Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/843

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823
THE CHEMISTRY OF COOKERY.

by other means of which I shall have to speak more fully hereafter when I come to the cookery of vegetables. When simply heated, it is converted into dextrin or "British gum," largely used as a substitute for gum-arabic. If the heat is continued a change of color takes place; it grows darker and darker until it blackens just as sugar does, the final result being nearly the same. Water is driven off in both cases, but in carbonizing sugar we start with more water, sugar being starch plus water or the elements of water. Thus the brown material of bread-crust or toast is nearly identical with caramel.

I have often amused myself by watching what occurs when toast and-water is prepared, and I recommend my readers to repeat the observation. Toast a small piece of bread to blackness, and then float it on water in a glass vessel. Leave the water at rest, and direct your attention to the under side of the floating toast. Little threadlike streams of brown liquid will be seen descending in the water. This is a solution of the substance which, if I mistake not, is a sort of caramel, and which ultimately tinges all the water.

Some years ago I commenced a course of experiments with this substance, but did not complete them. In case I should never do so, I will here communicate the results attained. I found that this starch caramel is a disinfectant, and that sugar caramel also has some disinfecting properties. I am not prepared to say that it is powerful enough to disinfect sewage, though at the time I had a narrow escape from the Great-Seal Office, where I thought of patenting it for this purpose as a non-poisonous disinfectant that may be poured into rivers in any quantity without danger. Though it may not be powerful enough for this, it has an appreciable effect on water slightly tainted with decomposing organic matter.

This is a very curious fact. We do not know who invented toast and-water, nor, so far as I can learn, has any theory of its use been expounded, yet there is extant a vague, popular impression that the toast has some sort of wholesome effect on the water. I suspect that this must have been originally based on experience, probably on the experience of our forefathers or foremothers living in country places where stagnant water was a common beverage, and various devices were adopted to render it potable.

Gelatine, fibrine, albumen, etc.—i. e., all the materials of animal food—as already shown, are composed, like starch and sugar, of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, with, in the case of these animal substances, the addition of nitrogen; but this does not prevent their partial carbonization (or "caramelizing," if I may invent a name to express the action which stops short of blackening). Animal fat is a hydrocarbon which may be similarly browned, and, if I am right in my generalization of all these browning processes, an important practical conclusion follows, viz., that cheap soluble caramel made by skillfully heating common sugar, is really, as well as apparently, as valuable