As unlikely as it may sound, the chemistry is an important part of Christmas, and the chemical industry is a vital supplier of so many of the products needed to feel festive.
Food and drink, for example, is a key part of the celebrations, yet almost every item on the Christmas table relies on chemical products and processes - not just to make them tasty, but sometimes just to make them edible.
Chemicals for Christmas Food
“We instinctively regard processing and chemical preservatives as negative and to be avoided, but many Christmas food staples are great examples of traditional approaches to both processing and preservation,” explains Alan Kelly, professor of food and nutritional science at University College Cork. “Some very powerful chemical preservatives include salt, alcohol, spices, and sugar, all of which feature heavily in Christmas foods, and have been used for centuries because of their ability to inhibit nasty bacteria from growing, long before any science of chemical preservation was understood.”
The reason that so many people have a fear of chemicals, particularly in food, is because of a lack of knowledge. As Kelly noted in an interview with the Irish Times, “If you look at the list of chemicals identified in turkey or its odour when cooking and put them in an ingredients list, they sound scary, but this is because they are complex chemical structures.”
Food Additives Help Christmas
Far from damaging food, the chemical products that are added and the chemical processes applied to it make it safe to eat as well as adding a more intense flavour, smell, and appearance. These include amino acids and sugars which react together in meat as it cooks, oils which can enrich a food, flour for thickening, and spices which when cooked have an altered chemistry which changes their colour and can emit a distinctive fragrance.
Other chemicals that are added to food may sound terrible, but are actually an essential part of the food processing sector.
Potassium hydroxide for example, is a common food additive used as a preservative, thickener, and stabilizer in foods such as chocolate, ice cream, and soft drinks.
Also called KOH, this versatile chemical helps make snacks crispy, softens olives, and is used to make the colour caramel.
Another popular food additive is citric acid monohydrate (C6H8O7) which is applied as a preservative and flavouring. It also works as an emulsifying agent in ice-creams, as an acidulent in gels, creams, and liquids, and as a food acidity regulator.
One of the most widely used food additives is sodium tripolyphosphate or simply STPP. While its name may be quite a mouthful, its use in food processing helps make many foods more palatable.
STPP as a food additive can:
· Tenderise meat for canning
· Retain moisture in meat products
· Soften beans and other foodstuffs
· Improve the quality of canned products
· Thicken sauces and soups
· Act an emulsifier for oils and liquids
· Preserve food
Chemical products like potassium hydroxide, STPP, and citric acid monohydrate are provided by a network of chemical distributors which ensure a smooth supply of essential raw materials. Without these chemicals and their suppliers, such as AG CHEMI GROUP, Christmas would be a lot less tasty.
For example, there are more than sixty million chemical compounds known to science, and while some may be naturally occurring and others may be synthetic, together they all combine to bring us the tastes, smells, and festive feeling that make Christmas special.
After all, the flavours and fragrance of Christmas is simply chemistry, and without these chemicals there would be no Christmas.