The chemistry behind great food pairings

Red wine and steak, soda and burgers, pickles and pastrami sandwiches – these are combinations that just work. Now researchers provide a scientific explanation for why these unions are appealing to the tongue. Astringents like red wine and pickles balance out the grease of steaks and pastrami. “They cancel each other out, so to speak,” said Paul Breslin, a sensory biologist at Rutgers University and at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, and one of the authors of a study in the journal Current Biology.

Breslin has long been interested in how food attributes like fattiness, creaminess and astringency affect our mouths. “We want our mouth to be lubricated just right,” he said.

“Our saliva does it because of the proteins it produces.” Greasy food causes overlubrication and very dry wine or strong tea or eating acidic fruit causes the proteins to be precipitated out, creating an equally unpleasant dry sensation.Breslin and his colleagues asked testers to sample salami and then rinse their mouths with either tea or water. They were asked whether the rinses reduced the sensation of fattiness from the salami. Water did not work well, but the tea seemed to neutralise the feeling.

They also found that even weak astringents like tea can have a strong countering effect to greasy food when sipped over time.“This is like a fundamental, universal, global principle of gastronomy you see all over the world,” Breslin said. “If you ask a chef, they’d say they know about this already. What’s interesting now is we have an explanation of why this is happening.”

Just landed, from Mars to Morocco

A meteorite that landed in the Moroccan desert last summer was ejected from the surface of Mars 700,000 years ago, a new study reports. The meteorite is composed of an abundance of black glass, with noble gases trapped inside. “Based on the noble gas measurements, we could calculate the ejection age of the meteorite,” said Hasnaa Chennaoui Aoudjehane, an astronomer at the Hassan II University in Casablanca, Morocco, and the study’s first author. The study appears in the current issue of the journal Science. The meteorite, called Tissint after a nearby village, is only the fifth Martian meteorite people have witnessed falling to earth. There are about 60 known meteorites thought to be from Mars. But Tissint is unique because it fell into the desert and suffered little damage from earth’s environment. “We had no rain between the moment it fell and the moment it was collected,” Aoudjehane said.

“It was fresh, and it is very exciting to be able to analyse this.” By analysing the noble gases trapped in the glass, along with its oxygen isotopes and minerals, she and her colleagues were able to determine that the rock is Martian. The meteorite may have been knocked loose from Mars by an asteroid or some other large body that hit the planet, the researchers believe. The impact may have also caused some melting, creating the black glass and preserving a Mars “signature” inside the glass.Pieces of the meteorite are on display at several museums, including the Museum of Natural History of Vienna and the Natural History Museum in London.