Better eating through chemistry

Chemists develop solution to make kale palatable

 

Kale comes in many forms, from fresh steamed greens and salads to on-the-go shakes and chips. It’s a vegetable that’s been successfully labeled a “superfood” by clever marketers, and one that appears to be increasing in popularity throughout the country.

Unfortunately, Kale also tastes terrible – and that’s caused a major plateau in sales.

Recognizing this obvious barrier to the plant’s marketability, researchers at Ontario’s North Buxton University have developed a chemical designed to make Kale leaves both more palatable and more tender.

“Kale is a close cousin of collard greens, and that’s a vegetable most people find significantly more enjoyable,” Says Anna Fitzgerald, lead researcher and head of science communications at the University’s chemistry department. “We decided to breakdown what it is about collard greens that people actually liked, and develop an application that can improve the plant’s edible qualities before being harvested.”

“If you change what it’s exposed to, you can change things like sweetness, bitterness, and so on.”

Fitzgerald and her colleagues quickly recognized the general affinity for collard greens had largely to do with other ingredients commonly paired with them – bacon and sweet onions more specifically.

While this may seem counterproductive to their strategy of using a sister plant, however, Fitzgerald says it was actually a boon to their process.

“Once we realized – as some of us suspected – that it was additives during cooking that really made the difference, we were able to skip a number of steps and immediately develop an additive based on salt and sugar flavours,” she says. “We then started working directly with the school’s culinary department to perfect a flavorful growing additive derived from natural sources.”

The chemical developed combines concentrated forms of sugars already present in leafy greens like Kale, with proteins from an unexpected source – bark from red cedar trees, which is highly toxic if ingested. That might seem frightening, but Fitzgerald says it’s that very property that makes their yet-to-be-named additive effective.

The additive works by spraying a crop of kale with the researchers’ sweetening-chemical shortly before harvest. The sugars are quickly absorbed by the plant – creating a sweet burst of flavor – while the cedar proteins help break down cell walls, leading to a more easily cooked and chewable plant.

Fitzgerald and her team have only been able to perform two seasonal field trials so far, but they are hopeful their efforts will lead to a greater demand for an otherwise healthy vegetable.

“I think people will be very open to this type of application,” she says. “I can’t foresee anyone having any issues with this.”

 

 

DISCLAIMER **** This post is a joke. Happy April Fools day!

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