Spotlight on Chemistry: Pumpkins

Nothing says fall quite like a pumpkin. From Jack O’ Lanterns and coffee flavors, to center pieces for your Thanksgiving table, this seasonal squash is an autumn staple. Let’s take a look at the chemistry that has us falling for pumpkins year after year.

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Wait, so my pumpkin spice treat isn’t really pumpkin?

Pumpkin spice Twinkies, Cheerioes, lattes, beer, cinnamon rolls, and Oreos. Nope! And your pumpkin pie probably isn’t either. The “pumpkin” used in your pie is actually a specially bred sweet squash that is less watery and fibrous than your typical carving pumpkin. Both pumpkin pie and pumpkin spice flavored foods rely more on their blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove than the gourd itself for their flavor. Since natural spices don’t produce consistent flavoring in large-scale commercial food production, the molecules that produce the flavor in these spices (cinnamaldehyde & pinene are among these) are often added instead.

You can read more about the flavor chemistry of your favorite fall treats in this Chemical & Engineering News article.

2018 Chemistry Nobel Prize Winners

On October 3, 2018, this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry winners were announced.

Photo Credit: Caltech; University of Missouri; and MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

“The 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Frances H. Arnold of California Institute of Technology for the directed evolution of enzymes and to George P. Smith of the University of Missouri and Gregory P. Winter of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology for the phage display of peptides and antibodies. Arnold will receive half of the approximately $1 million prize; Smith and Winter will split the other half equally,” wrote Celia Henry Arnaud of Chemical & Engineering News. Arnold is just the second woman to win the prize in the past 50 years.

Learn more about the development and uses of directed evolution enzymes and the phage display of peptides and antibodies at Chemical & Engineering News, Nature International Journal of Science, and The Nobel Prize.