Education Coordinator Beth Anderson and a total of 23 members from three local sections engaged the public in the chemistry of chillies and cheeses at Cheese & Chilli Festivals this month.
Visitors tasted mild, medium and hot sauces and found out why milk is better than cola or water to cool down the ‘heat’ after a chilli hit! Molecular models of capsaicin and a triglyceride (the fat found in dairy products) helped visitors understand the mechanism of blocking capsaicin from interacting with TRPV1 receptors, which signal a hot sensation to the brain.
Cheese tasting with a hint of chemistry helped visitors find out that the sweet notes discernible in gruyere are due to phenylethanoic acid, while methanethiol gives camembert a cabbage smell. Cheddar and gorgonzola cheese were also on the menu. Younger visitors enjoyed the challenge of separating ‘curds and whey’ proteins – which is the first stage in making cheese – modelled with different fluffy pompoms. Team work seemed to be the most effective strategy, resulting in a world record time of 4.13 seconds!
Beth was astonished by the collective experience of the volunteers – such as a chemist who had invented biodegradable contact lenses.
The festivals were held in Cheltenham on 4–5 August and Winchester on 18–19 August.
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