Separating myth from science in the ‘Chemistry of Cuisine’

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

They paid $10 a person and came with comments and concerns for a ‘Chemistry of Cuisine’ workshop at William Paterson University.

The first topic was what is organic food? It’s food produced, processed and packaged without chemicals. Is it more nutritious than conventional food? The USDA says no, and that was seconded by an organic chemistry professor.

“Even though they’re grown in a different way, it doesn’t mean they’re more nutritious,” said Yalan Xing, assistant professor of organic chemistry at William Paterson University.

That sparked a debate about corn.

“At 60, I became allergic to corn products.  I’m thinking that maybe it was because they have changed over the years,” said one audience member.

Bhanu Chauhan, chair of William Paterson’s chemistry department, blamed a giant in the agricultural business for a process to make corn unsuitable to eat.

“In the U.S., about 99 percent of the corn is contaminated. Please do not eat corn at all. This is my advice,” said Chauhan.

“I’ll beg to differ with you. Remember, all corn is genetically modified because, from the biochemical point of view, is kind of meaningless because all of our food is genetically modified. It’s a matter of how you do it,” said William Paterson University chemistry professor David Snyder.

Xing urged consumers to stop paying extra for some organic produce.

“Those fruits [shucked or peeled fruits and vegetables, bananas, avocados, sweet corn, sweet peas] you can skip because they are shielded from the pesticides or herbicides,” said Xing.

But what if they too are grown with something inorganic, something potentially cancer-causing to humans?

“I’m just saying, you can skip. If you financially, you know, if you have to make choices, bananas, others can be skipped,” said Xing.

Another professor warned chemicals in diet sodas actually make consumers crave more to eat and they contain one chemical the body doesn’t recognize.

“Chlorine is something you want to keep away from your body. If it starts to accumulate, it can lead to serious liver problems,” said assistant chemistry professor Parminder Kaur.

The chemistry department chair saved the best for last, citing numerous benefits of dark chocolate.

“It gives you bliss. You get happy as soon as you eat it. It has a variety of antioxidants, which are very good polyphenols that clean your body,” said Chauhan. “There are very many myths about the food. Such as people say don’t eat chocolate, that kind of stuff. Scientifically, here, this kind of event that we organized, is to really tell the truth about what the science says and what the myth is.”

The chair says this event shows there’s no myth in wanting to know about the chemistry of cuisine.