War, France, and Chicory – The Little Blue Flower Along the Road

Food, History
Perhaps you've seen along the roadside, some plants rising above their surroundings with pert little blue flowers that look like the cross of a dandelion with an aster. This is the common chicory, Latin name Cichorium intybus. They are considered weeds, and to be honest, the stalk that supports the flowers does little to improve their appearance. Yet, this unobtrusive plant is of positive interest historically. France! In France for instance, chicory, for the coffee drinker, was welcome. In his conflict with England, Napoleon wanted to wreak havoc on their economic system. He, with the cooperation of some other countries, enacted a blockade. There were ramifications that led to a shortage of coffee. [caption id="attachment_26921" align="alignright" width="400"] Amazingly large roots![/caption] It was already known that properly processed root of the…
Read More

Race, War, Indigo and Coffee in the 19th Century U.S.

History, People
Indigo is a dyestuff originally derived, at least partly, from Indigofera tinctoria, a small shrub in the bean family. The dye is produced from the leaves of the plant by fermentation. The organic compound indican, is converted into indigotin, or indigo by hydrolysis and oxidation. Today, there are synthetic commercial methods for indigo preparation. Post Civil War In 1862, before the end of the Civil War, the U.S. officially recognized the Republic of Liberia in West Africa. Before the war, some "free-born" members of the black race emigrated to Liberia. It was believed that nation might prove a land of opportunity. The country was poor, but there were possibilities. One of those possibilities involved the manufacture of indigo dyestuff. A distant relation of mine, John O'Neale Stockham of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania…
Read More

Fermentation Adds Pleasure to Our Diet

Chemistry, Food
[caption id="attachment_23185" align="alignright" width="480"] Sausages, mashed potatoes, and sauerkraut.[/caption] When most people think of fermentation, they think of fruits rich in sugar, or of potatoes or other starches. In most cases, they are thinking in terms of alcoholic beverages, Grog! But it is not limited alcoholic beverages. For instance, did you know sauerkraut, coffee and chocolate are made utilizing fermentation? Let's Define Fermentation When yeast converts sugar, it yields alcohol plus carbon dioxide gas. When yeast is used to bake bread, the alcohol and the gas cause the bread to rise. But alcohol in beverages, involves no cooking. The alcohol must be "disposed of" in a different way! Now yeast is a budding, single-cell fungus. So fungus can serve a useful purpose. And what about sauerkraut?1 The fermentation of sauerkraut…
Read More

How Coffee Aroma Relates to Skunk Stench

animals, Food
Curiously, the aroma chemicals in coffee closely resemble the stench-producing chemicals in the abominable skunk spray! They are similar, but they are not identical, and they do not occur in proportionate quantities. Skunk Stench The chemicals that primarily give skunk spray its stench are thiol derivatives—in particular, derivatives of the sulfur alcohol n-butyl mercaptan (CH3-CH2-CH2-CH2-SH). The portion of this compound responsible for its smell is the -SH group, a sulfur atom bonded to a hydrogen atom, which is similar to the -OH or alcohol group. Common derivatives modify the carbon chain. Another variation chemically modifies the -SH group, using acetic acid (CH3-COOH) to form the corresponding thioacetate. Two of the most odoriferous skunk spray mercaptans are (E)-2-buten-1-thiol and 3-methyl-butanethiol. Other than its prevalence (it makes up approximately 2/5 of skunk…
Read More