Manufacturing: the VitaCube

Our project is designed for poor regions: the cheaper our product, the more people it can reach. We didn’t want to build labs in India, buy media and grow our strains in expensive structures. Therefore, we had to think of a cheap solution to grow the strains in a homemade media, made of common ingredients, cheap and readily available.
We made a series of experiments to see which strain could be grown in home-made media, and we discovered that all our probiotics were growing simply in water that had been used to cook potatoes or rice. Nothing else was needed, there is enough nutrients in just this cooking water.
It means that once someone has the probiotics, they can grow them at home easily and with no cost at all.

We also thought about how to distribute those strains to the population in the first place. We could have just lyophilized the strains but our goal is to design something cheap and easy to do for the locals, using only ingredients they have access to and not time consuming.
We realised a powder wasn’t the best way to distribute our strains. We found better to make portions, easy to pack, with the possibility to pack several portions together. Portions must be easy to stock.
The most efficient and ergonomic shape appeared to be a cube. Moreover, the cube will mainly be added to Idli, made of rice, so rice flour seemed to be a logical ingredient, consonant with the dish, common in India and cheap.

Little by little, we succeeded to design an easy recipe, to cook small cubes made of rice flour and water: the VitaCubes. The idea was also to be flexible to every VitaCube maker means, therefore the recipe is not very strict and can be adapted to what the people have available.

Now that we have found a convenient distribution mean, we need to be sure that it keeps our strains alive and to know how long it can be stored.
We conducted several survival test on the VitaCubes, using S. cerevisiae and L. lactis. We observed that the yeast can be stored more than one week in a VitaCube. For the bacteria L. lactis, we found that after 4 days of drying, the survival rate started to be very very low. Nevertheless, there are still around 10^5 cells in a VitaCube after one week, which is far enough to make a culture from it.

Remember that time I told you about an amazing food science lecture series at UCLA? Well, Science & Food is back and better than ever. Not only will they be presenting three new public lectures this spring, but they’ve also been hard at work creating awesome new internet content. Oh, and yours truly will be helping out! It’ll be like Bite-Sized Biology on food science steroids.

But wait! There’s more…Science & Food UCLA is now on Tumblr!

So if you’ve been craving more food science in your life, check out the Science & Food website, visit the blog, and follow @scienceandfood on Twitter for all the latest updates. And if you’re an LA local, stay tuned for more information about the public lectures.

Smart Milk & Cockroach Milk

Engineers are working to create a “smart cap” made of 3-D-printed electrical and wireless materials that will be able to detect levels of bacteria in milk. These caps will be able to sense changes in bacterial levels via electrical signals, helping to determine whether or not milk has gone bad. What else may be involved in the future of milk? Cockroaches. A specific cockroach, Diploptera punctate, is the only species of cockroach known to give birth to live young and produce a type of “milk” containing protein crystals. This “milk” is a highly nutrient dense substance containing a time release protein. Researchers have sequenced the specific gene in hopes of replicating the crystal utilizing yeast, for use in protein supplements for those who struggle to get adequate nutrition. What we’re reading…

5 Things About Taste

At our 2014 public lecture How We Taste, Chef Wylie Dufresne, Dr. Dana Small, and Peter Meehan explored the tantalizingly complex concept of flavor. The evening was full of scientific discovery, childhood memories, and culinary innovation. In honor of this enlightening event, here are 5 things you might not know about our sense of taste…

The Science of Steamed Milk: Understanding Your Latte Art

Watch a barista at work and you will observe the art of preparing a perfect café au lait, cappuccino, macchiato, or mocha – all of which involve different quantities of steamed milk. Behind the artistic foam hearts and milk mustaches lies a science to steamed milk. Students of UCLA’s SPINLab (Simulated Planetary Interiors Lab) team developed an app that allows you to “calculate the power output of your steamer” and predict the “steaming time for optimal milk temperature based on amount, type and starting temperature of your milk”. Read more…

Photo credit: Dan Lacher (journeyscoffee/Flickr)

Coffee Brewing Methods

Gone are the days where all that was needed to make a cup of brewed coffee was an auto-drip machine and a paper filter. Coffee shops now have glass siphons lining the counter, looking as if they came straight from a chemistry lab. Baristas can be seen meticulously pouring water from a swan necked kettle into a ceramic funnel, which slowly drips coffee into a cup sitting on a scale. With the resulting brews varying in flavor, why stick to just one method? Read more…

Photo Credit: Janne Moren (JanneM/Flickr)

Shelf Life & Food Waste

The properties that make honey nearly eternal are also the same reasons that make it a medicinal remedy. As for foods that do go bad, the recent buzz over unboiling eggs has implications for reducing food waste, but not in the ways that you might think. As Dr. Greg Weiss puts it, “There’s no impact on your dinner.” What we’re reading…

The Science of Sous Vide

“Sous vide,” or “under vacuum,” refers to a style of cooking in which food is sealed in a plastic bag and submerged in a water bath that is held at a controlled temperature. This technique originated in ancient times when humans wrapped their food in salt, fat, animal leaves, and animal bladders before cooking. Sous vide in its fully realized form began in the 1960s as NASA scientists began to incorporate this concept into creating astronauts’ sealed-bag meals. Read more…

Photo credit: Modernist Cuisine

Stilton Cheese & The Human Microbiome

With all this talk of Human Cheese, we’re thinking—and reading!—a lot about the microorganisms in cheese and in our bodies. In this week’s round-up, researchers discover “secondary flora” that contribute to Stilton’s unique smell, and Michael Pollan investigates our symbiotic relationship with the microbes within us. What we’re reading…

Taste Tripping With Miracle Berries

Imagine eating a lemon and puckering to incredibly sour…no wait, incredibly sweet citrus syrup. Then you try some tart goat cheese, but to your surprise, it tastes like sugary frosting. An underripe pineapple? Better than candy. Salt and vinegar chips? Dessert!

This fantastical taste-changing sensation is the real-life effect of a West African fruit called Synsepalum dulcificum (Richardella Dulcifica), or the “miracle berry”, which physically alters taste receptors and causes sour foods to taste sweet.

How does this work?

The secret is a protein found in miracle berries called miraculin. Read more…

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Why Do We Bother to Eat Bitter?

Through exploration of the ancestral context of taste, scientists can better understand how modern humans use the sense of taste to make decisions and survive. Evolution has shaped our sense of taste to guide us to seek the food we need to survive, while steering clear of foods harmful to us. It is understandable that early humans who avoided spoiled meat and poisonous berries were able to pass down their genes, giving modern humans the ability to avoid them too. But what explains the countless humans who voluntarily consume, and even enjoy, some bitter foods? Why do we eat bitter greens? Brussels sprouts? Hoppy beers? Why do we tolerate some bitter flavors and not others? Read more…

Photo credit: Melissa McClellan/Flickr