The Sceptical Chymist | Blogroll: Hot and sweet

Published in Chemistry

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Editor’s note: As we continue to invite bloggers out there in the wild to compose our monthly Blogroll column, Kay Day penned the November 2014 column.


Bloggers dip their sticky fingers into the foodie chemistry of honey and hot spices.

Summer is the time of year for barbecues and picnics, and the chemistry of food has clearly been on the minds of many in the blogosphere over the last few months. Leidamarie Tirado-Lee has written a fascinating blog post for Helix Magazine at Northwestern University about the molecules that make food spicy. She admits to having almost developed an addiction for spicy food over recent years, despite being a late convert to the wonders of chilli peppers.

Tirado-Lee explains how capsaicinoids — the compounds in chilli peppers that cause the burning sensation — interact with the nerve cells on our tongue that normally respond to physical heat. These molecules effectively trick our brains into thinking we’ve been burned and, in response, our brains trigger the release of lots of lovely endorphins, which generate a natural ‘high’. As she says, “next time you need a little pick-me-up consider giving in to the power of the chilli pepper and discover why chilliphiles have come to love the burn!”

Going from the hot to the sweet, Andy Brunning at the Compound Interest blog has been pondering the chemistry of honey. He tells us that honey has such astonishing preservative properties that the oldest known sample was about 3,000 years old when it was discovered (in an Egyptian tomb) — and it was still edible! After explaining how those clever bees produce honey, Brunning highlights the relevant sugar chemistry, pointing out the differences between sucrose, fructose and glucose. He then goes on to tell us how honey’s low water content and carefully balanced acidity make it so good at inhibiting bacterial growth that it can even be used as a wound dressing.

Written by Kat Day, who blogs at


[As mentioned in this post, we’re posting the monthly blogroll column here on the Sceptical Chymist. This is the November 2014 article]

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