Wednesday, December 28, 2016


[Note: this post is an edited repeat of a Pairteas Facebook post from the past—hope you enjoy it, and hope you and yours experience fulfillment and happiness throughout 2017 and beyond!]

...Of course not exactly! 
But for those of us who, like me, can't tolerate alcohol and are thus tea-totalers, is there a tasty tea-based alternative?

Think I may have found it—try it and let me know what you think!

• Started with the question: what is the flavor profile of champagne? According to, champagne has flavors of citrus fruits, white peach, white cherry, almond, and toast (yeasty).
• In addition it has (of course) alcohol, which comes across on the palate as "acid." How to get a similar profile?
• Amazingly, by using white tea: white tea actually has a number of chemicals it shares with peach, cherry, almond, and bready flavors, the latter thanks to its long withering. In addition, it has about half the catechins of green tea, so is decidedly less bitter.
• Next, we need the carbonation. At first was thinking about getting a sparkling alcohol-free apple cider—there are a couple of chemicals in white tea with an apple-like flavor—but champagne isn't apple-y to me, so I nixed that idea.
• So I took myself to our local gourmet store to find a fizzy drink that wouldn't be too sweet, and found Juniper Berry DRY. To find out more about this exquisite sparkling soda, which you can get on Amazon, go to:
• Remembering that champagne also has a peach aspect, and that I wanted to cut sweetness a bit (and also because white tea has about half the catechins of green tea), I also got some Fee Brothers peach bitters (

Here's the recipe:
• Bring 18 oz (half liter) of water to 170ºF (I checked with a food thermometer, but you can guess the temp because little bubbles start to appear). Add the water to 8 grams of white tea, brew for 60 seconds, and remove the leaves. This yields a rather dark tea (see photo below), but it will soon be diluted!

• Either let the tea cool down or be sure to put a metal spoon in your glass, then pour equal amounts of tea (first) and sparkling soda (second).
• For each 4 ounces of the tea/soda combo, add two dashes of peach bitters (or more, to taste). 
• Enjoy!!

=>> While you can still taste the tea very gently, the overall flavor and aftertaste is remarkably like champagne, and it feels so very festive!!! 

The picture below shows the result. Note that the tea soaked up some two ounces of the starting water! Sorry it's not in a champagne glass—am in down-sizing mode, and can't reach them right now!

Oh, and the bubbles don't show up in the picture, but the tiny bubbles are there...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Injury to a leaf and the chemicals it produces

In looking for discussions of the consequences of damage on leaf volatile production—the aromatic compounds produced when leaves are damaged, came across an experiment that detailed what the intact parts of a leaf does when the leaf sustains partial damage.*

Matsui and colleagues injured Arabidopsis leaves. Arabidopsis thaliana is a favorite research plant, because it grows quickly, and because it is the first plant for which the complete genome was sequenced.

Arabidopsis thaliana, from Wikipedia

The injured part of the leaf produced a chemical, (Z)-3-hexenal. The plant produces this chemical to decrease the chances of further attack, because it is insecticidal, bacteriocidal, and fungicidal. However, this chemical can also be toxic to the plant itself. 

The question is, then, what does the uninjured part of the leaf do with (Z)-3-hexenal that reaches it. It turns out that the leaf converts the chemical into non-toxic products, (Z)-3-hexenol and (Z)-3-hexenyl acetate. As shown in the diagram below (from the article), this conversion requires an enzyme, aldehyde reductase, and a chemical called NADPH (green oval). The production of NADPH for this reaction requires energy and intact cells, so can only be carried out by the uninjured part of the plant. 

Meanwhile, as you can see in the diagram (red oval), enzymes in the injured part of the plant spontaneously transform (Z)-3-hexenal into (E)-2-hexenal, and, with oxygen from the air (red circle), into at least three other compounds. No energy is needed for these steps, so they occur spontaneously when cell compartments are broken down and enzymes are released.

In the “You can’t win” department: the non-toxic products are released into the air and attract many different predatory insects that proceed to destroy the injured plant...

Why the interest in this question? (E)-2-hexenal is one of the chemicals one of the chemicals that gives the smell to new-mown grass, and one of the chemicals that are produced in the tea leaf after plucking and during withering, and one of the chemicals we humans appreciate in the flavor of green tea!

* Matsui K, Sugimoto K, Mano J, Ozawa R, Takabayashi J (2012) Differential Metabolisms of Green Leaf Volatiles in Injured and Intact Parts of a Wounded Leaf Meet Distinct Ecophysiological Requirements. PLoS ONE 7(4): e36433. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036433

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

’Tis the season…

…here in the US Northeast for sore throats, whether caused by infection, or simply too dry indoor air. Was thinking about the soothing aspect of hot toddies, and came across a recipe from Emeril Lagasse, in the Food Network website, here:

This recipe got five stars as a treat(meant) for sore throats. However, fact is for me, that I won’t ever try this recipe, because I don’t do alcohol, and I don’t even like the smell of whisk(e)y... I searched some more, and came across this excellent blogpost: in it, Aparna travels to India and back, and finishes with the recipe for a non-alcoholic tea-based hot toddy for sore throats that is also good sipped cold:

What these two recipes share (aside from tea) is the presence of spices that activate both TRPV1, the hot receptor and TRPA1, the cold receptor. For TRPV1, for example, it’s black pepper in Aparna’s alcohol-free version, and alcohol itself in Emeril’s version; and for TRPA1 it’s powdered dried ginger with its shogaols and lemon in Aparna’s recipe, and lemon juice in Emeril’s.

If you sip either of these two drinks, you will first feel a bite of pain, only to feel the pain quickly subside and the soreness in your throat with it. 

Why would activation of TRPV1 and TRPA1 together actually be soothing?

To untangle the answer, first a rather unusual experiment where the researchers passed cold dry air across the throats of forty-five healthy (and, I might add, somewhat foolhardy) volunteers to cause a sore throat—the kind of experience we have here in the US Northeast during these cold winter months.* 

This treatment led to inflammation. To quote the authors’ paper:

“This study shows that tonic stimulation of the pharyngeal mucosa with cold dry air causes pain, irritation, and discomfort whilst swallowing and an increase of inflammatory mediators, which is reversible.”

The inflammatory markers they measured included substance P. Its levels rose in the throat during cold air treatment, and vanished about 30 minutes after cold treatment was stopped. 

Substance P tells pain nerve endings to send pain messages to the brain, and is released with TRPA1 activation by the cold air. Release of substance P in turn leads to release of the other inflammatory mediators, which then leads to the release of more substance P, and so on in a vicious cycle.

When you activate either TRPA1 or TRPV1 alone, the associated nerve endings release substance P. However, when you activate both together, you first get a burst of substance P release, but then the two receptors mutually inhibit—to my simplistic thinking, nature made it difficult to sense both hot and cold at the same time. 

Not so simplistically, though, we do know for sure that both receptors can sit on the same cells, and that when both are stimulated simultaneously, they can cancel each other out. **

The ingredients in these hot toddies do just this—that’s why hot toddies can make your throat feel so good!

* Renner B, Ahne G, Grosan E, Kettenmann B, Kobal G, Shephard A. Tonic stimulation of the pharyngeal mucosa causes pain and a reversible increase of inflammatory mediators. Inflammation Research. 2013;62(12):1045-1051. doi:10.1007/s00011-013-0663-7.
** Barry G. Green, Betsy L. McAuliffe. Menthol desensitization of capsaicin irritation: Evidence of a short-term anti-nociceptive effect. Physiology & Behavior 68 (2000) 631–639.
 ** Takaishi, M., Uchida, K., Suzuki, Y. et al. Reciprocal effects of capsaicin and menthol on thermosensation through regulated activities of TRPV1 and TRPM8. J Physiol Sci (2016) 66: 143. doi:10.1007/s12576-015-0427-y. 

Note: menthol activates TRPA1 as well as the cool receptor TRPM8.