Coming Soon to a blog post near you!

I got a little money for Christmas, but I’m feeling quite guilty as I didn’t really have the time and money to reciprocate in advance. I also haven’t been able to figure out what to spend it on until now. Now, I have a solution for both problems.

Xanthomonas campestris growing in a petri dish and exuding slimeI intend to spend it all on fermentation-related food ingredients and do some experimentation with sweet-tasting foods. Initially, in addition to flavors (spices and whatnot), I need to track down bulk quantities of:

  • Erythritol, which is a virtually non-caloric sugar alcohol which unlike sorbitol and so forth is not normally prone to cause gastric distress, and unlike Xylitol is not hazardous for beloved household pets. Better still, it actually is very tasty unlike that nasty hippy “Stevia” crap (which isn’t produced by fermentation anyway, as far as I know).
  • Food-grade Glycerol (“Glycerine”), which I hypothesize is close enough to the structure of Erythritol to mix well with it and help the erythritol dissolve (and hopefully prevent crystallization, much the same way the “corn syrup” does with sucrose).
  • Xanthan Gum. MMmmmmm…edible bacteria-snot. (Okay, for all that this sounds disgusting, it’s really somewhat similar to pectin, which like xanthan gum is a polysaccharide. Pectin is just fruit-snot rather than bacteria snot. Dietarily, both count as “soluble fiber”.)

There are probably other ingredients I can come up with as well. For those of you out there who are owed gifts: Chewy candies, hard candies, baked goods, and/or beverages, what’s your preference for my initial experimentation? Assuming anyone’s interested, I will probably blog my results…

Meanwhile, I’ve also been thinking about geolocation, geotagging of audio and video media, and Asterisk again. I want to take the lessons learned from my playing with the “Where Was I?” prototype and turn it into a real geolocation system, integrating with Asterisk and Laconica (which turned out to be easier to set up than I’d feared – I’ve now got my own Laconica server at, though I need to sit down and activate the IM integration (Twitter may have abandoned IM, but it reportedly works fine in Laconica).

It also turns out that you can use Asterisk with cellphones(!), at least if they have bluetooth. That’s handy to know…

Argh – too much to do, not enough time!…

Double-Ewe Tea Eff: “Modified Food Starch”

A small package of 'Cinnamon Bears' candyOne of my projects is to appease one of my weaknesses. As I’ve probably mentioned before, “Gluttony” is my second-most-favorite deadly sin. If you’ve been listening to “Stir-Fried Random” (new episode coming shortly, I promise) and reading the blog recently, you can probably tell that among my large collection of “a peculiar fondess for [whatever]” attributes that I possess is one for “Cinnamon Bears“. While they’re not too bad as far as candy goes, they’re still not good for me. Plus, like any candy they can get to be kind of expensive. (Dear The package plainly says “2/$100“. You’re selling these in groups of 12. Now, I only carried my calculation out to 3 significant figures, but I estimate that this should cost $6.00. Not “$6.85”. Plus $7.90 for shipping. $14.75 for $6.00 worth of convenience-store candy is just stupid.)

Anyway…I’ve gotten my grubby paws on a small bag of erythritol, which is effectively a calorie-free sugar alcohol produced from a regular sugar by a natural fermentation process. All I should need is one or more thickening agents and some oil of cassia and/or other flavors and I should be able to come up with a recipe for my own pig-out-all-I-want, even-better-than-mass-market cinnamon bears. Food is one of the few areas that I seem to have any natural artistic talent with, so I ought to be able to handle this.

A bulk bag of 'Modified Food Starch'The trick is going to be getting the right texture. I’ve found recipes online that use gelatin or pectin. The store-bought product, though, uses “Modified Food Starch”. How exactly do they “modify” the food starch? I vaguely recalled that it was an acid-treatment process that partially breaks up the long glucose polymers, but I wasn’t sure. As any modern nerd would do, I decided to ask My Friend, The Internet.

Most places seem to be vague about what exactly the “modification” is, but it became quickly obvious that there were multiple treatments that result in “Modified Food Starch”. Ah, but I was in luck! The Food and Drug Administration actually has a specific entry[1] in the Code of Federal Regulations, which can always be counted on to definitive. So, I went and looked at good old Title 21, Volume 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations and…WTF?!?!?

They list a bewildering array of chemical and enzymatic treatments that all get lumped into “Modified Food Starch” (or “Food Starch-modified” as they quaintly put it).

I guess my happy new box of “Corn Starch” will have to remain unmodified for the time being. At least until I can figure out how to produce my own ?-amylase [without spitting, that is]. I also have unflavored gelatin and pectin at my disposal here, so I’ll come up with something.

Anybody got a good reference on industrial food processes?…

[1] 21CFR172.892

Stir-Fried Random Ep 02:Sex, Violence, and Cinnamon Bears, y’all!

Only about five more days until the next “Giant’s Shoulders” blog carnival. I still need to pick a paper. ARGH!
(UPDATE 20081126: I’ve removed the embedded flash player – it seems to ignore me when I explicitly tell it NOT to automatically start playing rather than waiting until you intentionally hit “play”. Sorry for anyone annoyed by the autoplay. The embedded player will not return until I solve this.)

Meanwhile, here’s this week’s episode of “Stir-Fried Random”, weighing in at a MASSIVE 12 WHOLE MINUTES or so. As before, there’s an “<audio>” tag pointing directly at the Ogg Vorbis audio for those of you running a beta of the Firefox 3.1 series, a recent version of Opera, or (I believe) the current Safari on a system with the Ogg Vorbis Quicktime component installed. There is also the usual embedded Flash®-based mp3 player and direct download links for both versions.

Somebody please let me know if I’m making a fool of myself here… Anyway, here are the show notes:
Continue reading Stir-Fried Random Ep 02:Sex, Violence, and Cinnamon Bears, y’all!