and Amber Odorants,” Journal of the American Chemical Society





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Believe it or not, in those simpler days long ago, there was a buzz of excitement when the cereal mavens first dropped a handful of plump raisins into a box of breakfast flakes. For decades, breakfast-eaters only had a choice of a bowl of milk-drenched oats or corn. Nothing fancy. Nothing too exciting.

Today, there are more milk choices (whole, reduced fat, nonfat, lactose-free, etc.) than there were kinds of cereal years ago. Fortunately, cereals have kept pace. In addition to the bonus of a variety of vitamins, manufacturers have been adding nuts, coconut, berries, bananas and –– to the joy of many –– even chunks of chocolate. One reason for the added ingredients is to enhance the taste. Another is to add more healthful fiber and antioxidants. And in the latest step in this evolutionary process scientists have created a new, explosive way to make some cereals even more healthful.

They are blowing up grains of rice to make a highly nutritious form of puffed rice. How nutritious? Try eight times more fiber and three times more protein and a bunch of other nutrients that make it just right not only for cereals but snack foods and those ubiquitous nutrition bars,
according to researchers.

Syed S.H. Rizvi and colleagues explain that commercial puffed rice is made by forcing rice flour mixed with water through a narrow opening at high temperature and pressure. After it leaves the the nozzle, the rice puffs up as steam expands and escapes. The problem, they say, is that the high heat can destroy some nutrients. To solve this problem and enrich the rice with protein and other nutrients they tried a new approach, using supercritical carbon dioxide, and it worked. Supercritical carbon dioxide (which is kind of like a gas and kind of like a liquid) also is used to make decaffeinated coffee and other products

The scientists reported in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that besides the added fiber the super-puffed rice is loaded with calcium, iron, zinc and other nutrients not found in traditional puffed rice. It’s also crisper and crunchier and has more flavor, according to the research team.


“Micronutrient and Protein-Fortified Whole Grain Puffed Rice Made by Supercritical Fluid Extrusion,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry



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Scientists report that someday soon, celiac patients might not need to go down the special “gluten-free” aisle of the grocery store anymore. They are making progress toward a pill that could allow celiac patients to eat pastries, breads, cereals and other foods that contain the protein called gluten. (Kind of like the lactase pills that lactose-intolerant people can take so they can eat dairy products.)


About 2 million – 3 million Americans have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which gluten causes inflammation in the digestive tract. Gluten is in wheat, rye and barley products. The only treatment right now is going on a gluten-free diet, which means staying away from cereals, soups, cookies and breads that contain the protein.


Fortunately, many companies are making products, such as specialty breads, muffins, cookies and cakes that are gluten-free. And some companies are reminding consumers that not all cereals and bakery products contain gluten anyway — rice-, corn- and potato-based foods are still OK to eat.


Gluten-free products have gotten notoriety lately because several celebrities, such as Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga, have dropped gluten from their diets in order to lose weight. However, giving up gluten won’t necessarily cause the pounds to melt away. In fact, some people say that they’ve gained weight on a gluten-free diet. That’s probably because many of these products have a lot more sugar or fat than their gluten-containing counterparts to make up for the missing protein and to make it taste better.


In a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a team of scientists describe their discovery of a naturally occurring enzyme that seemed like it would be able to break down gluten into such small pieces so that it wouldn’t cause problems for those with celiac disease. They changed some parts of the enzyme in the laboratory so that it would actually meet all the necessary criteria to allow patients to eat regular bakery items.


The new enzyme (called KumaMax) broke down more than 95 percent of a gluten peptide implicated in celiac disease in acidic conditions like those in the stomach. “These combined properties make the engineered [enzyme] a promising candidate as an oral therapeutic for celiac disease,” say the researchers.


“Computational Design of an α-Gliadin Peptidase,” Journal of the American Chemical Society





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