25 April 2014

The yeast-laden cure for drunkenness: A biochemist's perspective

A recent article on Esquire has begun making the rounds on the internet touting a cure to alcoholic inebriation, allowing the user to drink with less constraint at ever-more-popular beer festivals. In the article, Jim Koch, the founder of the Boston Beer Company and creator of Sam Adams, says the solution is simple: Eat yogurt with 1 tsp of baker's yeast for every drink you plan to have that evening. And it turns out this may make biochemical sense.

Yeasts are well known for their ability to ferment simple sugars into alcohol, but it turns out they can also reverse this process in the absence of sugar. Producing energy from ethanol involves enzymes that are related to the enzymes in our livers, which are responsible for detoxifying ethanol when we consume it. These enzymes are called alcohol dehydrogenase and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. Respectively, they convert the toxic ethanol into an even more toxic byproduct, acetaldehyde, which is in turn converted into acetic acid. Enzymes then use the acetic acid to create acetyl-CoA for use in other biochemical applications like protein acylation.

As mentioned, baker's yeast and other microbes, such as lactic acid bacteria, utilize similar, evolutionarily related enzymes in order to extract energy from ethanol. Both of these microbes are present in Jim Koch's cure, but I am curious as to which has the dominant effect if both were to be present in equal quantities. Many people may be suspicious whether these microbes could survive the harsh conditions of the stomach, with its low pH; however, many microbes are able to survive this environment (1, 2, 3). In fact, lactic acid bacteria have been isolated from human stomachs (4).

Other fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut could be tested for their ability to metabolize alcohol in the human gut, as the microbes used in these naturally-fermented foods are also capable of detoxifying ethanol (5). The consumption of vinegar concurrently with alcoholic beverages is another intriguing possibility, as the acetic acid bacteria in live vinegar are capable of converting ethanol to acetic acid, and this is in fact how vinegar is produced.

I originally thought that the sheer number of yeasts in Jim Koch's method may be the reason why it "works" (an assumption, given that I haven't actually tried it). 1 tsp of yeast contains approximately 2.8 g, and each gram has approximately 10^10, or 10 billion, cells. This translates to 28 billion cells in Jim Koch's "cure" (6). A good serving of kimchi or sauerkraut also provides a similar number of microbes, at 1 million to 1 billion lactic acid bacteria and yeast per mL (=~1/4tsp), depending on the length of fermentation (78). However, baker's yeast is known to have a highly active acetaldehyde dehydrogenase that is in fact purified for commercial uses (9)!

I suspect that this method may slightly reduce intoxication, especially if eaten with a lot of food that would slow the absorption of the alcohol. And although it would be nice to think there is a magical way to avoid a hangover, the microbes you consumed will likely be unable to help you out. Once the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, it will be largely unavailable to microbes in your GI tract, though in theory they could help detoxify the alcohol byproduct acetaldehyde and send you on your way to recovery.

What do you think? Would you try Jim Koch's yeast and yogurt cure?


UPDATE: Some enterprising reporters at NPR tried it! ... It didn't work (Obviously their sample size is very small, but...). Alternating alcoholic beverages with water worked better, which is a tactic even your grandma may recognize! I suspect that this particular "cure" failed for a couple reasons:

  1. Unless you are consuming only (diluted) distilled alcohol, there will always be additional sugars present for the yeast to consume, and as a result, the biochemical pathways that allow them to uptake and metabolize alcohol may not be activated.
  2. Ethanol is a small molecule and is absorbed quite readily through the lining of the stomach and the small intestines. This process may remove the ethanol before yeasts and other microbes have the opportunity to take it up to consume themselves. 

15 April 2014

Sourdough crust PIZZA

Because WHY NOT?!

From my absolute favorite online chef EVER, Kenji Lopez-Alt, I got some ideas for vegan pizzas. Being from WI, its very difficult to move away from cheese, but hey. Ok so the Crown Jewel was not technically vegan, but falls in line with the animal-foods-as-a-seasoning. Unfortunately this post does not include the epic Vegan Mapo Tofu Pizza.

Pizza Dough (enough for two small pizzas)
1 c sourdough starter
2.5 c all purpose flour
0.5 c water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated garlic
2 tsp sugar

Mix the starter, flour and water. Let rest for 20 minutes to let flour hydrate.
Add salt, garlic and sugar.
Knead for 10 good minutes.
Let sit until doubles, time depends on temperature (at low temp 60-65, can sit all day)
Separate into two chunks, hand stretch into desired shape.
Place on cookie sheet or peel covered in cornmeal or coarse grain, cover with saran wrap.
Let rest 60 min while preheating oven to 450 with cast iron pan or pizza stone (or heavy ceramic plate)
Once ready to dress pizza, take out preheated cooking vessel, place dough on it and dress pizza as quickly as possible.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden and beautiful.

The Crown Jewel
Yakisoba Pizza やきそばピッザ

Yakisoba (based off NYTimes recipe)
6 oz of some kind of wheat or egg pasta like udon or ramen or Chinese egg noodle (not soba, strangely enough)
1 small head of cabbage, cut medium-fine
1 bell pepper, cut into strips
2 carrots, grated Veggies
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp ketchup
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c worcestershire sauce (not vegetarian)
2 Tbsp mirin
2-3 scallions

Pizza sauce
2 Tbsp vegannaise or homemade vegan mayo

Cook pasta in boiling water to al dente, drain.
Heat oil in wok, cook vegetables sans cabbage and scallions. Cook 3 min, add cabbage and scallion whites until softish, 3 more min. Add sauces, cook for 2 min. Add noodles, mix. Cook until the sauce is adhering to the noodles. Add greens of scallions.

For pizza, once pizza is in place on the cooking vessel, top with vegannaise. Add yakisoba. Put in oven, bake until wonderful and golden, 15-20 min.

Brussel Sprouts and shallots

Cook some shallots (or onions) until golden, taking your time. Boil water and cook the brussels until al dente. Top pizza crust with olive oil, garlic and salt. Throw brussels and shallots on the crust once the crust is in place. Bake for 15-20 min until golden.

Scalloped and Mashed Potato Pizza with rosemary and onion
Based off of Kenji's recipe.
No real deviations here.

Sun-dried Tomatoes, Olives and Onion Pizza
Also based off of Kenji's recipe.
I left out the crushed tomatoes, going for just olive oil. I also used less panko. The onions were also not pre-cooked here.

Sourdough starter, bread dough and oil

I've been experimenting with sourdough a lot recently. By a lot, I mean, I've had a sourdough starter going for a few months now, and make bread every once in a while. I would say I've only had one supremely successful and amazing sourdoughs that have resulted from this lengthy experiment, but I have learned a lot about bread.

At this time, my poor sourdough starter is showing a major sign of neglect: a strong acetone, nail-polish smell. The smell dissipates after it has been fed, but always returns. Per advice on the internet, I have started an aggressive "restarting" procedure on my poor starter, which involves feeding it twice per day. This in turn results in a lot of starter "waste."

I will say that my starter does have yeast and makes bread, but the bread is not that sour, filled with lactic/acetic acid goodness. Instead, it is rather boring bread. Additionally, the crust is seriously lacking with my bread, but that could also have something to do with my baking techniques. Either way, I'm going to try to use the sourdough starter to the best of my ability while we undergo this restarting process. The first experiment is burger buns!

I had a strong desire for burgers recently, and as I am a practicing animal-products-only-as-a-seasoning-arian, I have managed to squash these desires by using veggie patties. Yes, maybe I should make my own, but I don't have time to make everything from scratch*! Besides, Seriouseats has a nice breakdown of the commercially available ones!

So, instead of buying burger buns from the store, I have embarked upon making burger buns! Except that I didn't use a recipe or even look at a recipe, but went off my own sense of what would make a good soft burger bun! I'd say that's pretty good and shows some sense of my understanding of ingredients. A thorough analysis of my made-up recipe is impossible, however, as I measured nothing.

HOWEVER, I had a sense that oil is very important for making a nice soft bun, with a soft crust. And I have subsequently located the scientific reasons behind this: oil prohibits the formation of long gluten structures (apparently this is the source of the word "shortening"), which decreases the size of the crumb and the strength of their bonds. I would assume this happens because the gluten protein aggregates don't adhere to each other as well in a high fat situation because the fat molecules insert themselves between the unfolded proteins.

Oil is also important for flavor in many situations, such as foccacia, but this also benefits from the softening effects of the oil. Speaking of foccacia, maybe I will make some for our Easter event this Saturday, as a tribute to my grandma!

*Maybe I do have time, but I am tired of doing dishes...

Vegan burger buns

*Take amounts of a grain of salt, which I actually forgot to add to this batch...
3/4 c sourdough starter
3 c all purpose flour
1/2 c vegetable oil (I used peanut)
3/4 c water (or however much it takes to hydrate the dough)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

The oil will lubricate the dough so it can be more moist, without being sticky.
Mix all ingredients together, let sit for 10-20 min to let the flour hydrate.
Knead until you are tired of kneading (5 min?).
Let sit all day while you are working (only feasible if your sourdough starter is not very active, or if your house is cooler. Alternatively, you can put the dough in the fridge.)
Separate into 3 inch balls, place on cookie sheet to rise sprinkled with cornmeal or other coarsely ground grain to prevent sticking.
Smush the balls.
For sesame seeded buns, brush with oil and pour on seeds.
Let rise for 30-60 min.
Bake at 375 for 18-23 min.