Food Science Facts For Your Thanksgiving Feast

By: Danielle Robertson Rath

Is it just me, or does everyone dread Thanksgiving dinner? I’m all for eating copious amounts of food and expressing the many things for which I am thankful. However, when family gatherings roll around, I dread one question more than anything else: “What have you been up to?”


How do you explain to relatives you barely remember what you’ve been doing in the last year or so since you’ve seen them? If you’re studying food science (or any biological, chemical, or physical science, really), how do you begin to explain the progress you’ve made in a year, and make it sound both meaningful and significant?




My suggestion: don’t even try. Instead, turn the attention to your other family – your science family. This Thanksgiving, as you pass the mashed potatoes, you can also pass along some fascinating work being done by fellow scientists.



Instead of arguing over whether out-of-the-box mashed potatoes are better than mashed potatoes made “the hard way”, turn the focus to what happens to potato peels once they’re removed from the potato. Food waste is a topic of increasing interest, importance, and ambivalence – the National Resources Defense Council estimates 40% of food in the US is wasted[1], but 30% of Americans believe they don’t contribute to food waste at all, according to the International Food Information Council[2]. Either these zero-waste people are the Compost Champions or, to borrow a line from The Age of Ultron, “they’ve never made an omelet”.


Next time you make mashed potatoes “the hard way”, what if you used those potato peels to bake a cake? In an article slated for the February 2017 edition of Food Chemistry[3], potato peel waste was repurposed as a flour-substitute to make a cake. Potato peels are rich in dietary fiber and protein. In the study, potato peel waste (PPW) was used to replace a portion of wheat flour in a cake recipe (0%, 2%, 5%, and 10%)




A sensory panel judged the cakes and found that the addition of the potato waste improved dough quality and textural properties. The study authors though this improvement was due to the interaction between polysaccharides in the potato waste and the proteins in the wheat flour. There was no significant difference found in overall acceptability between any of the cakes, but the control cake (with no PPW) was scored highest on all sensory characteristics that the study evaluated. Take a quick poll to see who among your family members would be interested in trying this swap. Challenge the most talented chef among you to bring a potato peel cake to your next family gathering.





Cranberries often take a backseat to other side dishes at Thanksgiving dinner, but cranberries have been part of Thanksgiving tradition since the beginning. It’s widely accepted that the Native Americans introduced the Pilgrims to cranberries, and used cranberries as both food and medicine. Unfortunately, cranberries and other fruits and vegetables lose some of their beneficial nutrients through modern processing. Sure, you could make a vow to only eat fruits and veggies in their raw, natural form. Anyone who’s brought a vegetable platter to a party knows this is not the best option. As an alternative, some scientists are finding better ways to process these fruits and vegetables so they don’t lose as much of their nutrients in the process.


Your family members may have heard about high pressure processing (HPP) as an alternative to pasteurization, but what about hydrothermodynamic processing (HTD)? HTD technology uses the physical phenomenon of cavitation to provide quick heating, blending, and pasteurization at the same time. Cavitation sounds complicated, but think of it as the magic that makes tiny bubbles appear when boiling water. Cavitation is the formation, growth, and collapse of those bubbles. Those bubbles release large amounts of energy when they collapse, and HTD is about using that energy. HTD is a new technology that can be successfully used for processing fruits, berries, vegetables, and beans.



pic1Standard processing techniques (HPP, pulsed electric field, ultrasound and ultraviolet irradiation) are not efficient against some microorganisms and are also not economical. HTD was only introduced last year (2015) by Dr. Alex Martynenko and co-authors in the Journal of Food Engineering as a low-cost alternative to high-quality whole fruit puree processing[4]. HTD processing can effectively kill the bacteria that can make people sick, and deactivate the enzymes that can make foods spoil and turn brown, all while sparing more anthocyanins and polyphenols (those are naturally occurring antioxidants) than conventional processing techniques. HTD technology is on the verge of industrial scaling, so, hopefully, you will be able to bring it to next year’s family gathering.



[1] Gunders, Dana. “Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.” NRDC Issue Paper IP:12-06-B (2012): n. pag. National Resources Defense Council. Aug. 2012. Web. <>.


[2] @FoodInsight. “Americans Don’t Know How Much Food They Waste.” N.p., 24 Oct. 2016. Web. 08 Nov. 2016. <>.


[3] Jeddou, Khawla Ben., et al. “Improvement of Texture and Sensory Properties of Cakes by Addition of Potato Peel Powder with High Level of Dietary Fiber and Protein.” Food Chemistry 217.15 February (n.d.): 668-77. Improvement of Texture and Sensory Properties of Cakes by Addition of Potato Peel Powder with High Level of Dietary Fiber and Protein. 24 Aug. 2016. Web. 08 Nov. 2016. <>.


[4] Martynenko, A., Astakie, T., Satanina, V. 2015. Novel hydrothermodynamic food processing technology. Journal of Food Engineering. 152(1):8-16.


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1 Comment

  1. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! What ELSE do you like to talk about at Thanksgiving, or any other family gathering? Does anyone else dread the “What have you been up to” question?
    <3 GreenEyedGuide aka Danielle R.

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