Cookies as an antidote for Yule Poisoning

(Oops, quick edit: the references on erythritol toxicity – or rather lack thereof – are now actually included…)

Crowds, Crass Commercialism, and Crappy Christmas Choruses give me a nasty case of Yule Poisoning, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I spent the afternoon/evening prepping for and performing some cookie experiments again, and I feel much better. Yes, my cookies are that good.

I had a request for Peanut Butter cookies, so I figured I’d do some experimenting with that tonight. In fact, while I was braving the Christmas Consumption Crowds to get my supplies, I happened upon an ingredient that I decided I had to try as a variant.

(The picture, incidentally, is someone ELSE’S peanut butter cookies – “diekatrin” on Flickr – click photo to go to the Flickr page – I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of getting decent photos of my own food yet.)

My initial peanut-butter cookie recipe came out too dry and not sweet enough, but I think adding 50-75g of honey should solve that. That’s not the most successful experiment of the evening though. That’s reserved for the following recipe for…Sunflowerseedbutter cookies.
(Suitably pompous name pending, as soon as I test version 2.0 of the recipe, which will substitute bread flour for the “all-purpose” flour)

(Pompous Name Pending) Sunflowerseedbutter Cookies

Materials and Methods

Powdery stuff

  • 190g “All Purpose”(Around 1 cup) “All Purpose” Flour
  • 3g NaHCO3 (1/2 tsp)
  • 1-1.5g (1/4 tsp) “Baking Powder”
  • 2g (1/4tsp) NaCl
  • 750mg Xanthomonas campestris exopolysaccharide (~1/4 tsp “Xanthan Gum”)

“Wet” stuff and sugars:

  • 150g honey
  • 100g Erythritol
  • 4g glycerol (about 5ml)
  • 50ml double-strength black tea
  • 140g Sunflower Seed Butter (about 1/2c)
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • Contents of 1 Gallus gallus egg, 50-55g (approx 60g with shell… aka “large”)
  • 5ml Vanilla Extract

The “dry” goods were mixed in one container, while in a separate container, the “wet” goods and the sugars were mixed in another. The dry material was then blended carefully into the wet material in a large steel mixing bowl using an electric hand-held mixer until completely homogenized.

Once homogenized, the dough was spread out in the bowl and chilled at ~18°C(O°F) for approximately five minutes to enhance firmness.

The dough was then measured onto a “non-stick” baking sheet in approximately 30ml roughly-hemispherical aliquots using a small disher, and then pressed down with a fork to approximately half their original height. A few shelled, roasted sunflower seeds were pressed into the surface of each to make distinguishing them from peanutbutter cookies easier.

The cookies were than baked at 190°C (~375°F) for approximately 18 minutes, then slid onto a “non-stick” wire cooling rack at Standard Temperature and Pressure until equilibrated with the temperature of the kitchen.


The experimenter believes this batch of cookies emerged a bit too soft – actually sliding them off of the baking sheet to the rack distorted them, and they still appeared (in the words of the experimenter) “squishy”. Once equilibrated with room temperature, the cookies had a texture more in line with what would be expected from a normal “soft cookie”. The flavor was judged to be superb by the experimenter, who happens to like the flavor of sunflower seeds.


The use of erythritol makes this a “reduced calorie” and “reduced-sugar” recipe, though not entirely sugarless or “diabetic safe” necessarily, due to the use of honey. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, or glycerol (“glycerine”), all of which are often used as low-glycemic substitutes for sucrose or other sugars. Sugar alcohols can often cause digestive discomfort, however, because they are poorly absorbed by human digestive tracts, leaving them to be digested by gas-producing gut microbes. Erythritol is unique in that it appears to be well-absorbed by humans, and yet is not metabolized by humans to any substantial degree and is safely filtered out by the kidneys and excreted in urine[1]. Being unmetabilized by humans, it is theoretically “zero calorie”, though the US FDA mandates a calculation of 0.2 calories per gram (compare to 4 calories per gram for sucrose). Unlike xylitol, erythritol is also safe for dogs[2] and ferrets[Sorry, can’t find the citation for this one at the moment…], for whom xylitol can induce fatal insulin shock and/or liver damage. Erythritol, unlike glycerol or sucrose (“table sugar”), is not appreciably hygroscopic, though, so adjustments must be made to recipes using it to avoid an overly dry result.

Glycerol (sold as “Glycerine”, which can be found in cake-making supplies as an ingredient used to keep cake frosting moist) closely resembles erythritol in structure, being (to oversimplify) a one-carbon-shorter version of the same molecule. In addition to hopefully helping to prevent drying out of the cookies, this was included here in the hopes that it would also help the erythritol dissolve. Previous informal testing (unpublished results) appears to support this hypothesis.

Honey was used as a second sweetener so as to include a “real” sugar and to help counter-balance the lack of hygroscopicity of the erythritol. The experimenter also notes that he believes mixing sweeteners tends to provide a better-tasting sweetness than relying entirely on one sweetener, particularly when including less sweet “sugar substitutes” in the mix. Honey was also chosen to provide additional moisture, as a previous batch of peanut-butter cookies (the recipe from which this recipe for sunflower-seed butter is derived) using ordinary sugar and “brown sugar” had turned out excessively dry.

“Xanthan gum” is a polysaccharide (as are cornstarch and pectin, for example) produced by a natural fermentation process from the γ-Proteobacterium Xanthomonas campestris. Along with a wide variety of exotic industrial uses (such as oil-well drilling “mud”), Xanthan gum is also used as a safe food ingredient to help hold water and keep soft foods from being too runny. It helps protect ice-cream from becoming grainy during possibly partial thaw-and-refreeze cycles during shipping and storage. It’s also used to hold “gluten-free” doughs together, which is nice for people who may be allergic to gluten proteins but who still would like to eat bread…

As far as the potentially excessive softness of the cookie, the experimenter believes that substituting bread flour for “all-purpose” flour and baking for up to 20 minutes should solve the softness problem, resulting in a chewier texture which the experimenter believes will be more appropriate.

The experimenter also notes that a second batch of the same recipe, cooked for approximately 20 minutes at ~205°C (~400°F) were nearly burned, though they did come out firmer but drier in texture. The flavor was still judged superb, other than the slight burnt note. Subsequent versions of this recipe will revert back to the original 190°C cooking temperature.

Obviously, further research is needed to determine the correct modifications to achieve perfect texture, and of course, to broaden the sample size of of the taste-testing group, and the experimenter should be given a sizable grant and a nobel prize for this research. Well, a grant at least.

Or at least some praise or something. Or a cookie, except that the experimenter obviously already has some.

[1] Munro IC, Berndt WO, Borzelleca JF, Flamm G, Lynch BS, Kennepohl E, Bär EA, Modderman J:”Erythritol: an interpretive summary of biochemical, metabolic, toxicological and clinical data.”;Food Chem Toxicol. 1998 Dec;36(12):1139-74.
[2]Dean I, Jackson F, Greenough RJ:”Chronic (1-year) oral toxicity study of erythritol in dogs.”;Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 1996 Oct;24(2 Pt 2):S254-60.

Dangit, I’m out of time. I was going to try out some crazy ideas with my Ginger Cookie recipe, too, and see if I can develop a Kombucha culture from scratch. Guess that’ll have to wait, because it’s bedtime now. Back to work in the morning…


Looks like the truckloads of candy-seeking larvae are done finally. Wretched little urchins now get driven from block to block rather than walking the neighborhood like we did.

(It doesn’t actually bother me as much as that makes it sound, I just like having an excuse to say “wretched little urchins”…which reminds me – I have only about a month to get a cheerful flashing “Bah! Humbug!” sign built…)

The only thing that really annoyed me is the fact that having to be ready to be interrupted by another horde of costumed consumers meant I couldn’t really spend any of the evening getting into anything requiring any real attention…which means the 113g of CaCl2.2H2O I’ve got sitting here now to go with my Xanthan Gum has been left neglected, and I still don’t know if I can make Xanthan Gum gel into beads the way you can with sodium alginate. I figure it must be possible, given that both Xanthan gum and Alginate (among others) were all formed into little “bio-booger” beads using the same kind of process in the paper I discussed in Episode 2 of my little audio oggcast. Perhaps I’ll have time to find out tomorrow.

For now, it’s time for bed. Daylight Losings Time starts tonight, so if the critters allow me to actually sleep, I ought to be well rested to attempt some serious lake-spanking in the morning – there’s supposedly a resort on the shore of the lake that has a sushi bar, and the idea of being able to paddle out for sushi amuses me. It looks like it’s at least 9-10 miles away, though, so it’ll be a long trip if I attempt it. Hopefully I’ll have time left after that.

Also, the developer of the libdmtx datamatrix barcode encoder and decoder software posted a recent comment on my previous post about the software and its potential uses – looks like some interesting projects going on there, including one intended to generate ID cards that only legitimate authorities could read (so as to prevent identity theft).

P.S. Anybody know how to build a really good (but simple) ozone generator for sanitization purposes? Or the effective pore sizes of commonly available materials like plastic wrap? Or if a corporate entity can be a shareholder/partner in a Limited Liability Company?

Yummy mold!

Fuzzy mold growing in a petri dishYes, I mean “mold” as in “fuzzy fungus”, not as in “something you put JellO® in to harden into a funny shape”. I’m not even talking about “Blue Cheese”, though blue cheese is pretty good too. I’m actually referring to Fusarium venenatum.

Okay, the picture linked here is actually F. oxysporum, one of several Fusarium species that are crop diseases (mmmmm, rotted moldy potatoes…), but I haven’t found a picture of a F. venenatum culture yet. Anyway, before going to bed I just wanted to mention that I’ve run into the first genuinely good “meat substitute” that I’ve tasted so far, and it’s made of mold.

They evidently grow it in vats, dry it into mats, mix it with some egg white to hold it together, and then make meat-like food product out of it. “They” being Astra-Zeneca, who appear to be the owners of the “Quorn®” trademark.

The chicken-like food product (“Chik’n”) patties they make are actually passable imitations of chicken, and actually taste good. They make a breaded Gruyere-“Chik’n” patty thing that I will probably go out and buy more of, of my own free will – which will be a first for “vegetarian” food for me.

Makes me wonder what I’d get if I subjected another known edible mold like Penicillium roquefortii (Mmmmmm…Blue Cheese) to the same process. Would I get blue “meat”?…

And, no, I’m not actually a paid shill for Astra-Zeneca or Marlowe Foods (who distribute the “Quorn®” products), though as I mentioned a while back to the dairy industry in my “Margarine makes you stupid” post, if anyone wants to HIRE me as a paid shill independent advocate, I could sure (yes, still) use a good microscope. Come on, Astra-Zeneca! A fancy biotech company such as yourselves must surely have dozens of surplus microscopes laying around!…

What shall I do?!?

Colored nigiri rice colored and shaped like 'Marshmallow Peeps'Since natural forces have not (yet) secured a replacement job for my Minister of Domestic Affairs, I’m forced to appeal to the supernatural and assume that the Spirits are angry with me for not yet having performed the appropriate Devouring Of The Soft Pink Bunnies ritual this year…so I’m devouring a package of pink “Peeps” bunnies. No doubt good fortune will finally swiftly follow…

Meanwhile, I’m poking around in patents and scientific papers, pondering a few different possible topics for the next post:

  • More on the “Nathan System” of brewing, with reference to patents and the intended purpose thereof (and pondering how to construct a homebrew-scale “Hillbilly Biotech™” version thereof)
  • Fermented foods and beverages review and request for ones I haven’t heard of yet
  • Bad poetry
  • The previously mentioned paper on getting yeast cells to eat themselves to death
  • A post composed mainly of photographs of myself with no clothes
  • The current collection of quasi-random scientific publications I’m wading through for fun
  • Some computer-related nerdity
  • Anything else

Please place your suggestions in the comments, I beg of you. Even if they are just long strings of profane threats of violence should I elect to post on [insert forbidden topic here].

Since I’m sure you’re all aching to know:

According to the nutrition information on the back of the bag and some quick calculations, powdered Xanthan Gum has a density of a little over 610mg/ml (or about 10 slugs/hogshead).

I think I may be an Applied Microbiology nerd.

See, when I put dirty dishes in the sink to wash later, I often fill them up with water to soak. I didn’t see this much in Idaho, but down here in Texas I notice that if I leave them too long, the water will sometimes end up turning into a thick slime.

And here I am, wondering what kind of slime it is and if I could find a way to produce it in quantity and purify it (and then find something useful to do with it).

I’m also wondering if this delightfully simple gel electrophoresis technique might be scaled up for more production-type purposes.

This Week = No Fun, but here’s an update anyway…

Busy week with unpleasant surprises, but I ain’t dead yet. You’re probably wondering what a hot dog that’s apparently eagerly anticipating eating itself has to do with that. The answer is: nothing, but it does relate to something I have been intending to post about for a long time, but haven’t since I didn’t have access to the paper…

So, in lieu of blasting out Twitter®-style updates on my Laconica feed that nobody reads anyway (a few people no doubt see the echo of them on Twitter® itself, but I don’t know if anyone cares…), here are a couple of what-I’m-doing-now updates before I go to bed:

  • I just shot off an email to the webmaster (the only contact I could find who might have the relevant information) of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, trying to get access to a classic paper published in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling for the upcoming “On the Shoulders of Giants” carnival.
  • There’s no way I can afford the ~$300US that it would cost to join the group, nor even at the moment to pay the typical $30 or so that greedy paywall-imprisoned publishers charge for individual articles. However, they appear to be opening up their archives to the public, for which I think they deserve substantial praise. Still, they haven’t worked their way back to the first few decades of the 20th century yet, so I had to email and ask if there was a way to get the article in question. If not, I’ll see if there’s any way to get it through inter-library loan in time.

  • “Small Things Considered” asks “What Microbiological Discovery in 2008 Did You Find Especially Interesting?” Which brings us to the “self-eating” thing.
  • The paper on caffeine’s induction of macroautophagy (“self-eating”) in yeast (and what happens when benzoic acid is also present) finally escaped from the paywall prison in January, and I now have a copy. I at least thought it was full of interesting implications (along with some useful knowledge), so I’ll hopefully be posting about it soon.

  • I’m also a computer nerd
  • Particularly when it comes to things like Linux. I’ve been thinking of trying to do some recordings on a couple of practical subjects that interest me for “Hacker Public Radio”

  • And of course, I still need to do some Xanthomonas snot Xanthan Gum experiments.

I am an attention-whorewilling to listen to my readers’ interests, so if anyone has suggestions or comments feel free to post them…

Vindicated! Margarine is correlated with stupidity!

'Happy Boy' brand margarine, with creepy-looking blank-eyed 'smiling' kid on the boxI’ve been saying for years that anyone who actually wants to eat margarine has something wrong with their head. Now, there’s PROOF:
“The study suggests that if children eat certain types of food their intelligence may be boosted or significantly lowered. It singles out margarine as having particularly strong links with lower IQ scores.”

It’s still not entirely clear whether margarine makes you stupid, or if instead being stupid predisposes you to eat margarine (or both). Either way, I continue to maintain that if you want to eat vegetable oil on your bread instead of good, wholesome, delightful butter – just get some herbed olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar [it’s not butter, but it’s darned good]. Don’t run it over powdered nickel while pumping it full of hydrogen gas to make it hard, color it yellow, and then use it as make-believe butter-like-food-product because if you do, you might as well make a Play-Doh® bread-like-loaf-product to put it on.

And before anyone asks – no, I’m not affiliated with the dairy industry…though if anyone in the dairy industry feels sympathetic to my current situation with my under-equipped home lab and wants to send me an old bacteriological microscope they just happen to have sitting around, I’d be willing to consider being a paid shill independent advocate in return…

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!…

Obscure scientific papers, Mad Science, Travel, and other randomness

First – an amazingly astute observation that I’m ashamed to have not previously noticed myself (click image to go to it’s original site and see it full-size…):
Most 'Mad Scientists' are actually just 'mad engineers'...

I’m proud to say that I think testing Mad Hypotheses is great, and will continue to try to be a Mad Scientist. And a “Dirty Old Man” someday, but that’s a whole separate issue.

Second – I am really loving the perks of my new job – namely access to the college library system. I had previously mentioned (see last couple of paragraphs) a certain article that I wanted to get my hands on:

Greenberg LA:”The Definition of an Intoxicating Beverage”;Q J Stud Alcohol. 1955 Jun;16(2):316-25

Not only does the medical library have copies of a Czechoslovakian microbiology journal, the main library had a set of this old journal, too. I have my bedtime reading for tonight…

Thirdly – Another Giant’s Shoulders carnival has come and gone. I now believe that Eduard Buchner had hit upon not only a useful truth of living systems, but also a nifty alternative “mad scientist” hairstyle. Now I need to come up with one for next month. It’s been getting me thinking, though. That blog carnival is intended for “Classic” papers. Implied is that the papers are somehow important to the development of some scientific field or other. I’d like to see a variation on the “old papers” theme focussing on random old papers (where “old” might mean a few years or decades, depending on the subject) that people have found useful or interesting. Stuff that isn’t necessarily ground-breaking and has perhaps been forgotten or lost to obscurity but still has useful things to teach us. Naturally, I’m thinking especially Microbiology (and especially Microbiology other than Medicine) and Food Science. The Carnival could be called something like “Second Chance Science” or something of the sort. Just a thought.

Fourth – speaking of “Microbiology Other Than Medicine” and Food Science, apparently The National Academies of Science want to know what scientific topics people most want to read about. As usual, “microbiology” appears to have been relegated in their breakdown to merely a subset of either medicine/diseases, “biology”, and perhaps a small subset of “energy” and “Feeding the World” (no, seriously). The survey includes space to tell them what they’re missing – I heartily encourage anyone who cares to make sure you take the survey, and mention industrial and environmental microbiology and food science as subjects they shouldn’t continue to neglect.

And, finally – next week I need to make a very-long-overdue run back up to Idaho to grab some things from the old house and make sure it’s still standing, the water’s really turned off, nothing unnecessary is running, etc. 1600 miles of driving each way. Ugh. Anybody got any good recommendations for things to listen to on the trip? Other than having a chance to finally grab some things that I am missing, maybe I’ll at least have a chance to visit New Belgium Brewing Company again, since my route goes right past it. So long as I’m not driving by on Christmas day (when I assume they’ll be closed) I may have a chance.

Nerd Reading Spasm!

Did I mention the place I work has some amazingly spiffy perks for a nerd like me?

Last night, I was poking around pubmed looking for references to yeast and erythritol (namely, do yeast interact with it, and will they metabolize it?) I found precisely one relevant reference. From 1975. In a Czechoslavokian microbiology journal. A no-longer-existent Czechoslovakian microbiology journal. Even though it was a journal published in English, I didn’t figure I’d be able to find the article I was looking for. It did turn out that the greedy (insert long string of profanity here) anti-open-access “SpringerLink®” Netherlands organization has an electronic copy of the article…which I can get limited access to for a short time for a mere $34.00. Not going to happen, obviously.

Just in case the college had a subscription that would let me get to the article at no extra cost, I checked. No such luck. But…

…The campus medical science library just two buildings over from where I work has dead-tree editions of essentially the entire journal! Im name des Nudelmonster! Instead of paying $34.00, I got a photocopy of the article for about $0.50. Bonus: As I had hoped, the article[1] reports that erythritol is not metabolized by yeasts, although it is taken up to a small extent. That means I can add erythritol (or xylitol or sorbitol or whatever) to must or wort, and it’ll still be there when the yeast finish, leaving the resulting beverage still sweet. Hooray!

Plus, I was also able to get access to an electronic copy of a review of the uses of poly-?-glutamate[2], which I was bemoaning not having access to over on an interesting Small Things Considered post recently.

Speaking of reading, one thing I really could use are any worthwhile books on the general subject of applied/industrial microbiology, bioprocess engineering, fermentation, and so on. “Worthwhile” here means practical texts that are A)primarily about microbiological processes (as opposed to, say, bioengineering of plants) B)Reasonably technical, and C)Either “not very old” or “very old indeed” (I collect old science books).

I’m not a fan of’s abuses of the patent system, but I’m in a hurry since it’s past my bedtime already. Therefore, purely as a sampling of the kinds of books that sounded interesting to me, here is a selection in more or less random order of books that came up in a quick search on Anybody out there have any other suggestions?

Continue reading Nerd Reading Spasm!