Density and Alchohol

Density is an important concept to understand when you are trying to figure out if something will float or sink, but it can also affect the gas in our atmosphere and even liquids in mixed drinks!

Layered drinks look very impressive, but it’s really simple science that makes it all possible. The layers are able to float on one another because of specific gravity. Specific gravity is the ratio between the density of a substance and a reference standard. Usually we use water as a standard for liquid, which has a specific gravity of 1.00. If oil has a specific gravity of 0.914 and we add it to water, it will float on the water because its specific gravity is less than that of water.

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Photo courtesy of Pete: https://www.flickr.com/photos/comedynose/5297942291/in/photolist-ci5BKj-95akEB-CLDYxA-CTsQVA-xmijTt

The same concept can be applied to mixed drinks. In general, liquids with a higher sugar content like grenadine, liqueurs and brandies have a higher specific gravity, which means that they would sink in water. Liquids with higher alcohol content like vodka, absinthe and Everclear™ tend to have a lower specific gravity, which means they would float on water. In actuality, alcohol and water have the tendency to mix together, but alcohol can float on water if poured very carefully over the back of a spoon onto the water. Bartenders use the concept of density and specific gravity to create layered mixed drinks!

A simple layered drink to make is a Dark ‘n Stormy. There are only two ingredients, so it’s an easy one for a beginner.

1. Start with an old fashioned glass filled with ice.
2. Pour in about 4 fluid ounces of ginger beer.
3. Carefully pour in about 2 fluid ounces of dark rum. It may be easier to slowly pour it over the back of a spoon.
4. Done!
It is easier to make layered drinks containing alcohol because alcohol has a lower specific gravity than most liquids. If you are interested in non-alcoholic layered drink, consider making this fruity beverage!
1. Choose any glass you’d like. The narrower the better because you can see the layers better.
2. Start with a splash (or 2) of grenadine at the bottom.
3. Mix 1 part orange juice and 1 part pineapple juice together in a separate glass.
4. Carefully pour the orange-pineapple juice mixture over the back of a spoon onto the grenadine.
5. Then, enjoy!

These drinks look great without a lot of work. Just science! To see density in action, visit OKRA Charity Saloon on Cocktail Chemistry Mondays (September 19th) and vote for HMNS while you are there!

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Okra and Tomatoes

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Okra, photo courtesy of Swallowtail Garden Seeds

As Julia mentioned in our last okra blog, cooking with okra can be a bit slimy. One of the tricks to combat the slime, is to cook it at high heat and really fast. Usually, this means frying okra, but there are other ways to cook it quick! Today’s recipe is okra and tomatoes. The trick, in this recipe, is to sauté the okra in a hot pan for only 3 to 4 minutes. Add some tomatoes and voilà, we have a recipe jam packed with vegetables and a kick of spice!

 

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Photo courtesy of Vodeck

Ingredients:
• 3 medium tomatoes, diced
• 1 onion, chopped
• 3 cups Okra, cut into 1 inch pieces
• 2 cloves garlic
• Pinch of cayenne pepper
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Bacon or Andouille sausage (optional)
• Vegetable oil

 

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Photo courtesy of Kim Siever

Putting it all together:
1. In a large skillet, cook the bacon (or andouille sausage) until crispy. Remove bacon from pan and place it on a paper towel lined plate.
2. Pour all but 3 tablespoons of grease into a grease jar. We will be using the remaining grease to cook our onions and garlic.
a. Vegetarian option: use vegetable oil instead of bacon or andouille sausage grease
3. Put the onions and garlic into the pan with the grease. Cook on medium-high heat until the onions are translucent. Add a pinch of cayenne to add some spice.
4. In a separate pan, add vegetable oil and heat on high for about a minute. When pan is hot, add okra pieces in a single layer. Let brown for a minute, and then stir to allow the other side to cook. Sear for about 3 to 4 minutes and remove from heat.
5. Add the okra and tomatoes to the pan with the garlic and the onions. Cook about 4 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Remove from heat, add bacon (or sausage) and enjoy!
If this type of okra isn’t for you, join us at OKRA Charity Saloon this month! The Houston Museum of Natural Science is one of four featured charities. You won’t have to eat okra (unless you want to) and you have the opportunity to vote for HMNS!

Cocktail Chemistry: A Balancing Act

Since HMNS is one of the featured charities at Okra Charity Saloon in September (read about it here), we’re doing a series of blog posts about cocktail chemistry this month. Get to know your drinks on a more molecular level. We’ll explore acids and bases, surface area, density, and fluorescence. It’s going to be elemental.

Life is all about balance. Sorry, did I say life? I meant cocktails. As any experienced bartender will tell you, concocting the perfect drink has everything to do with balance. Bartenders are charged with making sure the basic components of their drinks will play well together in the glass and dance on your taste buds. Understanding and balancing flavors is a critical part of being a cocktail chemist.
When you’re talking about the fundamentals of chemistry, you turn to the periodic table.

 

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Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Periodic_table#/media/File:14LaAc_periodic_table_IIb.jpg

Every element is neatly organized and laid out according to their atomic number, electron configurations, and chemical properties. There are currently 118 elements that make up our entire universe. The periodic table of cocktail chemistry would look a little different, a little more basic (not literally). Instead of 118 elements, the world of cocktail chemistry has only four: alcohol, sugar, acidity, and bitterness. We’re going to focus on the acidity element.

Let’s revisit high school chemistry for a moment with Acids and Bases: 101. When molecules break down in water, some release hydrogen ions (H+), while others release hydroxide ions (OH-). The pH scale measures the concentration of these hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions and tells us how acidic or basic a liquid is. Acids fall between 0 and 7, and bases fall between 7 and 14. The more acidic a liquid is, the lower its pH; the more basic a liquid is, the higher its pH. When acids and bases are mixed, they react with one another in what’s called a neutralization reaction. Think back to when you made your first science fair volcano. The combination of baking soda and vinegar was an explosive, bubbling demonstration of an acid-base reaction.

When we’re talking about cocktail chemistry, we’re more concerned with the way these solutions taste. Acids are characteristically sour, while bases are bitter. Remember the whole balance thing? This is where it comes into play.

Bartenders typically rely on the citrus genus for the acidic component of a cocktail. Oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit are frequently used to counteract the sugars and bitters in their concoctions. Understanding the chemical composition of these citric elements is critical.

 

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Lemons and limes are the most acidic with a pH between 2.0-2.6. Limes have slightly less sugar than lemons. This is why lemons pair well with gins and rye whiskies, while limes pair well with rum and tequila. Grapefruit and orange both have a higher sugar content and slightly lower pH than their citrus cousins. With this knowledge, you can figure how much citric acid you need to counteract the sugar in a cocktail. Since grapefruit and orange have an inherently higher sugar content, they don’t require as much sugar to counter their acidity. Not too sweet, not too sour. You can use science to make sure it’s just right.
Chemists have also found that acids help the flavors of a cocktail combine more evenly, so each sip contains the full flavors of the drink. (We’ll talk more about density and separation of liquids in one of our upcoming cocktail chemistry blog posts, but there’s no separation here!)

If you’re looking to try out a few acidic cocktails, try ordering sours, smashes, or any citric-based drink. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) Screwdriver: A classic combination of orange juice and vodka. Since orange has a high sugar content compared to its acidity, it acts as both the sugar and acid. Paired with vodka, this is a simple, refreshing drink.
2) Lemon drop martini: Lemon drops use fresh lemon juice for a strong, tart acidic component. The intense acidity is balanced with simple syrup and triple sec. These flavors pair well with vodka for a crisp, refined cocktail.

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3) Paloma: This drink balances two acidic components with both grapefruit juice and lime juice. Since limes have an extremely low sugar content, palomas contain additional sugar or simple syrup to balance their intense tartness. This combination goes perfectly with mescal or tequila. It’s topped off with club soda for a cool, bubbly finish.

 

Stop by Okra Charity Saloon to try one of these acidic cocktails during the month of September, and support your Museum! Don’t forget to check back next week when we explore the surface area of cocktails.

Legacy Donors Help Fund the Future of HMNS

You explored the solar system. You had butterflies land on your shoulder. You were dazzled by the beauty of the best gems and minerals from around the world. You climbed mountains and swam in the ocean depths. You celebrated your grandson’s sixth birthday with the dinosaurs and inspired fourth-graders to like science. You’ve grown alongside the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and now you’re wondering how to help HMNS keep growing.

DSC05484If the museum has enriched your life, you may wish to consider a planned gift to create a legacy that will help secure its future. The museum depends on the generosity of its biggest fans to provide high-quality exhibitions and programs that keep pace with technology and scientific discovery. What better way to thank the museum than to donate a lasting gift through the Legacy Society like members Eleanor and Chuck Asaud? 

Chuck Asaud

Valued volunteers for the past 14 years, the Asauds share their considerable knowledge, experience and enthusiasm with the museum’s visitors on a regular basis and decided to deepen their commitment by generously including the museum in their estate planning.

“The museum is an important and rewarding chapter in our lives. We have made friends here, continued to learn and take part in meaningful work,” said Chuck. “The fact that we are able to work together at the museum is a nice benefit,” said Eleanor.

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Chuck and Eleanor met at college in 1954 and have been partners in life since that time, raising three children and enjoying fulfilling careers. Eleanor spent 30 years as an elementary and preschool teacher, giving youngsters a solid and caring foundation for future learning. Chuck, a dedicated scientist, made significant contributions in the aerospace and energy industries as a metallurgist, developing special products and exotic materials. Much of his work was highly classified.

Retirement brought Chuck and Eleanor to HMNS where they give freely of their time. Both are Master Docents and like to volunteer in the Cockrell Butterfly Center and the Morian Hall of Paleontology. “We enjoy learning new things, and working with the curators and other volunteers,” said Eleanor. They are also regular volunteers at fundraising events where they greet guests and make everyone feel welcome.

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Like most important aspects in the Asauds’ life, the decision to join the HMNS Legacy Society was a joint one. “We decided that there was no longer a need for me to be named as beneficiary in Chuck’s life insurance policy; I really don’t need it,” said Eleanor. “We know that the museum will put it to good use and that makes us happy,” said Chuck.

Mary Tour

Planned gifts can include bequests, retirement assets, life insurance policies, artifacts or the establishment of a charitable trust with the museum. Individuals who make these donations are eligible to join the HMNS Legacy Society and receive invitations to exclusive events, recognition in selected publications and are honored at our annual luncheon.

The process to sign up as a Legacy donor is simple and confidential. Once you’ve discussed your estate with your attorney or financial planner, visit our web site to sign up to donate.

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You’ve lived a lifetime with the museum. Help secure its future for generations to come. Join the Legacy Society today.