Do You Know Your Bev-O-Metrics?

By Sodergren, Rebecca | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), January 3, 2014 | Go to article overview

Do You Know Your Bev-O-Metrics?


Sodergren, Rebecca, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Do you have a preference for particular types of coffee? Or wine? Subha R. Das, assistant professor of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, will explain what's behind those flavors in a Slow Food Pittsburgh presentation at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, at Harvard & Highland above Union Pig & Chicken in East Liberty.

The energetic Mr. Das will lead a discussion about the basics of taste and taste perceptions, focusing on coffee, soda and wine.

In fact, it was over an afternoon cup of coffee that Mr. Das and Roberto Gil, director of Carnegie Mellon's Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) facility, began to mull the idea of analyzing beverages to create flavor profiles using NMR, a technique that allows scientists to determine a substance's molecular chemistry, structure and dynamics.

Other scientists have already developed techniques for pinpointing various additives or substances in beverages, so that's not what these two are trying to do. Instead, they're trying to create "fingerprints" for different beverages, so that each type of beverage has its own unique NMR fingerprint that distinguishes it from every other type of beverage. Thus, you could identify a beverage based solely on its NMR line graph, which (for the non- scientists among us) looks a bit like an electrocardiogram printout. Peaks on the graph represent sugars, fats and other compounds in the beverage.

They're calling it Bev-O-Metrics.

So far, the professors have found that they seem to be able to detect one type of coffee over another. They also have students working on wines, and they've developed a database of flavor profiles for a number of different wines.

From a consumer's point of view, here are some of the questions the professors expect to be able to answer:

* If you like a certain type of wine, which other types might you also like, based on similarities in their flavor profiles?

* How does a particular coffee's flavor profile change if you change the method of roasting the beans? How does it change when you make the coffee a couple different ways in your home kitchen?

* Why does decaf coffee taste weak?

* How much caffeine is in different types of beverages?

* What's the best time to harvest grapes used in winemaking?

Mr. Das believes there's a certain appeal to creating an NMR profile of beverages because while the scientific profile never changes, people's tastes actually can change -- a beverage might not taste the same to a person from one day or year to the next.

He moved from Chicago to Pittsburgh seven years ago and gradually is making inroads into the food scene here. He combines chemistry and food in more than one way; he also teaches the popular "Kitchen Chemistry Sessions," a five-week CMU mini-course that was previously featured in Food & Flavor. …

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