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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/514

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

insoluble. Alcohol added to solid soluble casein renders it opaque, and gives it the appearance of coagulated albumen. The alcohol itself dissolves a little of this.

The characteristic coagulation of casein, or its conversion from the soluble to the insoluble form, is produced rather mysteriously by rennet. Acids precipitate it from an aqueous solution, producing an apparent coagulation, but it is not a true and complete coagulation like that effected by the rennet, for on neutralizing the acid precipitant with an alkali or metallic oxide the casein again dissolves. Excepting in the cases of acetic and lactic acids (vinegar and the acid of sour milk), which precipitate pure casein, the acid precipitates appear to be a compound of casein with the acids, and the casein is set free in its original state when the acid goes over to the alkali or basic metallic oxide. The action of rennet in the coagulation of casein is still a chemical mystery, especially when we consider the smallness of the quantity of coagulating agent required for the rapid and complete conversion.

A calf has four stomachs, the fourth being that which corresponds to ours, both in structure and functions. It is lined with a membrane, from which are secreted the gastric juice and other fluids concerned in effecting the conversion of food into chyme. A weak infusion made from a small piece of this "mucous membrane" will coagulate the casein of two or three thousand times its own quantity of milk, or the coagulation may be effected by placing a small piece of the stomach (usually salted and dried for the purpose) in the milk, and warming it for a few hours.

Many theoretical attempts have been made to explain this action of the rennet. Simon and Liebig supposed that it acts primarily as a ferment, converting the sugar of milk into lactic acid, and that this lactic acid coagulates the casein; but Selmi has shown that alkaline milk may be coagulated by rennet in the course of ten minutes, and that after the coagulation it still has an alkaline reaction. This is the case whether fresh naturally alkaline milk is used, or milk that has been artificially rendered alkaline by the addition of soda.

Casein, when thoroughly coagulated by rennet, then purified and dried, is a hard and yellowish horn-like substance. It softens and swells in water, but does not dissolve therein, nor in alcohol nor weak acids. Strong mineral acids decompose it. Alkalies dissolve it readily, and, if concentrated, decompose it on the application of heat. When moderately heated, it softens, and may be drawn into threads, and becomes elastic; at a higher temperature it fuses, swells up, carbonizes, and develops nearly the same products of distillation as the other protein compounds.

I have good and sufficient reasons for thus specifying the properties of this constituent of food. I regard it as the most important of all that I have to describe in connection with my subject—the science