Blog Posts

Beer Mile, or What (Not?) to do This Thanksgiving

This last weekend, a friend of mine invited us to her friend’s “Beer Mile.” Four cans of beer, four laps, one mile—for one Why did I think that was a good idea? experience.

I opted to watch instead, and used it as an opportunity to play with iMovie. I’m impressed at how much easier video work has become in the last few years!

This year, instead of Thanksgiving cooking tips (cook the turkey breast separate from the turkey legs!), I present: Beer Mile.

Popcorn and the Ideal Gas Law, PV = nRT


Did you know popcorn pops at roughly nine times atmospheric pressure? The inside of a popcorn kernel is about ~13% water. When that water heats up—trapped inside the confined space of the kernel’s pericarp—the pressure goes up until the pericarp ruptures and the insides, now melted, spew out.

You’ve probably never thought about the physics of popcorn, or even what temperature popcorn pops at. Snag some oil, a digital thermometer, and a pan. Try popping some popcorn kernels at various temperatures. You’ll soon figure out that popcorn doesn’t really pop well until ~350°F / 177°C. (For photographs, see page 307 of the second edition of Cooking for Geeks—click for free PDF of that page.)

But how do we know popcorn kernels rupture at nine times atmospheric pressure? Because as temperature changes, the volume of a gas changes, and knowing popcorn kernels are roughly 13% water allows us to use the ideal gas law (click to see UC Davis’s ChemWiki entry), which is:

PV = nRT

What I didn’t include in the second edition of Cooking for Geeks was any discussion of the ideal gas laws—it didn’t seem culinarily useful, even if the geek in me loves these sorts of details. An old magazine, The Physics Teacher, has a lovely writeup on The Physics of Popping Popcorn from April 1991. Thankfully, things like the laws of thermodynamics haven’t change much in the last… oh, ever. If you’re teaching science, or want to really geek out, check out his writeup for details.

P.S. Our CSA share last week included 4 popcorns-on-the-cob—popcorn corn is a variety of corn that has a really tough pericarp. That’s what the photo up top is of!

How They Printed Books in the 1940s

If you’re a book lover and a geek, spend ~10 minutes to watch this lovely video from the 1940s about how books were made.

Here I am, ~70 years later, marveling at how things have changed. So that’s where the phrase “put to bed” comes from!

Partway through the video, I wonder what book they’re printing. There’s a single clip of a person checking the page numbers are in sequence: 1… 3… 5…

Page 1 of 1940s book

I pause the video, go to, and type in the two phrases that I can see: “of Fair Luna” “with inimitable”

One match. From 1947.

Banner by the wayside

This is amazing. Isaac Asimov futuristic amazing. How would he have described what I just did? Sitting at home, pulling up a video from a digital archive, glancing at a few words and searching the vast databanks of human knowledge for an answer? I imagine Asimov would have written the scene with me making a cup of coffee while I wait for the digital systems to search for an answer. My wait? Under a second. Something to keep in mind when I swear at the computer for not being able to upload an image to Twitter…

P.S. The book that was printed in that video? On Amazon…

Ingredient Labels—Watch Out for This One Trick!

I wrote this up a few years ago but let it languish in my “thoughts” pile—clicking the “publish” button at last. Following up on yesterday’s comments about the US FDA’s proposal to change the food label by adding “added sugars” with a percent daily value is this below gem. I’m not sure it’s going to make much of a difference, although it’s a step in the right direction.

Naked Juice makes a “green machine” drink with “10 green turbo-nutrients”. Take a look at this screen grab of “the boost inside” a bottle—notice anything?

Hint: the qualities of the ingredients are given in mg. Not grams, but milligrams. 100 mg of broccoli = 0.1 g of broccoli.

Here is what 100 mg of broccoli looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 11.22.21 AM

This can’t really be right, can it?

Emails to Naked Juice below.

Hi, I purchased a bottle of ”Green Machine” today and was wondering about the ingredients used in it. On the back side of the label, it says the quantities of fruits and ”boosts” inside, such as 100mg of broccoli. Is that 100mg of straight-up, good ol’ fashioned broccoli, or 100mg of some sort of extract or flavor? Thanks!

Thanks for your inquiry about broccoli in Green Machine. The broccoli boost is from broccoli and is not a natural flavor extracted from broccoli.

We appreciate your business, Jeff, and I hope this information is helpful.

Naked Juice Consumer Relations

Thanks for your reply! So to confirm, when the label says “50mg parsley”, that means there’s literally 50 mg of parsley in the bottle?

Thanks for your inquiry about the Green Machine label meaning that there are literally 50 mgs. of parsley in the bottle .

Yes, that’s correct! We follow all FDA labeling regulations and as you can see by the ingredients list, parsley and broccoli are actual ingredients in the Green Machine.


What am I missing?

Sugar Recommendations—And What We’re Missing About Them

Today’s New York Times has a Well Blog post on the FDA’s proposal to change how sugars are labeled in foods. There’s lots that can be said about this (primarily “Yay!”), but here are some quick thoughts about what I think people are missing about the sugar recommendations.

  • Are you aware that the current food labels in the United States that say stuff like “Total Fat   4.5g   3%” don’t list a percentage for sugar? Most of my friends, when I point this out, don’t believe it. (Inattentional blindness.) Go check it out—snag a container of something and look at the food label.
  • The U.S. FDA’s proposed labeling law would require food labels to list a “percent daily value” on a line of “Added Sugars”, similar to the other lines already there. That’s it. Small change; big fuss from industry.
  • Forcing food companies to list “added sugars” (i.e. doesn’t include sugars present from ingredients like fruit), in my opinion, will lead to food companies changing the ingredients in manufactured foods. My bet is we’ll see a decrease in added sugar and an increase in things like fruit puree, without any real change in health outcomes.

While there’s lots of evidence that bad diet and obesity go hand-in-hand, don’t jump up and down thinking that by avoiding junk food and “added sugar” foods that you’re healthier. It’s your overall diet that matters. Brian Wansink’s Food & Brand Lab at Cornell University has an interesting study out last month that claims junk food and fast food aren’t correlated with obesity (David Just and Brian Wansink (2015). Fast Food, Soft Drink, and Candy Intake is Unrelated to Body Mass Index for 95% of American Adults. Obesity Science & Practice, forthcoming). I ran it by one well-respected nutritionist and her reaction was to agree: “the overall diet is what counts.”

P.S. If you’re curious for more thoughts on sugar, see Marion Nestle’s blog post from today.

Does Baking Soda Make Omelets Fluffier?

I’ve found a few recommendations floating around the internet that suggest you could use baking soda to make fluffier omelets, to tenderize meat or even as an additive to beans to reduce “bean bloat”. Do you know if there might be any truth to these? If so, why would they work? I’d also love to know if you have any other ideas for unexpected ways someone could use baking soda in cooking.


Hi Jade —

Both baking soda and baking powder can be mysterious, but they’re actually pretty easy to understand once you view them with some science in mind.

First, baking soda: it’s a single compound — sodium bicarbonate — that reacts with other ingredients and produces carbon dioxide. When sodium bicarbonate gets added into your other ingredients, it dissolves into just sodium and bicarbonate. The sodium adds a salty taste (just like sodium chloride does), but it’s the bicarbonate that’s useful: it can react with other acid compounds (vinegar, lemon juice, buttermilk) to generate gas, or when heated up, will break down on its own and generate carbon dioxide.

Baking powder is like baking soda, but is made of more than one compound. It’s what I call a “self contained leaving system” — it’s got everything you need to lighten food. Baking powder is usually composed of baking soda and an acid such as cream of tartar or monocalcium phosphate. Add water, and poof! The ingredients dissolve and can react with each other. (In powder form, they don’t interact very quickly — but can, over time — so if your baking powder is a few years old, it won’t work very well.)

So now that we have the definitions out of the way, what can we do with them? Baking soda, as a single compound, can be used anywhere there the chemical reaction between the bicarbonate and another compound leads to a change. (Of course, if you add too much baking soda, it won’t completely react — there’ll be left over baking soda that then interacts with your taste buds and tastes nasty.)

You’d asked how baking soda would make an omelet fluffier. Eggs are surprisingly basic; I wouldn’t think of them as having acids that the baking soda can react with. Baking soda does decompose into carbon dioxide and water with heat, though — it looks like this begins around the boiling point of water — so it’s possible that that would be a mechanism. Honestly, though? If I wanted a light, fluffy omelet, I would separate the eggs white and the egg yolks, whisk the egg whites some, and then mix the yolks back in. “Fluffy” means air, and using baking soda is just one way of doing it (chemically). You can “add” air in mechanically, and avoid the potential change in flavor from the baking soda.

As for adding baking soda to beans: according to the US Dry Bean Council — this is a private industry group of folks who grow and sell beans — adding baking soda will make beans more tender (which you’d only want to do if your beans are coming out too tough). They don’t mention anything about baking soda and bloat; however their answer on “gas-causing properties of dry beans” looks reasonable, See:

You might skim and — I don’t know how much I’d trust these, since they’re recent ebook of low quality, but it’s an interesting place to see what’s commonly believed (true or not) that you might be able to then dig into. For example, baking soda in the fridge to absorb odors is not something that I believe works — and here’s a link to “Ask a Scientist” saying as much at the Department of Energy (who I would believe):

Hope this helps! I’m going to wander off to my kitchen to make two different omelets — one with baking soda — to see if there’s any truth to the idea.


Awesome Food: UCSC Seed Library

I’m pleased to announce this month’s Awesome Food micro-grant! If you’re into gardening and near Santa Cruz, you should definitely stop by Andrew’s monthly seed exchange. -Jeff
UCSC Seed Library Receives February Awesome Food Grant

Awesome Food is happy to announce that its fifth micro-grant of $1,000 has been awarded to Andrew Whitman of the UCSC Seed Library, which is a seed repository and lending service based at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Whitman is among nearly 800 applicants from around the world who have applied for grants from Awesome Food, a chapter of the Awesome Foundation, which awarded its first micro-grant in October 2011.

Continue reading Awesome Food: UCSC Seed Library

Dear Internet: I’m looking for a Food TV Co-Host…

Dear Internet,

Hi there, I’m Jeff Potter. And I’ve got this great idea for a TV show where we show viewers a new kind of cooking: one based on science. If you’re the type of cook who doesn’t like to follow a recipe, and if you’re curious about why we do things the way we do them, then my show American Food Geeks is going to rock your world.

But: I’m looking for a co-host. Maybe you know someone who’d be perfect? Head over to Jeff Potter’s American Food Geeks page to learn more.

Japanese Edition of Cooking for Geeks

Asahi Newspaper is the most prestigious newspaper in Japan; they reviewed the Japanese edition of my book: Cooking for Geeks [著]ジェフ・ポッター/味わいの認知科学 [編]日下部裕子・和田有史 The writer of this article is YAMAGATA Hiroo (山形浩生), who is a famous critic and translator. Photo by MIZUHARA Bun; translation by TAMAGAWA Ryuji from Osaka, Japan.

Cook Like Science Experiments

It is quite popular to see stories in cooking comic books (mangas) where a gifted and passionate super-cook super-hero fights against a scientific cook who uses theorem and computers. Of course, the hero always wins and says, “Cold science never touches people’s soul!”

Continue reading Japanese Edition of Cooking for Geeks

SNAP Gardens and Dinner Garden receive Awesome Food grant to promote food stamps for gardening

SNAP Gardens NYC Maker Faire by Glenn Wester
I’m delighted to announce this month’s Awesome Food grant has been awarded to a great project that helps get the word out about using food stamps to buy supplies for growing your own food. Here’s the press release! -Jeff

Awesome Food is delighted to announce its third microgrant of $1,000 has been awarded to SNAP Gardens and Dinner Garden to fund a collaboration to raise awareness that food stamps can be used gardening. The project is among the nearly 800 projects from around the world who have applied for grants from Awesome Food, a chapter of the Awesome Foundation which made its first micro-grant award in October.
Continue reading SNAP Gardens and Dinner Garden receive Awesome Food grant to promote food stamps for gardening

Looking for Single Cook for TV Show

My life continues to be full of unexpected surprises. A few days ago, I received an email asking if I was single and “would you be interested in being the star of a TV show where a bunch of beautiful women try to cook their way to your heart?”

It’s not a good fit for me (although it’d be fun to do!), but maybe someone out there reading this would be interested? Here are the details…
Continue reading Looking for Single Cook for TV Show

Wanted: Your Food Questions

Dear Internet: what questions do you have about food? Or food science? Ever wonder why certain foods cook the way they do? Or certain dishes call for the ingredients they do? Or maybe you have a recipe that you can’t get to turn our just the way you like. Please leave your questions in the comments below, or use the “contact me” option to email it.

And yes, I’ll give away a hint: this is for a project I’m working on. It’ll be fun! Can’t wait to see where this one goes… 😉

Continue reading Wanted: Your Food Questions

Awesome Food announces $1000 grant to CompostMobile

I’m delighted to announce that Awesome Food (of which I’m a trustee) has selected our first $1,000 micro-grant: CompostMobile. I had the great joy of calling Jennifer to tell her the good news, and let me just say that I could get used to calling people and telling them they’re awesome, doing awesome things, and that we’re giving them $1k to make the world a more awesome place.

(In case you missed my post about Awesome Food: Awesome Food helps the world realize awesome ideas that further food and culture by awarding a no-strings-attached $1,000 microgrant to people who want to pull off awesome ideas involving food. To learn more or to apply for a grant, visit

We had over 600 applicants, many of which were truly, well, awesome. (It’s a “rolling pool,” so we’ll still consider the other applications in future deliberations.) Perfect ice cubes? Random sandwiches? Gardens for schools? Lots of awesome ideas; enough to call someone every day instead of once a month!

Here’s the announcement we sent out—please help spread the word!

Continue reading Awesome Food announces $1000 grant to CompostMobile

Wanted: Your stories on Food Coloring

Food Coloring (Creative Commons attribution: Flickr user Matthew Bland)

Mmm… delicious, delicious ethyl [4-[ p -[ethyl ( m -sulfobenzyl) amino]-α-( o -sulfophenyl) benzylidene] – 2,5 -cyclohexadien – 1 – ylidene] ( m -sulfobenzyl) ammonium hydroxide …

I’m giving a talk in Melbourne, Australia next week on food dyes and am looking for good stories and experiences with food coloring and dyes.

What fun and interesting things have you done with food coloring? Red milk on Halloween? Green eggs and ham for St Patricks Day?

Do you have any great uses of natural food colorings? Think beet juice, blueberries, etc.

How do you feel about industrial uses of food coloring? Coloring candies? Cereal? Dying the outsides of oranges to be orange? Pumping up the coloring on sausage casings? How about feed farm-raised fish pigment so that they’re peach-colored (well, salmon colored) instead of grey? (Let’s say, hypothetically, that farm-raised fish could be done sustianably in a way that was zero-impact on the environment, but the fish came out grey. Would adding coloring agents at that point to make it acceptable be ok?)

Do you know anyone who’s had ADHD or behavioral problems that they believe are related to food coloring? Details? (The FDA has stated that there’s not proof that it’s the food coloring that causes behavioral problems… changing diet changes more than just the consumption of food dyes.)

Continue reading Wanted: Your stories on Food Coloring

Announcing “Awesome Food” – part of The Awesome Foundation

The Awesome Foundation now has a new chapter—Awesome Food—of which I’m a trustee. Details in the below press release!

July 20th, 2011

Awesome Food, a chapter of the worldwide Awesome Foundation, officially launched on Wednesday, July 20 and is now accepting grant applications from around the world to further food awesomeness in the universe. Visit to learn more and apply at The first round for application deadline is end-of-day, Friday, August 5th.

Each month, Awesome Food will give one applicant $1,000 to help pull off an awesome idea involving food. The ideas must relate to food in some form, and the definition will be more inclusive than exclusive. Examples could include educating the public about DIY-farming, creating an ad-hoc eatery in a subway car, or recording videos of immigrants’ recipes.

Anyone is eligible to apply: For profit, non-profit, individuals, companies, schools, adults, children. The $1,000 grants are not be loans or investments. They are not expected to be paid back. They are no-strings attached grants. The Awesome Foundation has a FAQ on how the grants work.

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How I Made a 500 Pound Donut for Food Network

Jeff Potter and Team Greenspan's Monster Donut on Monster Kitchen

Yes, that’s a monster donut being hoisted around by a crane…
There are some things in life one never expects to do, and one of them is making a giant donut for a TV show for Food Network. This is the story of how I ended up doing exactly that. (Television, as I’ve written before, is a very, very weird place.)

Last fall, while on book tour for my book Cooking for Geeks, I received a call from a casting agent who was looking for a “food science geek” for “a network that deals with food” (*cough* Food Network *cough*). They were creating a show about two chefs who get into crazy bets with each other and calling it Monster Kitchen. Upon accepting the challenge, each chef would head back to their respective kitchens and, with the help of a pastry chef and a food geek, attempt to pull off the challenge.

It’s a fun spin on a reality TV competition with the potential of getting a MythBusters / Food Detectives-like angle on what’s happening scientifically. The exciting bit for me is to get people to think scientifically in the kitchen. Not sure how to make a giant donut? Break it down: can you make a one foot donut? What works at that scale, and what fails?

Continue reading How I Made a 500 Pound Donut for Food Network

Cooking for Geeks Party

I’m sitting in a café in sunny LA with the goofiest of grins on my face, because of an email I just received:

I received your book as a present from my 12-year-old brother for Christmas last year and it was perfect for me! After reading the book, I decided to take your preface to heart and share it with others. Except instead of passing your book on, I hosted a party based on the book. We started out with the taste and smell experiments (had some trouble with counting our taste buds), Then I had everyone bring three ingredients and we all had to make a dish based on those random items using tips from your book. And dessert was made on an antigriddle. Overall we had a blast! I just wanted to thank you for writing this book and show you our party:
Continue reading Cooking for Geeks Party

What It’s Like Shooting For TV: 30-Second Chocolate Cake

I shot a segment showing me making this “30-Second Chocolate Cake” for The Cooking Channel‘s show Food(ography), with the “30 second” bit referring to how long it takes to cook, and possibly eat, but definitely not how long it took to do the shoot. I’ve had a number of requests for the recipe, which I’m including below, and figured I’d do a short little write-up about the shoot itself while I’m at it.

Shooting for TV is a lot of work. I’ve done live TV a couple of times (which has its own quirks), so shooting this segment was really insightful just in the contrasts from live TV alone. It was a 7 am call, actually started at 8 am, and shot until noon. That’s four hours of on-location time for four minutes of final tape.
Continue reading What It’s Like Shooting For TV: 30-Second Chocolate Cake

Know Anyone Looking for Food Science Interns?

Hello, Internet. I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted much of, well … anything. I’m sorry. It’s been a busy few months; I missed you too.

The book came out, and then ran out of stock, then came out again, then ran out again, then again and … well, someone said something about sixth print run recently. No, this does not mean I’m rich. I calculated my hourly salary the other day based on my royalties thus-far: $4.90 / hour.* If you’re not familiar with the book world, this is actually higher than most authors are lucky to ever see. (I didn’t do it for the money…)

What sales like this does mean is that I get a lot of emails from all over the world with random questions, comments, offers (multiple marriage proposals; don’t ask), and suggestions. I love hearing from readers (usually); I love learning who’s reading my book and understanding what they’re thinking.

For most questions, I answer them by turning my stack of trusty literature (and occasionally, But then there are questions like the one below where, frankly, I don’t have the connections to give any good answer.

Getting to the point: does anyone have any recommendations for students looking for food science internships?

*My mom pointed out that I failed to account for expenses. With expenses factored in—direct out-of-pocket costs, like printing review copies—I’m currently at -$0.78 / hour. That is, I’m still in the red… sigh.

Continue reading Know Anyone Looking for Food Science Interns?

An Interview with Adam Savage of Mythbusters

For my book, Cooking for Geeks, I interviewed food scientists, researchers, and chefs; but one of my favorite interviews was the one I did with Adam Savage, co-host of Discovery Channel’s MythBusters. And yes, Adam is just as much fun and as animated in real life as you’d suspect from watching the show.

Jeff: How do you go about testing a myth?

Adam: One of the earliest things we realized on the show is that you always have to have something to compare to. We would try to come up with an answer like: is this guy dead, is this car destroyed, is this an injury? And we would be trying to compare it to an absolute value, like X number of feet fallen equals dead. The problem is the world is very spongy and nonuniform, and trying to nail down a value like that can be really difficult. So we always end up doing relative tests. We end up doing a control under regular circumstances and then we test the myth under identical circumstances, and we compare the two things. In that comparison, we get to see our results.
Continue reading An Interview with Adam Savage of Mythbusters