Packaged Food Science

Why Canned Foods May Be More Nutritious Than The Fresh Stuff

When it comes to comparing fresh food versus canned food, one of the starkest differences between the two has to be shelf life, or how long a product can last. Most produce and meats won’t stay fresh more than a couple of days, even in the fridge or after being cooked. They’ll begin to lose flavors, change texture, and eventually spoil. Canned food, on the other hand, won’t change at all over the course of months, or in some cases, even years.

Of course, this leaves the question of how canned goods can keep for as long as they do without going bad. This has led to a number of misconceptions about the entire industry, including that they use a plethora of preservatives (not really) and are less healthy than their fresh counterparts (in some cases, canned food may actually be healthier).

Once you understand how canning works, though, it may open your eyes as to how the shelf-stable food is not only good to eat months after its made, but also why it may be, in some cases, a more nutritious option than consuming fresh food.

The History and Science of Canning

The process of canning was first invented in the early 1800s by French chef and candymaker Nicolas Appert. He developed canning as a way to preserve food using heat that won a prize from Napoleon Bonaparte, who was looking for a novel way to feed his troops. Appert first started by sealing foods in glass jars with wax. This was later shifted to tin cans, the basis of modern canning operations today.

Appert’s process was a form of sterilization, only instead of using chemicals (which is what many people recognize it as today), he was using heat to kill bacteria. This was similar to what Louis Pasteur did in 1864 when he invented the pasteurization process used in milk and juices, but Pasteur was looking to just kill pathogens, or disease-causing microbes. Other bacteria, including those that didn’t need oxygen (called anaerobes), could still grow and multiply over time.

Where Appert’s process differed was in that he used an airtight environment, as well as a greater amount of heat. This combination meant that bacteria and other spoilage microbes inside would be killed and unable to regrow. One of the biggest threats came from anaerobic bacteria that produce heat-resistant spores. The type of sterilization in canning uses enough heat to prevent these spores from ever having the chance to grow and multiply.

All of this happened without the need for preservatives that go into products like packaged cereals and other shelf-stable foods. While some canned products contain salt, sugar, or acidic products like vinegar, these are meant more for flavor, color, and texture than they are for the preservation properties they often have in foods.

Sterilization does also cook the food inside, meaning that textures will change as a result.

How Canning Changes Food

Today, canning has evolved to utilize more sturdy packaging and scientifically-controlled heat. Food processors use enough heat at an appropriate time needed to kill the requisite bacteria or spoilage organism in question. Scientists target specific microbes for each food based on its acidity, moisture content, the heat resistance of the target microbe, and other factors.

More than just keeping bacteria from spoiling food over months, though, canning has other benefits. One of the biggest is that food preserved by canning is often sterilized straight from being harvested. Over time, the nutritional and sensory qualities of food decrease over time when exposed to a normal environment. This means that technically, a peach that’s been on the shelf for a couple weeks has less available nutrients, flavor, and color than one picked fresh from the tree. Compounds naturally break down over time, so this is natural.

In canning, however, food is preserved much closer to the harvest point, and are subject conditions (including that airtight seal) that prevent degradation from occurring as fast. Thus, nutrients may be more available from a canned food compared to the fresh version in grocery stores. That’s not true for all nutrients, however. Some water-soluble nutrients like Vitamin C and some B vitamins, leach into water surrounding the food or are destroyed by heat while the food is sterilized. You’ll see a decline in these nutrients overall when cooking, regardless of process.

The next time you’re looking at purchasing canned food and judge it for being “lower quality,” as its often perceived, you might want to keep the above in mind. More often than not, canned food is just as nutritious as the fresh variety and can last a lot longer without the need for preservatives.

Information used in this article was obtained from: 

Fellows, P. J. (2009). Food Processing Technology: Principles and Practices, 3rd Edition. Cambridge: Woodhead.

Opinion Science

If Cilantro Tastes Like Soap To You, You Could Be Making BANK

The other day, Foodbeast Elie ran up on me with some food science questions to help build his TikTok clout. One of the things he asked me was about cilantro tasting like soap.

@yungfoodbeast#AskCosta: why does CILANTRO taste like SOAP 🧼?! || #foodbeast outhereflourishing _bookofelie♬ original sound – yungfoodbeast

A lot of y’all responded with questions about it, especially the part where I said you could be making bank off of it. So I decided to write out a more in-depth response than what 15-20 seconds of TikTok content can get you. That, and Elie hits me with these questions off-guard usually, and as a scientist, I want to make sure I’m getting you the best information possible, rather than what I cobble together in my brain in a half-second.

Hopefully, this answers most, if not all, of what you’re curious to know when it comes to cilantro, your palate, and how you could be making money off of it.

Cilantro itself can taste like soap to those who have the genes coded for it. How this works is simple: those who have the genes coded for it have receptors in our nose  (called olfactory receptors) that pick up the soapy aroma of cilantro when it’s released. These chemicals are released no matter what, it’s just a matter of whether we can detect them or not.

Those that can pick them up will get that soapy aroma, which also translates to a bitter taste when you bite into cilantro. If that’s the case for you, there’s a chance that you could be something called a “supertaster.

Supertasters are those who have specific taste receptors that pick up bitter compounds called phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) and propylthiouracil (PROP), compounds often found in vegetables like kale, broccoli, and brussel sprouts. It’s unclear yet if this compound is present in cilantro, but these taste receptors (or other ones on the tongue) could play into why cilantro has a bitter taste to some. The aroma receptor definitely is a key factor, however.

Those who have these receptors also generally have more tastebuds on their tongue than the average population; supertasters can comprise as much as 25% of the general population.

In a similar vein to supertasters, there are also “supersmellers” who have more, and a higher variety, of types of aroma/olfactory receptors in their noses. Folks who think cilantro tastes like soap often fall into this category as well.

When it comes to making money, supertasters’ and supersmellers’ palates are valued because of both the variety and frequency of their taste buds and olfactory receptors. It means that they are more likely to discern the slightest of differences between products, especially when it comes to more bitter foods like chocolate and coffee.

In the food industry, those with heightened taste and smell can actually get hired to sample product right as it’s coming off the production line. They’re mainly looking to find if there are any slight differences in taste between batches, and if one is detected, they can alert the food science team and let them know something is amiss. These taste testers are a key part of quality control, and often get paid pretty well as a result of that.

Of course, being a food taster for one of these companies is no walk in the park. It requires extensive training to ensure you recognize what the flavor of a product should taste like, calibrating your tongue like a machine tuned to exactly what the company desires their food and drink to be. This can take years of practice to get right, and requires regular checkups to ensure your idea of the taste hasn’t deviated.

For those who do get to this point, though, they get the potential of a career where their primary job is to taste chocolate, coffee, or something else for 8 hours a day and then go back home. Not a bad gig, if I do say so myself.

In terms of actual salary, the number will vary based on experience and training, as well as where you are located. According to job listing aggregate site SimplyHired, a job in the category of “coffee tasting” has an average of $80,000 per year. For wine, that number could fall into the range of about $71,000. There are even “master tasters” of ice cream that reportedly make six figure salaries, although these are usually folks who have been in their jobs for decades.

My field of study in school was sensory science, which involves not just training these tasters and monitoring their results, but also analyzing them and interpreting them to help make better and more consistent-tasting products. In that field, the average salary is about $76,000.

These pay figures obviously come with time and experience factored in, so while you can’t expect to be making that much starting out, you could be literally using your palate to get into a relatively well-paying gig.

So, if cilantro does taste like soap to you, you may have that combination of both supertaster and the olfactory receptors that could prove invaluable to companies that want to make sure their products’ tastes never change. You probably want to get tested on these yourself (there are test kits available for cheap on Amazon), and also undergo palate training.

If you have that and a connection to the food industry, chances are you could find yourself landing one of those tasting jobs.

Illustrations: Sam Brosnan

Health News Now Trending Science Technology

Startup Creates New ‘Healthy Sugar’ Out Of Human Breast Milk

healthy sugar

A major modern breakthrough in nutrition and food science has been identifying the health benefits of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). These “healthy sugars” are the second most abundant sugar in breast milk and crucial to proper infant growth and nutrition. However, they don’t feed the infant itself. Instead, they feed specific bacteria in the infant’s gut that lead to those health benefits.

These prebiotics (or bacteria-feeding sugars) can improve adult gut health as well. As such, companies have been trying to develop a process to produce these sugars that is economically feasible. Now, it seems that a California startup, Sugarlogix, has accomplished this feat and is ready to begin selling their product. As a former research assistant in this field, I am ecstatic about what Sugarlogix is doing.

According to Fast Company, Sugarlogix is producing at least one HMO via fermentation. This sugar, called 2′-fucosyllactose, can be fed to specific bacteria like Bifidobacterium longum infantis in infant and adult stomachs. Only this microbe can break it down, using it to grow enough to force out potentially infectious bacteria like pathogenic E. coli. By ingesting this healthy sugar, we could lower our risk of Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and other illnesses linked to improper gut health.

Sugarlogix plans to first release their product as a supplement before introducing it into yogurt, kombucha, and other probiotic-rich foods. The prebiotic can also be theoretically taken in conjunction with supplements of the necessary bacteria.

Unlike most sugars, these are not an energy source for humans. However, they are an incredible dietary and health supplement that I highly recommend taking once available. Gut health is extremely important to overall well-being, and this could be one of the best ways to improve it.


Science Says Frozen Steak is Better than Thawed Steak [WATCH]

Frozen Steak

Life should never come down to cooking a frozen steak, but sometimes you’re too impatient to wait for that meat slab to thaw. Luckily, America’s Test Kitchen has come up with a method for cooking rock solid meat that actually turns out to be freakin’ delicious.

ATK compared the cooking of thawed and frozen steaks by first searing the pieces for 90 seconds on each side, then finishing them off in the oven. Not surprisingly, the frozen versions took a few more minutes to get to medium rare, but they browned just as quickly as their warmer counterparts when seared. Even more interesting is the frozen steaks ended up having a thinner band of gray, overcooked meat below the surface and retained more moisture than the thawed meat.

The result? America’s Test Kitchen preferred the cooked-from-frozen steaks, hands down. Still, nothing beats fresh steak, thawed or not.

Check out how to freeze, avoid flare ups and cook frozen steak below:

H/T Quartz


Hypoallergenic Peanuts Are The Future


As a kid no one I knew had a peanut allergy, now it’s one of the leading food allergies among adults and children. You would think it’d be easy to avoid eating anything with peanuts, aka peanut butter, straight up peanuts, etc., but those pesky little legumes can hide in a variety of foods without you even knowing they’re there. While some kids will outgrow their peanut allergies other more severe cases have to live their lives in fear of the killer peanut, but there’s hope.

A hypoallergenic peanut sounds ridiculous, but it would an incredible solution to this potentially deadly allergy. Dr. Jianmei Yu of the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University has developed a way to treat roasted peanuts with enzymes that already exist in food processing, thus no genetic modification. The result? A peanut with undetectable levels of allergen Ara h 1 and a 98 percent reduction in allergen Ara h 2.

More importantly, how do the peanuts taste? According to Dr. Yu they taste just like ordinary roasted peanuts and has high hopes that these treated peanuts can be used for flours and other food products allowing for safer consumption by people with allergies. Allergy-free peanut butter maybe?

Yu also hopes these innovative peanuts can be utilized by doctors for exposure therapy, which has been known to alter DNA in patients who become allergy-free from the therapy. Isn’t science awesome?


H/T First We Feast + PicThx Alex Cequera


Studies Reveal That Not Drinking Enough Water Makes You Dumber


In today’s busy world, it can be tough to make sure you’re putting enough water into your system. Most of us probably wait to drink until we are thirsty, but according to studies, this is bad because the feeling of thirst doesn’t show up until you’ve lost 1 percent to 2 percent of the water volume in your body.

“By then dehydration is already setting in and starting to impact how our mind and body perform,” says Lawrence E. Armstrong, professor at the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory. “Dehydration affects all people, and staying properly hydrated is just as important for those who work all day at a computer as it is for marathon runners, who can lose up to 8% of their body weight as water when they compete.”

But that’s not all, according to research, not taking enough water can lead to memory impairment, decrease in mental calculation abilities and an increase in mood swings, irritability, and fatigue. Why? Because our brain cells need water in order to function.

“Brain cells require a delicate balance between water and various elements to operate,” says University of Texas neuroscientist Joshua Gowin. “When you lose too much water, that balance is disrupted. Your brain cells lose efficiency.”

With that being said, you could easily lose a lot of fluids while you’re working at your desk. While there isn’t a definite “right” amount of water you should drink every day, the consensus seems to be around 6 to 8 glasses, or 1 to 2 liters a day.

H/T Business Insider


This Substance Lets You Drink a Whole Keg Without Getting Drunk


Jim Koch is one of the big guys behind Sam Adams beer, and he’s letting us in on a little secret that could revolutionize drinking. Koch claims there’s a way to drink more and not get drunk — by eating yeast.

His master brewer friend Joseph Owades shared this genius tip with him — something we all could’ve used years ago. Apparently, ingesting one teaspoon of yeast (before drinking) for every beer will force alcohol to start breaking down in your stomach, reducing the effects of alcohol, as Esquire explains:

Active dry yeast has an enzyme in it called alcohol dehydrogenases (ADH). Roughly put, ADH is able to break alcohol molecules down into their constituent parts of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Which is the same thing that happens when your body metabolizes alcohol in its liver. Owades realized if you also have that enzyme in your stomach when the alcohol first hits it, the ADH will begin breaking it down before it gets into your bloodstream and, thus, your brain.

Eating yeast probably isn’t the most enjoyable experience, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. The beauty of science, folks.

If you’ve ever tried this and can attest to/disprove the magical powers of yeast, let us know in the comments below!

H/T Sploid + Picthx Wiki


These Sausages Are Made from Baby-Poop Bacteria


The sausages above were made from Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, probiotics  that were taken from 43 fecal samples of kids up to six months old by scientists at Catalonia’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Research in Spain. According to Anna Jofré, a food microbiologist from the study, “Probiotic fermented sausages will give an opportunity to consumers who don’t take dairy products the possibility to include probiotic foods to their diet.”

Apparently, these same bacteria help “fuet”, a thin fermented pork sausage from Catalonia (usually diaper content-free), develop its unique flavor. The cured pork meat is full of umami notes and is good for you thanks to the probiotics that support the health of your digestive system (the same bacteria found in yogurt).

By the end of their experiment, professional tasters confirmed that the baby poop-bred sausages tasted like regular fuet, despite the former being a healthier, low-fat version.

“We ate them, and they tasted very good,” Jofré told LiveScience.

Picthx LiveScience