Eh, What’s Up, Doc?

Before coming to the U.S., I had never seen a baby carrot. “They are so cute!” – I thought. I didn’t know where they come from until last night my husband said: “You know, baby carrots are actually large carrots that are peeled and shaped, right?” Nope. Had no idea.

Growing up, my grandparents and I used to plant and pick all kinds of fruits and vegetables – potatoes, peas, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, raspberries, peas, pumpkins, cherries… You get the picture. So, when I began living in the States, imagine my awe as every apple in the store looked, in my eyes, the same. I kept saying: “They don’t look anything like that coming from the tree?!” This perfection-obsession is why baby carrots started. Here, you seem to be taught that if produce doesn’t look perfect and has blemishes, you shouldn’t buy it – even the FDA says so. In the 1970s, thousands of tons of carrots were discarded yearly due to shape, size and coloring. To maximize human carrot consumption, production practices changed starting with Mike Yurosek, a California farmer, who “made” the first baby carrots and they became a huge success. You can read a very well-written story about him here.

Today’s controversy surrounding baby carrots is their production. Before packaging the vegetable goes through a chlorine-and-water wash, which some deem unsafe. However, most ready-to-eat fruits and veggies apparently are cleaned in the same fashion to remove bacteria and preserve the products. While I don’t terribly like the idea of my fresh produce being washed in a chemical solution, it seems to be a common practice to prevent illness. Check out what the World Health Organization wrote in their review “Surface decontamination of fruits and vegetables eaten raw.”

Lessons learned: baby carrots are “natural”; if you don’t want to consume bacteria or chemical traces, wash all produce before eating it.

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The Chemistry of an Avocado

My husband and I are trying out a Fitness Magazine eating planner called 31 Days of Superfoods. All meals are nutritious, well proportioned and for the first time since we have been married we are eating avocados. Last night we were enjoying a lemony lentil soup and salad with some of the green fruit (yes, avocado is a fruit). If you have seen avocados and guacamole a while after being plated, you know that after a while they turn brown. Do you know why? My husband’s answer to my question was “air.” That’s correct. Eh, sort of.

Air in itself doesn’t cause the avocado to brown. Air or the oxygen molecules react with the catechol, contained in the fruit cells, and are catalyzed by an enzyme, also contained in the avocado, called polyphenol oxidase or PPO. The chemical reaction leads to the formation of long chains of o-benzoquinone which is why you see the streaks of brown melanin pigmentation on the avocado’s surface. The same PPO enzyme is contained in other fruits and vegetables such as apples, potatoes and bananas. For the nerds out there (I love chemistry!), here is what happens to the avocado:

Avocado Chem Reaction

Now, many don’t necessarily care why the fruit turns brown but how to prevent it. Here is a great About.com video that gives you some avocado-preserving options along with the results:

Heat Cycle Hazards

Star Wars. It’s always been my sci-fi movie series of choice. My husband is a Trekkie. Not the dress-up, know-every-detail-about-the-franchise type but enough to spur me to want to watch the movies. Oh, and Chris Pine is way cute in Star Trek (2009).

We began watching the movies from the beginning and just last night were enjoying Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. About halfway through the movie, Lieutenant Saavik, a Vulcan female character, noted that the  “It will be hardest on Spock. Soon he will feel the burning of his Vulcan blood.” If you’re not familiar with the series, please admit that this just sounds weird. Consequently, I looked up the blood-burning called “pon farr.” Apparently, every seven years, Vulcans go into a heat state, become violent and if they do not mate – they die. Wow. While doing my Star Trek research, I discovered that as crazy as this premise may be, it actually happens on Earth. Now. In ferrets.

When female ferrets, Jills,  go in heat, they stay in it until bred. Unless, the Jill breeds, its system will continue to produce estrogen causing anemia, because of bone marrow suppression, and eventually result in death.

Fortunately, if you own a female ferret and don’t have a vasectomised male one nearby, you can just have your Jill spayed. Another method is a hormonal injection called “Jill Jab” given every time your ferret is in heat those shots, however, are said to have side effects.