Stop Nutella! Not because of Cancer Risk…

“Nutella causing cancer” is now trending worldwide, although it was known for few years that some studies are suggesting the risk. So I thought, maybe new studies actually got published backing-up these hypotheses. I started checking the literature and no single study was conclusive regarding the risk of cancer, hence more studies are needed. So with evidence base science we cannot say that Nutella directly causes cancer.

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On the other hand, I stopped eating it for few years now for two main reasons. The first reason, you should always take into consideration the bias, I’m a pharmacist and I know how the big companies lobby their studies. The second reason, Nutella’s main component, Palm oil, has many evidence base health risks other than cancer that are already well established.
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Palm oil is composed mainly of Palmitic Acid, which is a saturated fat. According to the American Heart Association and the World Heart Federation, the high intake of such fat can increase the bad cholesterol in the blood and decrease the good one. On the other hand, sugar makes up tp to 55% of Nutella’s content, so eating  it without monitoring the intake can directly affect and modify the sugar control system in the bodies and specially in kids.

“Nutella is more sugar and fat than hazelnuts.”
Catherine Saxelby Via Food watch 

Finally, this post is not intended against Nutella per se, but the diseases are striking high in the last few years in our societies, which is mainly due to the big changes in our lifestyles including our diets. So as a start, we can decrease the intake of processed food in general, specially when it comes to refined sugars and processed fat. It’s easier than you think! For example here is a simple recipe for some homemade tasty “Nutella” :

Better Than Nutella (Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread)
via bon appetit:

Ingredient:

  • cups (heaping) hazelnuts, preferably skinned (about 10 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350°. Spread out nuts on a rimmed baking sheet or in an ovenproof skillet. Roast, shaking sheet once for even toasting, until deep brown, 13-15 minutes. Let cool completely. (If nuts have skins, rub them in a kitchen towel to remove.)

Grind hazelnuts and sugar in a food processor until a fairly smooth, buttery paste forms, about 1 minute.

Place chocolate in a medium metal bowl. Set bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water; stir often until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over saucepan; add butter and whisk until completely incorporated. Whisk in cream and salt, then hazelnut paste.

Pour gianduja into jars, dividing equally. Let cool. (Gianduja will thicken and become soft and peanut butter-like as it cools.) Screw on lids. DO AHEAD Gianduja can be made up to 4 weeks ahead; keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 4 hours to soften. Can stand at room temperature up to 4 days.

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Tell me where it hurts

Our ability to feel pain allows us to survive, it’s our response to damage. It’s also hard to quantitate, hard to specifically target and this cloudiness affects more aspects of our lives than we are aware of. According to The International Association for the Study of Pain, it is an:

unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage

Here’s how it works:

As is obvious, addiction to painkillers is no joke. According to the CDC:

Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.  Deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have also quadrupled since 1999.

For a brilliant account on the matter, check out Peter Grinspoon’s Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts his Addiction.  

Moreover, a recent report in Science alludes to the fact that exposure to opioids may lower pain tolerance on the long run, which is very bad news for people with chronic pain.

It is obvious that we would like to remove sources of pain away from anyone we love, and it has touched on key societal issues:

Abortion

Besides religious constraints, legalising abortion seems to be acceptable in cases of rape or incest, if the woman’s life is in danger, or if the foetus has medical problems. Some of the arguments also touch on the pain we might be inflicting on the foetus. Even though evidence points at no pain sensation before the third trimester, some states require anaesthesia administration to the foetus prior to the procedure, if not fight for its ban altogether. Poland has recently taken this fight to the streets.

Assisted Suicide

Canada recently announced legalising physician-assisted suicide to the incurably sick, joining a handful of other countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Albania, Colombia and Japan.

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Coffee Breath: Not My Cup Of Tea

The smell of coffee grind in the morning is one of my favorite scents, and if you’re coffee fanatics as we are, you will enjoy this aromatic drink several times a day; but nothing comes without a price.

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Knowing that it’s very beneficial for the nervous and cardiovascular system in addition to its antioxidant effect, we can easily dismiss Coffee breath as a minor “side effects” of java. But the question is why does it stink your breath?

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We discussed in a previous post Garlic breath, explaining how difficult it is to enjoy the cloves without the scent…unlike our current aroma, which can be eliminated ! 😀

Caffeine is the main component in coffee; 200 mg of caffeine in a 240 ml of American coffee or it can go up to 1 mg in each 1 ml of espresso or Turkish coffee. The more concentrated, the worse the aftermath breath will be.

bad-breathCaffeine will drastically decrease saliva production in the mouth; which will cause a Xerostomia or simply dry mouth. Knowing that saliva has an antimicrobial effect, its scarcity will allow bacteria to multiply more freely. Making things worse is the acidity of caffeine; it decreases the PH of the mouth and transforms it into a perfect incubator for those smell-producing bugs. Furthermore, if you’re a “creamer”, you’re out of luck because those bacteria will actually feed on those sugar and cream that you added and multiply at an even higher rate. Finally, the more aromatic your drink is, the more residues it will leave in your mouth, hence more of that “side effect”.

Knowing that, the “cure” to coffee breath becomes simple hydration…

  • Drinking water and washing your mouth directly after a cup of java can hydrate your mouth and ease you from this burden.
  • Brushing your tongue after a cup of Joe is always beneficial, this way you will get rid of the pH altering aroma-causing molecules.
  • Finally, you can always switch to drinking tea, which also contains caffeine, but they are less aromatic and non-acidic. Disclaimer: Elia doesn’t agree this is a solution 🙂 “Tea has its own time and set of challenges…”

Sorry to interrupt but my cup of cardamom-infused coffee just dried, let me replenish it. In the mean time, let us know in the comments if you would like to know about more how food can affect the body odour. CHEERS!

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Garlic Breath: The Why and The How

Garlic_Press_and_GarlicThe Mediterranean and especially the Lebanese cuisine is centered around that tasty white clove named Garlic. In addition, if you share with me the low self-control when it comes to the food you love and especially garlic, you will definitely know the feel of being busted with Garlic breath before a meeting or even a date. Consequently, you will start brushing, chewing, flossing… and wishing for a time travel just to undo eating that garlic melted chicken sandwich. Why does garlic give you that stinky breath and where the clove itself doesn’t even have a smell?!

The answer lies in the chemistry … more specifically those four compounds: Diallyl Sulphide, Allyl Methyl Sulfide, Allyl Methyl Disulfide and Allyl Mercaptan or as I like to refer to them as “The Sulfur Gang”.

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Ironically, none of these compounds exists in the intact cloves. It is after crushing the garlic that cellular enzymes are released and transform the compound Allin to Allicin that then gets transformed to The Sulfur Gang. Additionally, knowing that Allyl Methyl Sufide is broken down the slowest in the body means that it’s the “devilish” molecule behind that persisting garlic breath. On the other hand, it is worth noting that most of garlic’s health benefits come from this Sulfur Gang.

Now what happens next is the biggest issue, the Sulfur Gang gets absorbed to the blood stream and is eliminated in the lungs, sweat, urine … hence every excreted bodily fluid.

Interestingly, this was first described in 1936 when two doctors were testing the effect of garlic on esophageal cancer, and due to the disease they fed there patients garlic soup through the intestinal wall hence bypassing the mouth, where even then the patients “suffered” from garlic breath few hours after the soup.

Now, is there a way to eliminate that garlic breath?
Well the short answer is NO … all we can do is decrease it, but we can never eliminate it.

Here are few ways to do it:'Tim, honey, I don't know how to say this...But...It's...It's your breath...It reeks of mint.'

  • Brushing your teeth, gargle and floss hence physically remove The Sulfur Gang available in the mouth; although this method makes you feel fresh right away but the Gang is already in your stomach being absorbed and distributed to “the world”! so this method is not that effective
  • Eating lemon, which can partly neutralize The Sulfur Gang; partially is not a good enough
  • Eating any source of Chlorophyll, meaning any green herb, like for example: parsley, mint, cilantro… is the most efficient way to decrease acute and delayed garlic breath. The latter makes the oriental dish: baked/fried garlic chicken wings dipped in lemon and cilantro the best tasty combination ever

In fact, the way chlorophyll works in this case is very interesting, because studies have shown that its absorption to the body is not that significant. Chlorophyll actually chelates the sulfur Gang making it less available for absorption, and hence making it the most effective way in decreasing the acute and delayed garlic breath.

So if you got busted with garlic breath and realise you have a meeting coming,the key would be eating and chewing any source of chlorophyll right after eating garlic and hoping for a perfect chelation of The Sulfur Gang, or you know…. Cancel your meeting and enjoy your garlic!

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Cocktail Ingredients:

Bacterial Marathon

Imagine you’re relaxing on your couch, binge watching series or surfing the web (or both!).

Then an alien siren goes off declaring the end of humanity as we know it, the only way to escape being to run a full marathon. Sounds devilish doesn’t it?

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Anytime we introduce antibiotics into our system, bacteria see that as doomsday, the war-term equivalent of carpet bombing. The only way to escape antibiotics is to develop the skills to evade it, or even survive through it:

  • Genetic mutation: Those lucky people who already could run that marathon.
  • Acquiring it from another organism: People who were training to run a marathon.

To understand what a doomsday looks like to a bacterium, let’s review how antibiotics work imagining a bacterium is a small town. I will also list some ways by which bacteria can overcome these obstacles:

Tactic Attack Defense
Tear down the fort walls Crippling production of cell wall ·         Pumping it out

·         Producing alternative proteins and metabolic routes

·         Taking in and destroying the antibiotic

Taking down bakeries, restaurants and food production. Interfering with protein synthesis
Jamming communication lines and transport routes. Messing up metabolism
Killing all the females and children. Blocking DNA synthesis

Finishing a marathon says nothing about our worth as a surviving human race. It barely indicates that few of us are physically able to run for long distances. If our goal is to challenge humanity to promote the best elements, we better rethink our strategy.

Similarly, surviving antibiotics only implies the presence of a defense trait in a bacterium. It implies nothing about its usefulness to a healthy gut.

Most oral antibiotics inevitably target the gut microbiome. With such destructive mass-killing techniques, both good and bad bacteria are bound to be wiped out completely. Antibiotic design keep evolving to better target specific bacterial populations but this is a never-ending race. There will always be harmful bacteria that can acquire resistance and survive our toughest weapons.

But why do we care in the first place, it’s such a tiny war on the scale of our organism?

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Most of you have already heard about antibiotic resistance, and how it’s shaping our food industry and economics in general. In brief, over-using antibiotics exposes bacterial populations to more marathons, and more chances to get better at them. Not only do our faulty daily practices contribute to this problem but the biggest contributor is our animal stock. Being so terrified of sick chickens and cows that cannot be sold, the food industry constantly supplements their feed with antibiotics. The Pharma industry also can’t keep up, so we’re stuck in a cycle teaming with resistant bacteria ready to throw us back into the middle ages, before Fleming’s penicillin.

More links are sprouting between excess exposure to antibiotics and our brain activity. A recent report listed 3 lessons we learned:

  • Antibiotics disrupt communication between gut microbiome and the immune system. By also destroying useful bacteria in the gut, losing this population can affect our metabolism. This can also lead to a disruption to the signals going back to the brain. Going back to our tactics above, it’s like you’re isolating the population from its army.
  • Pressure towards resistance as was discussed earlier. Reports indicate that our gut flora acquire more and more resistance genes as we grow older, and more exposed to antibiotics.
  • Antibiotics aren’t the only solution.
    • Make use of bacteriocins: Bacteria’s own weapons to kill other bacteria.
    • Employ Gene editing tools such as CRISPR to excise those parts out of the genome.
    • Eradicate bacteria then re-supplementing good populations into the gut using fecal transplants.

What do you think? Any stories or analogies you want to share to communicate the issue of antibiotics resistance? Leave us a comment below!

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The Robobees are COMING

If you’re following up with the series Arrow, you know how dangerous bees can be. Not just any bees; these are controlled by an evil mastermind!

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However, regular bees are celebrated. In fact, pollinators, including bees, contribute to the production of 1/3 of most of our food. As most of you know, honey bee health has been steadily declining prompting a presidential memorandum to fight their mysterious die-off. Among the stressors are:

  • Parasites and diseases
  • Poor nutrition
  • Lack of genetic diversity

I started this post wanting to write about today being the international day for biodiversity. Bees and other species ought to be celebrated, we should be working on preserving the populations we have. How about creating a new one?

The day has come, robotic bees have moved from our TV screen into reality with this new project by a group of scientists at the Harvard Microrobotics Lab:

As stated by the group, some of the applications this robot can contribute to are:

  • autonomously pollinating a field of crops;
  • search and rescue (e.g., in the aftermath of a natural disaster);
  • hazardous environment exploration;
  • military surveillance;
  • high resolution weather and climate mapping; and
  • traffic monitoring.

Weighing very closely to a bee (100 mg), this tiny robot makes use of electrostatic adhesion to perch onto existing structures and save valuable energy in-flight. This tactic is exciting since it allows the bees to attach to multiple surfaces and makes detaching as simple as turning off the engines. This “passive” take off significantly lowers the disengagement forces, allowing for more stability and control.

As you can see the design is pretty impressive. The upcoming challenges for the team reside in the following:

  • Body: Portable power sources and wings that are more resistant to turbulent conditions.
  • Brain: Adding smart sensors to control and monitor the flight on-board.
  • Colony: Develop programming models enabling the bees to socially interact among each other. This includes coordination where a hive can explore a large area with very little overlap, while still compensating for any failing units along the way.

This project is inspired by Nature. As it was nicely summed up in this article, mini-robots at our service have already taken shape with cockroaches searching for earthquake victims and pills being swallowed for internal monitoring.

Greenpeace had released this video, as a cautionary tale against this kind of intervention:

to which the group has replied in an interview:

Having a multitude of options to deal with future problems is important. It’s hard to predict what exact solution we would need in the future. Flexibility is key.

Since we’re talking about biodiversity, why not let it inspire our solutions as well. No one method can be the perfect solution. Efforts should be concentrated on multiple fronts to achieve our goal in preservation.

What do you think?

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Not Just Losing Pounds?! Lessons from the Biggest Loser

“I’m Ali Vincent. I’m supposed to be strong. I’m supposed to know how to do this.”

Is a quote from the first female winner of the Biggest Loser (US Ed.) on the night of her 8th anniversary. By that time, she had regained most of the weight she had lost, and was struggling with the reasons why.

Keep in mind, this is much different from our usual attempts at dieting. The show’s experience entails a bootcamp with 9-10 hours of daily exercise and a controlled nutritional plan. If anyone knows what works for weight loss, it’s them.

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This might strike you as one person who has fallen back into old habits, despite having great knowledge on how to bounce back, but as a new study shows, the trend is there for those extreme weight losers.

This phenomenon, commonly described as the body fighting against weight loss, is partly explained by measuring Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Normally, the energy expenditure of a person is proportional to their weight. The bigger you are, the more your resting body needs energy to maintain your existence. Naturally, after losing a lot of weight, physicians monitoring the contestants expected a drop in the BMR.

However, BMR did not recover when the same people began to put on weight again. If anything it got worse. In some cases, contestants are spending 500 Kcalories less than a regular person with the same weight. When the recommended daily calories for a regular person fall close to 2000 Kcal, that’s almost a quarter that needs to be deducted to achieve the same end result.

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This biological fact is still unresolved, as is the question of whether being fat is in your genes. Some redirected the issue to neuroscience. A study following twins proposes that dieting might lead to weight gain, after equalizing for genetic background. Of the proposed explanations are the release of anxiety fat-storing hormones and stress related binge eating.

The study also notes that this problem isn’t as pronounced with bariatric surgery patients, who also lose huge amounts at once. In their case, their BMR normalized in a more predictable way.

This poses the question, whether this phenomenon is due to the amount of weight lost or just the rate at which it is. This is naturally pending further investigation. Hopefully, this will lead to better approaches to weight control.

At the end of the day, sustained mindful eating is linked to better health outcomes, which is not necessarily true for shocking bursts of dieting. I’ve already shared my experience with it, how about yours?

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Hocus Pocus Science

The science blogosphere is buzzing about John Oliver‘s newest section about scientific studies. I honestly think it was an epic performance, echoing so many themes we delved into earlier on here on Science Bar.

Both Chris and I agree to almost all of what was said in here. We love Science, we call each other to discuss its weekly updates and recommendations for being stuck in traffic. We believe that sharing that love is by education: showing PRECISELY BOTH the good and the ugly sides of it.

Yes, because unless you can, or would like to, differentiate between them, we have failed at our passion and mission.

Here’s our breakdown of some of the points, with references to our earlier posts trying to explain them.

Not all studies are equal

We’ve come down hard on so many topics where we blatantly show that science is not a democracy but a stricter form of meritocracy. Whether it’s homeopathy or organic food, evidence should be weighed not just on number of studies supporting it but on quality.

Pressure to publish

No scientist is rewarded for happily existing in a lab doing experiments. Most evaluations, from promotions to Nobel prizes, are majorly based on the amount of papers you publish and which journals that happens in. There’s also the pressure to publish a positive-finding story, because who really wants to know about that promising molecule that DIDN’T KILL cancer cells.

P-hacking

How scientists tend to tweak the p-values in their research papers is now commonly referred to as p-hacking. In other words, it’s playing around with data to establish meaningless correlations that show up as statistically insignificant.

Very few replication studies, no reward nor funding

Echoing what we said about p-hacking, just like no one wants to hear about a failed molecule, no one wants to hear about the re-invention of the wheel. Replication studies, aimed at affirming other people’s findings, are rare because no one would fund them, and honestly, almost no one would read them.

Media not taking its time to fact check

Why bother fact checking. If editors won’t do it, it doesn’t mean readers should be left gullible. We all know we’re inundated with so many stories everyday it’s really hard to tell the facts apart. Check the context and the sources provided, it’s as simple as that. I wrote about this specific issue in a two post combo called “Give Me One Reason [Part1] [Part2]”.

As YoutTuber and brilliant science communicator from SciShow Hank Green explains it “It’s common — and incorrect — to expect that science is “hard””

Scientists over simplify the facts.

Most of us clearly have a communication problem. We are not all Sheldons and recluses, but telling you what we do for a living can sometimes show as boring. At the end, so many either are content with just communicating with their peers or go to the other extreme and over-simplify their findings to gain popularity. In any case, yo-yoing between those 2 extremes has seriously affected our ability to communicate serious issues such as climate change – but we’re working on that!

Cherry picking science, vaccine, climate change

Most people still struggle with differentiating between theory and hypothesis. But science isn’t picking and choosing, it’s there as a body of evidence until something better comes along. Until you can provide a better explanation, you can’t just opt out of it because it doesn’t suit your world view.

The biggest risk isn’t people would just keep disliking math. The danger is two-folds more serious:

  • Draw incorrect conclusions affecting their lifestyles.
  • Conclude that no one knows anything really, including how dangerous vaccines are and what causes climate change. You can easily foretell how big tobacco is just too happy to indulge in the confusion.

 

What do you think of that video? Let us know in the comments!

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World’s Tiniest

Every nation wants to boast the tallest skyscraper, the biggest theme park or house the largest concentration of casinos. Big and Bold attract an audience. But what makes the tiniest so attractive to scientists?

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Suppose the lights went off on the last floor of the skyscraper. No one would be able to tell what’s wrong/how to fix it without examining the smaller scale; the microcosm. Exploring the microcosm, one element at a time may help gather enough evidence to support a conclusion about the structure as a whole.

In a recent video we shared, TED attempts to answer why fish swim in such a harmony. The answer lies in investigating their individual decision making process:

NANOTHERAPY

In the world of cancer, targeted therapy has been a hot topic for a while now. Clinicians are not only targeting each cancer based on the markers it uniquely expresses but also on its genetic background. Despite these advances, the variety of cancer types and sub-types has spawned the belief that cancer can no longer be classified as one disease. For this purpose, the recent announcement of the first computer program to detect DNA mutations in single cells is very exciting. Scientists are no longer treating the tumour as a whole, but are targeting its constituents one at a time.

NANO HEAT SENSING TECHNOLOGY

Going even deeper, cells themselves are not homogeneous bags of life. Each cell hosts a well-differentiated polarity, allowing for different functions at different sites. Image it like an open space office, if everyone didn’t have their dedicates spaces and tasks, most of the work wouldn’t get done efficiently. Cells are hubs for chemical reactions and the obvious varying agents within a cell would be the concentration of a certain substrate and the pH. A new report shows scientists are also investigating temperature: chemists are now using DNA to build the world’s tiniest thermometer. These molecules would bend in different ways depending on the surrounding heat state, allowing researchers to map different areas within a cell and correlate activities.download.jpg

ALL THIS NANO WILL ALLOW YOU TO TAKE SNAPSHOTS FROM YOUR CONTACT LENSES

Yes, Sony just filed a patent for that. You soon (not sure how soon) will be able to zoom, focus and snap pictures using a smartphone like device connected to those babies.

I’m pretty excited about those nano-developments; the tinier the better. For more stories you’d like to see here, let us know in the comments!

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The Best Steak You Can Eat!

You know something good is going to happen when science and food meet, all the tools and equipment, the molding and etching, the fire and kinetics, the salts and spices, hence, perfection to last carbon and hydrogen reaction; By the way that’s how you turn a chemist on 😀

Our main dish at the Bar today is a red, sizzling, moist, mouthwatering steak with perfect burn marks guaranteed to boost your level of serotonin and leave you satisfied.


If you ever cooked a steak, you will know how difficult to have the perfect crust from the outside while having the warm, red, blood free inside… you will either end up with raw insides which is not appealing to everyone, or a burned outsides that has its heath risks
(for more info check:  Juicy, Charbroiled & Cancer Free!).

That’s a disaster and painful to look at 😦

To avoid such disasters, we can use science. “Sous-vide cooking” which translates into “Cooking under vacuum” is a technique that perfects your steak with minimum effort, letting thermodynamics do its work. The tools that you will need are:

  • Vacuum, heat resistant bag
  • Cooking scale vacuum machine
  • Temperature regulated water bath (as seen in the lab)
  • Your perfect perpendicular cut red meat
  • Butter, the spices and all the herbs you like
  1. You start by putting the meat in the bag and adding the butter and all the spices and herbs.
  2. You suck all the air out from inside the bag using the vacuum, the latter is a very important step, because it will bring all the meat fibers close to each other, which will aid in the homogeneous transfer of heat in the steak without the air particle coming in its way and disturbing the heat flow.

    Photo credit goes to BusinessWire
  3. You put the bag in the water bath and fix the temperature according to how done you want the meat to be.

Here is a chart that summarises the perfect core temperature for each type of steak:


And remember every time you order a “well done” steak a gourmet chef dies somewhere (well at least from the inside).

 As for the time needed in the water bath, here is a well detailed reference from ChefSteps that can guide through the times and temperatures needed according to the type of steak you like (Link).

I’m sure now you are thinking… well why don’t I use the kitchen meat thermometer while cooking, which will aid me to know the temperature in the inside of my steak?!
Well the answer is: Equilibrium.
When you cook your steak on the stove the surface of the steak is a lot more hotter than its core, so when you achieve that perfect temperature, the cooking process will continue even when you remove the pan away from the flame. Whereas, in sous-vide cooking the core and outer layer are in thermal equilibrium so you will end up with a perfect balanced cooking temperature.

Finally, You remove the meat from the bag, where you will find a mushy steak that lack the crust. You heat a pan to a high temperature and grill it for few seconds on each side in order not to disturb the equilibrium and achieve those “sexy” and caramelised lines, hence your perfect steak:

Photo credit goes to Cnet

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