Savoury

Beetrooccino & a certain xanthine alkaloid

Oh, caffeine. Or as its ultra-catchy IUPAC name would have it, 1,3,7-trimethyl-1H-purine-2,6(3H,7H)-dione. It’s the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world, and I’m consuming it right now, while I type! Just think of the things that have possibly been written under the influence of caffeine. Probably, like, War & Peace and stuff. And so this blog post pompously insinuates itself into that mighty company.

But how much of our dependence upon (and love affair with) caffeine is the result of its chemical effects on our brains, and how much is just in the mind? (Figuratively.)

It’s more than a little bit in the mind. You should know that by now.

One study had a little look at what happened to people’s ability to pay attention and detect important information after they consumed either a caffeinated or non-caffeinated drink, depending on whether they were told about its correct identity or misled (that’s right, another experiment full of blatant lies — I love it).

So all participants went through four sessions:

  • One in which they were given a caffeinated drink and told it was caffeinated (truth!).
  • One in which they were given a caffeinated drink and told it was non-caffeinated (lie!).
  • One in which they were given a non-caffeinated drink and told it was non-caffeinated (truth!).
  • One in which they were given a non-caffeinated drink and told it was caffeinated (lie!).

 
Different participants did the different sessions in different orders. They didn’t know that sometimes they were being lied to; they’re just drinking these drinks and then doing a computer task. So in each session, a little while after they consumed the drink, they performed a computer task in which numbers flashed up on the screen and participants had to pay attention and try to spot a target pattern (e.g. when the same number flashes up twice in a row and is an even number). This was a measure of their vigilance.

What would you expect would happen? We consume caffeine usually because we want to be more alert and pay attention, so having caffeine should improve vigilance, right? Well, yes, caffeine did improve vigilance.

But only when participants were told that their drink had caffeine in it.

If they had the caffeinated drink but were told it was decaffeinated, they performed pretty much exactly the same as when there really had been no caffeine in their drink. So their expectation that there was no caffeine to improve their performance meant that their performance wasn’t improved, even when the caffeine was there to act chemically on their brain.

However, this expectation effect wasn’t there for the non-caffeinated conditions: people performed pretty much equally after a non-caffeinated drink regardless of whether they thought it was caffeinated or not.

So what can we take away from this? Subtle relationships, people. Subtle relationships. It seems that there is an interaction between the chemical effects of caffeine and our normal expectations of what caffeine is going to do to us. The caffeine needs to be there, but we also need to expect it to be there and to work for it to actually work.

Or, more concisely, you can take this message away from it:

NEVER DOUBT YOUR CAFFEINE OR YOU WILL SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES.

And with that in mind, fancy some beetroot coffee? Or as I call it… beetrooccino?

Yeah so this is pretty much inspired by Heston Blumenthal’s lobsterccino, but (1) I’m not aiming to emulate the crazy excess of the 1980s like Heston was (I wasn’t there for half that decade), (2) beetroot and coffee share odour compounds that might make them complement each other rather well and (3) I was buying molecular gastronomy supplies online and my order was under the minimum order value by 5 cents, so I bought a $4 packet of beetroot powder and had to figure out something to do with it.

And the beetrooccino is good. It is actually really good. The coffee and beetroot do complement each other very well, although I have to say it is rather a savoury drink. I wouldn’t want to finish a meal with this, but… it might work as a slightly crazy hors d’œuvre prior to food.

Read on for the recipe for beetrooccino…

Steamed buns with bacon and caramelised bananas

I imagine that this recipe should come with some warnings:

Do not attempt this recipe if you care about your cardiovascular health at all. Do not attempt it if you wish to avoid Type II diabetes. Do not go within a 5-metre radius of the finished product if you want to keep the enamel on your teeth. Do not attempt this recipe if you have a weak stomach or a delicate disposition. This recipe would have been a candidate for thisiswhyyourefat.com if the owner of the site hadn’t deleted it (although Google has lovingly cached it of course). Do not prepare or consume this item while operating heavy machinery. May cause excessive sweating, nervousness, over-excitement or disgust.

That said, as shameful as these things are, they are amazing. And it’s not as if I’ve Lutherised a KFC Double-Down, a.k.a. fried meat + more fried meat + doughnut. This recipe is a petty crime compared to that monstrosity.

It came about out of pure necessity (so I tell myself) when I was trying to put together some form of meal with whatever was hanging around in the kitchen on a public holiday. I had about 20 steamed buns left over from the night before, I had bacon I had bought at the butcher because it was free-range and looked good, and I had bananas which I had bought primarily for their ethylene, so that they would encourage my very unripe chocolate pudding fruit to ripen. A few days previously I had been at a newly opened restaurant and had ordered a dish containing caramelised bananas and I was wistful for them, so they had to make a reappearance. And so everything came together in this ungodly way.