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Sunflower seeds. Sesame seeds. Caraway seeds. Rye seeds. Pumpkin seeds. Surely, there must be an edible seed for everyone’s taste. Un-hulled sunflower seeds are a baseball player’s delight. Rye, caraway and sesame seeds dress up a variety of breads, including bagels. And roasted pumpkin seeds are a Halloween treat for many.

And now we can add another one to the list that will, no doubt, surprise you: canary seeds. Yes, canary seeds for human beings.

With 3 million celiac disease patients in the United States suffering from gastrointestinal and other symptoms from eating grains, including rye, barley and wheat, researchers went on a quest to find new gluten-free options. They discovered that special canary seeds could be added to the existing gluten-free diet of rice, teff, corn, buckwheat sorghum and quinoa.

Writing in the ACS journal Agricultural & Food Chemistry, Joyce Irene Boye and colleagues explain that the new variety of canary seed, minus the tiny hairs of the seed, works as a gluten-free cereal for people. Previously, the hairs –– included when used as food for birds –– had made canary seed inedible for humans.

The team said that the new canary seeds can be used to make flour that can be used in cookies, cakes breads and other products, as well as for cereal. And this new product, which has more protein than most other grain, also is loaded with other nutrients.

If you allergic to gluten, would you try this new canary seed “grain” or bake breads with a canary-seed flour? Would you “Tweet” about this?

“Analysis of Glabrous Canary Seeds by ELISA, Mass Spectrometry and Western Blotting for the Absence of Cross-reactivity with Major Plant Food Allergens”

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Credit: Credit: Steve Hurst, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

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Before I rammed my knee into the sharp edge of my desk a few weeks ago, I hadn’t had a scab in years — decades, even. Scabs are unsightly, but they are really important in protecting an open wound against infection, and they stop the wound from bleeding. They also recruit new cells that help it heal quickly.


Ordinary bandages that you can buy at the grocery store are just barriers, keeping out dirt and microbes, while also stopping the blood from getting on your clothes. Sure, they sometimes have antibiotics on the white cotton pad, but they don’t really make the wound heal faster or attract new cells from the body to do so.


Now, researchers have built a better material for wound dressing that does just that. Shutao Wang and colleagues used human scabs as inspiration to make this material.


I bet this new dressing doesn’t have superheroes on it, as some bandages on the market do, but it does have a rather interesting texture. Their “cytophilic” wound dressing mimics the underside of scabs, where tiny fibers are arranged in the same direction like velvet or a cat’s fur. To make it, the team spun fibers of polyurethane — the common durable and flexible plastic — into the same pattern.


In laboratory experiments, the human cells involved in healing quickly attached to the material and lined up like those in actual scabs. The scientists conclude that this membrane “is of great potential in fabricating dressing materials for rapid wound healing, as well as other biomaterials, such as membrane for capturing circulating tumor cells, bone growth and constructing neural networks.”


Will we soon see this dressing on supermarket shelves? Do we need a new type of bandage? What do you think of this new material?

“Scab-Inspired Cytophilic Membrane of Anisotropic Nanofibers for Rapid Wound Healing”



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Check the dictionary for the definition of versatile. You won’t find “cotton” there, and that’s a shame.

Here are just some of the products that come from this worthy plant: textile and yarn goods, automobile tire cord, plastic reinforcing, fertilizer, fuel and packing, pressed paper and cardboard. As if that weren’t enough, there’s cottonseed oil for salads and cooking, margarine and other shortenings and even cosmetics. And don’t forget
soap, candles, detergents, artificial leather, oilcloth and many other commodities.

So with this knowledge, it should come as no great surprise that there may well be yet another use for cotton, one on a rather grand scale. In the wake of such disasters as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, scientists have discovered that unprocessed, raw cotton may be an excellent, environmentally friendly product to absorb large quantities of oil.

Reporting in the ACS journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research,
Seshadri Ramkumar and colleagues say that their research was motivated by a need to find materials to soak up oil from spills that are relatively cheap, biodegradable and sustainable. While there had been in-depth research on wool, barley straw and kapok, little has been published about the absorbing levels of raw cotton, they said.

So what did they find? Each pound of cotton absorbed and retained up to 30 pounds of crude oil, a significant amount for cleanup activities. And not only did it sop up the crude, but the oil also stuck to the outside of the cotton. In addition to having great absorbing power, the raw cotton is environmentally friendly, another advantage when compared to synthetic materials that soak up spills, the team said.

With concerns over oil spills and their effect on the environment, do you think such a finding will be on a fast track to the marketplace?

“Crude Oil Sorption by Raw Cotton”


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For many types of surgery or for a bad cut on the skin, stitches are just fine. They bring the tissues together and speed up the healing process. But for some types of surgeries, you really need something better—something that will form a leak-proof, tight seal.


This is especially important for intestinal surgeries. The intestines are where your food goes after the stomach. The small intestine is about 20 feet long, and most of your digestion happens here. It also absorbs lots of nutrients. The left-over stuff that isn’t digested goes from the small intestine to the large intestine, a.k.a. the “colon” or “bowel.” A little more digestion and nutrientt absorption happens here, but mostly, wastes are packaged for later evacuation, if you will.


It’s not a pretty picture, but these body parts are necessary for extracting every last bit of goodness from our food.


It’s also not pretty, though, if there’s a tear and the stuff in the intestines leaks out. In fact, it can be very harmful. Leaks can cause extremely painful and life-threatening abdominal infections. Surgery is necessary to repair the damage, but regular stitches just don’t cut it.


That’s why surgeons perform “laser tissue welding” (LTW) in these types of cases. LTW is a surgical method for connecting and sealing blood vessels, cartilage in joints, the liver, the urinary tract and other tissues. It involves the use of laser light to heat tissue, causing changes that enable the sides of incisions to seal. LTW has advantages over sutures or staples, such as a shorter operation time and reduced scarring. However, it forms weak seals that can be a special problem in intestinal surgery.


In a recent issue of ACS Nano, researchers report that they’ve developed a new material that acts like a “solder” for LTW. It’s kind of like the metal-based solder that people use to seal together metal pieces.


This particular solder is called a plasmonic nanocomposite. It has tiny gold nanorods in it that are so small that that 100,000 could fit in the period at the end of this sentence. The gold nanorods are wrapped inside a material that makes it more elastic so it can move with the


They found that when the material was used as a light-activated solder for laser-welding cuts in pig intestines, it formed a strong, “liquid-tight” but elastic seal, preventing bacteria from leaking out. “Taken together, these plasmonic nanocomposites are exciting materials for laser-based tissue repair,” say the researchers. The researchers plan to investigate these materials in animals with intestinal injury.


“Laser Welding of Ruptured Intestinal Tissue Using Plasmonic Polypeptide Nanocomposite Solders”



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Ah, nothing like heading out to the beach in the summer. The warm sun on your skin, the hot sand between your toes, the waves crashing around you.


Unfortunately, the water isn’t always as pristine as it seems at first glance. Sewage overflow from nearby treatment plants can contaminate oceans and lakes. And some swimmers aren’t as clean or as courteous regarding their bodily functions as you’d like them to be. <Ahem.> But humans aren’t the only ones at fault. We also share beaches with wildlife, waterfowl and pets whose wastes can dirty our waters.


It’s a serious issue. Fecal material harbors bacteria, such as the dangerous E. coli bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, and even death in immune-compromised, elderly or very young people. That’s why state and local officials test the water at public beaches. They want to make sure that no one gets sick after going for a swim.


The problem is that current tests take too long. They involve taking water samples and putting them on culture dishes to see if bacteria grow. That can take a day or two. So, today’s result is really an indication of the water quality yesterday or even a couple of days ago. Thus, managers might close a beach based on fecal contamination that existed in the past, but that poses no current threat. Likewise, they might keep a contaminated beach open because the water was clean in the past.


Now, researchers report in Environmental Science & Technology that they’ve compared various methods and found that one particular water-quality test could be ideal. Developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the test’s fast results could help managers across the country make better decisions about their beaches. It could prevent unnecessary beach closures and unnecessary illnesses by providing accurate, same-day results of bacteria levels.


What do you think? Have you ever gotten sick after swimming in a lake or ocean? How would you build a water-quality test?


“Choices in Recreational Water Quality Monitoring: New Opportunities and Health Risk Trade-Offs”



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This can’t be true, but it does seem like bananas and avocadoes start ripening the moment you put them into your shopping bag. Within just a few days, these fruits and vegetables turn an overripe brown. It takes a keen eye to pick out these foods at the store so that they will be ready when you want to add them to that bowl of cereal or guacamole.

But picking out fruit or veggies is child’s play when it comes to choosing which flowers will last through the week. Besides consulting a horticulturist, there appears to be no way to know how long it will take that vase full of red roses to fade to black.

The invisible culprit is a gas that causes fruits and vegetables to ripen and flowers to wilt too quickly.  A new technology, however, could save billions of dollars for the food and florist industries and please anyone who is fighting the ongoing ripening battle at home or in restaurant kitchens.

Scientists explain that fruits, vegetables and flowers are still alive after picking, and they produce and release ethylene gas, which helps ripening and blooming. The problem is that when the gas escapes into enclosed storage and shipping containers, it builds up and speeds up ripening. To address this issue, Nicolas Keller, Marie-Noëlle Ducamp, Didier Robert and Valérie Keller compared all ethylene control/removal techniques described in more than 300 studies.

Reporting in the American Chemical Society’s Chemical Reviews, they say that
photocatalysis offers the best opportunity to dissipate ethylene and slow ripening and blooming on Earth and during space missions. With the method, a catalyst and light act together to remove ethylene by transforming it into carbon dioxide and water.

Based on their extensive review, the team predicts that this approach could replace present ethylene removal technologies for storing and transporting fresh fruits and vegetables. The technology offers health and economic benefits worldwide by improving food quality and availability, they say.

Does this sound like an approach industry might embrace? How often do you have to throw out overripe fruit or veggies?

“Ethylene Removal and Fresh Product Storage: A Challenge at the Frontiers of Chemistry. Toward an Approach by Photocatalytic Oxidation”

*Journalists can request a PDF of the journal article by emailing


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The typical human brain weighs less than 3 pounds, is pinkish-beige in color and has the consistency of gelatin. It’s a crinkly thing, with lots of folds on its surface. Not that impressive. It’s actually kind of yucky-looking, come to think of it, and it’s very fragile. Yet, this is the human command center — where all of the thoughts, emotions and memories take shape.


What’s going on in there? Well, we now know that there are about 80 billion nerve cells, or neurons, sending signals to each other in the brain, forming 100 trillion different connections. Pretty complex stuff.


But to dig deeper, scientists need new tools. That’s where the new BRAIN initiative comes in to play.


President Obama announced the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN, for short) in early April. Sometimes compared to the Human Genome Project in its scope and potential impact on medicine, BRAIN would enlist teams of scientists to develop the technology for an unprecedented new understanding of how the brain works. It could establish the basis for new treatments for clinical depression, autism, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and other brain conditions.


In a recent article in ACS Nano, three journal editors, A. Paul Alivisatos, Anne M. Andrews and Paul S. Weiss, combine with Sotiris Masmanidis, Axel Scherer, Rafael Yuste, and several prominent nanoscientists and neuroscientists to explain how advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology over the last decade are poised to develop the tools required for greater understanding of the brain at this important scale.


Since the parts of the brain work at the nanoscale, such tools are ideally suited for probing the pieces, but must ultimately be put together to better understand thought, perception, consciousness, and health and disease. “We hope that [BRAIN] will bring the last decade’s national and international investments in science, technology, and people in nanoscience and nanotechnology to bear on important and challenging problems in brain science,” the scientists and engineers say.


What do you think? Is BRAIN’s goal achievable? Can we really know how the brain works? Or do we just need the right tools? What are some challenges facing BRAIN researchers? How can they overcome them?



“Nanotools for Neuroscience and Brain Activity Mapping,” ACS Nano




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You never know what you’re going to find when you go digging. In 1974, a group of farmers digging a well stunned the world with their discovery of the now-famous Terracotta Warriors and Horses in China.


They unearthed over 8,000 soldiers and their associated chariots and horses, all made of terracotta, a type of earthenware. They also found other figures, such as terracotta musicians and acrobats.


All of these life-sized figures were made around 200 B.C. and buried underground with the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, to protect him after death.


Under all that dirt, these masterpieces were safe and protected. But now that they are exposed for all to see, they also are exposed to pollution and other environmental factors that are deteriorating them. You can’t easily move 8,000 life-sized figures to a safe locale, so researchers have studied how to preserve them where they were found.


ZhaoLin Gu and colleagues say in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology that this problem isn’t unique to the Terracotta Warriors. This is also a concern in other museums that display large artifacts in huge open spaces. To give you an idea of the type of space we’re talking about, the Qin museum covers an area of more than 17,500 square yards, almost three football fields.


The study recommends new measures to better preserve such artifacts. One, for instance, involves the use of an “air curtain” that would blow across the space to separate the figurines in the Qin Museum from the outside environment. The air curtains would keep pollutants and heat away from the inside of the pits in which the figures stand. A layer of cool air would also be used in the bottom of the pits to help form a blanket of stagnant air around the relics for protection from the environment. 


What do you think? Will this protect the figures? What other measures would you recommend?



“Primitive Environment Control for Preservation of Pit Relics in Archeology Museums of China,” Environmental Science & Technology



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Credit: American Chemical Society 


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Plants are amazing chemical factories. They take sunlight and use it and carbon dioxide to make energy for themselves. They also make oxygen, which we breathe. But they also make substances that can help heal us. Traditional Chinese medicine, for instance, makes use of herbs that are thought to have healing properties. And some drug companies use plant substances to make medicines — the breast cancer drug tamoxifen comes from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree.


Now comes word that plants could be even more useful. Researchers are reporting an advance in re-engineering photosynthesis to transform plants into solar-driven “bio-factories.” The result? The plants end up making ingredients, not only for medicines, but also for fabrics, fuels and other products, when exposed to sunlight.


Poul Erik Jensen and colleagues point out that photosynthesis does more than generate oxygen and energy. It also produces a wealth of natural chemical compounds, many of which have potential uses in medicines and other commercial products. However, evolution has cordoned off those functions into separate areas of the plant’s cells. Chloroplasts, the packets of chlorophyll that make plants green, generate the energy, sugar and oxygen. Another structure, the “endoplasmic reticulum,” produces a wide range of natural chemicals.


Their report describes how they moved an entire metabolic pathway needed to make natural bioactive chemicals to the chloroplast. “This opens the avenue for light-driven synthesis of a vast array of other natural chemicals in the chloroplast,” they say. In a nutshell, they could make cool compounds by just shining light on some cells.


What do you think? Could this have a real impact on how we make many chemicals? Do you think this could be scaled-up easily? What are some challenges that this research could face?



“Redirecting Photosynthetic Reducing Power toward Bioactive Natural Product Synthesis,” ACS Synthetic Biology



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Here are some unpalatable statistics: A total of 1.8 million Americans have celiac disease and nearly as many –– 1.4 million –– don’t know they have it. And ponder this: Nearly five times as many people have celiac disease today than in the 1950s, with the rate doubling every 15 years since 1974.

Adding to the problem is that the average person never even heard of this disease for decades after it was first discovered. Only in recent years has awareness risen and gluten-free diets and food become popular. Another major problem is that this autoimmune disease presents with symptoms common to other maladies –– bloating, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, fatigue, anemia and joint pain.


Despite this gloomy picture, there now is some good news for celiac patients looking for another suitable grain to use in baking bread and cakes and cookies. Sorghum, a gluten-free grain popular in Africa, Central America and South Asia is a safe food ingredient for people with celiac disease, according to scientists. They say that to date the grain mainly has been used in animal feed in the United States. Recently, however, U.S. farmers have begun producing sorghum hybrids that are a white grain, known as “food-grade” sorghum.


Reporting in the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Paola Pontieri and colleagues explain that the unpleasant symptoms, caused by body’s immune system attacking the digestive system, are set off by exposure to gluten, a protein composite found in such grains as wheat, rye and barley.  The only treatment is avoiding breads and other foods that contain gluten. Sorghum, they note, is a welcome, alternative grain for people with celiac disease.


They say that a recent analysis of the sorghum plant clearly showed that there was no evidence of any genes related to the troublesome gluten protein. And in addition to this positive finding, they noted that sorghum is a highly nutritional grain.


What do you think? Would you eat a sorghum pastry?  A sorghum cereal?

“Sorghum, a Healthy and Gluten-Free Food for Celiac Patients As Demonstrated by Genome, Biochemical, and Immunochemical Analyses,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry


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Jute, that scratchy, stiff vegetable fiber used to make burlap sacks and twine, could have a brand-new use in the near future. According to a study in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, it could serve as a sustainable strengthener for concrete and mortar.


Surprisingly, jute is the second most-widely used fiber after cotton. It’s part wood and part textile. India, China and Bangladesh grow the most jute. In fact, it’s even been dubbed the “Golden Fiber of Bangladesh.” And it is easy to grow — it just needs lots of water.


Concrete can crack over time, so researchers have been developing fibers to reinforce the cement compositions used to make concrete and mortar, which are some of the most popular building materials. And a stronger concrete won’t crack as much. A lot of people are now interested in using economical, sustainable natural fibers instead of those made from steel or synthetics.


In previous research, Subhasish Majumder and colleagues showed that jute works as a reinforcement fiber.


Their new study discovered another advantage of jute — it also delays the hardening of concrete and mortar, which must be trucked to construction sites.


“The prolonged setting of these fiber-reinforced cement composites would be beneficial for applications where the pre-mixed cement aggregates are required to be transported from a distant place to construction site,” the report states.


“Effect of Jute as Fiber Reinforcement Controlling the Hydration Characteristics of Cement Matrix,” Industrial & Engineering Chemistry




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Olive oil, that cooking liquid so popular today with chefs at home and in restaurants, hasn’t always been a culinary staple. There was a time when one of the few places you would find it was as a partner with red vinegar in salad dressing. And then, sometime in the latter part of the last century, olive oil began to come into its own.

A variety of restaurants, beginning with those featuring Italian cuisine, began serving this golden oil as a substitute for butter. Today, many restaurants serve olive oil flavored with herbs and spices, as well as the popular parmesan cheese. Pleasant flavor is not the only plus for olive oil. Scientists have reported that monounsaturated oils like olive, contrasted with high-fat, saturated shortenings like lard, for example, can actually improve your health. They say monounsaturated oils
may help lower your risk of heart disease by lowering your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) levels.

scientists also may be close to solving the mystery of exactly why consuming extra virgin olive oil helps reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). They say that the answer may be that one part of the olive oil helps push the abnormal AD proteins out of the brain. Noting that while 30 million people suffer from the disease around the world, a smaller percentage of people in Mediterranean countries have AD. The reason: scientists have thought that it was due to the large quantities of olive oil in the diet in that part of the world.

Amal Kaddoumi and his team note that recent studies, however, indicate that a substance called oleocanthal in the oil may protect nerve cells from the kind of damage associated with Alzheimer’s. The team has been looking for evidence that, in fact, oleocanthal does help decrease the accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain.  Researchers believe that beta-amyloid is a key player in AD.

Reporting in ACS Chemical Neuroscience, the team described how they followed the effects of oleocanthal in the brains and cultured brain cells of lab mice. In both parts of the study, the substance clearly ramped up production of two proteins and key enzymes believed to be crucial in cleansing the brain of beta-amyloid.


“Olive-Oil-Derived Oleocanthal Enhances β-Amyloid Clearance as a Potential Neuroprotective Mechanism against Alzheimer’s Disease: In Vitro and in Vivo Studies,” ACS Chemical Neuroscience





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Aside from some molds growing on “stinky” cheeses, molds are generally not good for human consumption. For example, we all know to stay away from bread with tell-tale green spots or white cottony threads on the slices. And we need to take special measures when black spots of mold appear on damp walls.


Mold can produce poisons called mycotoxins. These toxins can wind up in food either directly because a fungus grew on an ear of corn that a person eats, for example, or indirectly because a cow ate that infected ear of corn, and a person ate a steak from that cow. Mycotoxins also can cause problems if they are released into the air. Farmers can develop “farmers’ lung,” which shows up as flu-like symptoms, from such exposure.


Governments already put limits on the amounts of mold toxins in grain crops. But researchers now say in the ACS journal Chemical Research in Toxicology that these regulations should be expanded to include so-called “masked mycotoxins.” These versions change from harmless to potentially harmful forms once they are in the body.


In the report, Chiara Dall’Asta and colleagues explain some health experts regard mycotoxins as the most serious chronic dietary risk factor, greater than the potential health threats from pesticides and insecticides.


Plants protect themselves by binding or “conjugating” glucose, sulfur or other substances to a mycotoxin, producing conjugated mycotoxins that are not harmful to them. These are called “masked mycotoxins” because they are masked or hidden by that bound substance.


Dall’Asta explains that these masked mycotoxins are not included in current safety regulations because no one was really sure what happened when people and animals ate them.


The new study focused on two of the most widespread mycotoxin contaminants of grain crops — deoxynivalenol (DON) and zearalenone (ZEN). The authors say their results show, for the first time, that bacteria present in the large intestine in people deconjugate or “unmask” DON and ZEN, releasing the original toxic forms. “For this reason, masked mycotoxins should be considered when evaluating population exposure," the study concludes.


“Masked Mycotoxins Are Efficiently Hydrolyzed by Human Colonic Microbiota Releasing Their Aglycones,” Chemical Research in Toxicology



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We’ve all heard how coffee is good for you. Recent studies have linked drinking coffee with a lower risk for developing many conditions, including type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. It also has more healthful antioxidants than vegetables or fruit combined.


But surprisingly, a lot of antioxidants remain in the gunk in the filter when you brew that cup of joe, say researchers.

Of course, people around the world drink millions of cups of coffee every day. That generates an estimated 20 million tons of used grounds annually. Some spent coffee grounds are actually used commercially as farm fertilizer or in homes as plant food or insect repellant. But most used grounds end up in the trash.

Maria-Paz de Peña's team knew that coffee contained lots of antioxidants, and they wondered how much of those healthful compounds remained in used grounds. Specifically, which coffee-making method would leave the most antioxidants in the grounds?

In their report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, they found that filter, plunger and espresso-type coffeemakers left more antioxidants in coffee grounds, while mocha coffeemakers left the least. Because filter and espresso coffeemakers are more common in homes and commercial kitchens, the authors report that most grounds are likely to be good sources of antioxidants and other useful substances. They note that after these compounds are extracted, the grounds can still be used for fertilizer.

“Evaluation of Spent Coffee Obtained from the Most Common Coffeemakers as a Source of Hydrophilic Bioactive Compounds,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry



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It’s pretty easy to fit the millions of people who drink wine into categories. They love red and hate white, or vice versa, or they like both kinds of wine. Taking it to another level, when it comes to the art of pairing wine with food, the group of wine-drinkers shrinks dramatically. There are, however, some who know that a nice red Barolo works well with a mushroom risotto and that you can actually drink wine with chocolate peanut butter pie (a sweet dessert wine, Banyuls).

While some even enjoy wines that have a hint if smoke, too much of a good thing can be disastrous for the palate, and this is where a research team has come to the rescue.


They have created a way to identify grapes that have been exposed to smoke from the increasing number of wildfires around the globe which could be due to climate change. The smoke from these fires can travel long distances, and smokey grapes can produce bad-tasting wine. Grapes affected by too much smoke have unappealing aromas and taste like smoked meat or even a dirty ashtray, according to researchers.


Reporting in the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Yoji Hayasaka and colleagues said they developed a test to find the substances in grapes formed after the fruit comes into contact with smoke from large fires. With the test, they can find out if the grapes have been smoke-tainted before they are crushed and made into wine. This spares wine-drinkers the unpleasant experience of drinking a very unpalatable beverage.


“Assessing the Impact of Smoke Exposure in Grapes: Development and Validation of a HPLC-MS/MS Method for the Quantitative Analysis of Smoke-Derived Phenolic Glycosides in Grapes and Wine,” Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry




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