Centrifuge Showdown: Your Favorite Bottled Products at 3,000 RPMs

centrifuged emulsions composite

Have you ever wondered what happens when you subject shelf-stable emulsions from your local grocery store to 3,000 times the force of Earth’s gravity using a centrifuge?  Yeah, me too! 

I chose three different types of emulsions: mayonnaise, salad dressing, and canned soup.  [I also tested spaghetti sauce, but one of the test vials exploded mid-‘fuge, so the results were inconclusive].  For each emulsion, I centrifuged two popular brands to note their differences in separation after an hour at 3,000 RPMs (equivalent to 3,000 Gs in my centrifuge).  It is important to note that an emulsion that separates under these conditions does not indicate a better or worse product, simply a stronger or weaker emulsion.  The goal of this experiment was not to determine which brand you should buy.  The goal of this experiment was to spin a bunch of shit at extremely high G-forces and see what happened. 

The results:

  1. Best Foods Real Mayonnaise – Mayonnaise, as it turns out, is a pretty strong emulsion.  This brand showed a slight separation visible at the bottom of the vial, but more or less held together.  If I spun it for longer, I wonder if I would have ended up with a layer of egg and a layer of oil…
  2. Miracle Whip – This was the strongest emulsion I tested, showing no signs of separation whatsoever.  I personally can’t stand the stuff, but for those of you who are fans of this mayo alternative, rest assured that it is highly acceleration-resistant.
  3. Kroger Zesty Italian Dressing – If you’ve ever made an oil and vinegar salad dressing at home, you know it’s naturally prone to separation.  This brand separated easily leaving perfectly clear oil at the top, vinegar in the middle and solids at the bottom.  +1 for “just like mom makes”, especially if your mom makes it from a bottle.
  4. Kraft Free Zesty Italian Dressing – I chose this product because, on the shelf, the emulsion looked extremely stable – all of the solids were held in suspension, which was likely for marketing reasons.  Although all of the solids separated out, the liquid phase didn’t clarify at all.  It seems the people at Kraft have found a way to make oil, water and vinegar extremely fond of one another.
  5. Kroger Chunky New England Style Clam Chowder – I expected that the chunky solids would wind up compressed at the bottom of the vial, but I was surprised to discover that the soupy part of the soup held intact.  I guess Chef Kroger (cough, cough) must have been very careful with his roux when he made this particular can of soup.
  6. Campbell’s Select Harvest 98% Fat Free New England Clam Chowder – As you can see, there was some significant separation in this sample.  My guess is the light-colored top layer of thin, watery liquid has something to do with the low fat claims on the label – diluting soup with water would certainly be an easier way to make it “healthier”. 

As I said earlier, this experiment was more about messing around than testing a hypothesis.  Speaking of messing around, what substances would you like me to try spinning?  The centrifuge is still my newest toy, and like all toys, I’m eager to fill it with unusual liquids. 

Calculating the Speed of Light With Kraft Singles and Your Microwave

calculating the speed of light with cheese in a microwave

If you’ve been playing along at home, you know that I’m a teeny-tiny bit obsessed with the soon-to-be-released, 2400-page Modernist Cuisine book.  Well, my excitement skyrocketed last week when I had the rare privilege to peek at a few hundred [digital] pages of the book, guided by author, CEO and hero of geeks everywhere, Dr. Nathan Myhrvold.  I was honored by the invitation, which I can only assume was prompted by a prank phone call from the Make A Wish Foundation on my behalf.

Among the seemingly endless pages of stunning photographs, captivating history and practical instruction, the book is sprinkled with fascinating tidbits like this one.  Did you know that you can measure the speed of light using your microwave and a few slices of Kraft Singles?

From the section “Cooking in Modern Ovens”:

You can measure the speed of light by melting cheese, chocolate or even marshmallows in your microwave.  Microwave cooking leaves patterns of melting on soft, smooth surfaces that correspond to roughly half the wavelength of a microwave.  These patterns are caused by the way the microwaves crisscross in the oven chamber and either combine their energies or cancel one another out.

Here’s how to replicate the experiment at home.

  1. Cover a flat plate, platter or cardboard disc with soft cheese slices.
  2. Place the plate in the microwave.  If your microwave has a turntable, disable it, or remove the turntable platter and place the plate on an inverted ramekin to bypass the turntable motor.
  3. Heat on low power until it has melted in several spots.
  4. Measure the distance, in millimeters, between the centers of any two melt spots.  Double that number to get the wavelength. 
  5. Multiply the wavelength by the frequency, in MHz, of your microwave (listed on the back).  For example, if your microwave is 2.45GHz (typical), you’d multiply by 2,450,000.  [We multiply by MHz instead of GHz to fudge in a factor of 1000, which is the conversion from millimeters to meters.]
  6. Compare your value to the generally accepted value of 299,792,458 meters per second

The value I calculated was 306,019,200, which is is only off from the actual value by 2%.  Not bad for fake cheese! 

Between now and the release of the book in March, I’ll be highlighting a few more geeky food tricks from the book.  In the meantime, you can find more information at http://modernistcuisine.com/.  If you’re ready to pull the trigger, the book is available for pre-order on Amazon.com.