The Hottest (and Coldest) Trends This Thanksgiving

Columnist
Graduate Division

The hottest way to cook Thanksgiving stuffing is coming to a table near you.

Although it can be cooked in a separate pot, stuffing is traditionally cooked right inside the turkey, absorbing the bird’s flavorful juices and coming out moister than its stovetop counterpart. Because soaking up juices also means soaking up any potential bacteria — particularly Salmonella — stuffing prepared in the bird needs to be cooked through to an internal temperature of at least 165 °F to kill the bacteria and ensure safe consumption.

But getting the stuffing at the center of a turkey to 165 °F almost inevitably overcooks the rest of the turkey meat, which is why renowned food show host Alton Brown suggests cooking the stuffing separately and putting it inside the bird after both are cooked, or as a last resort, heating up the stuffing in a microwave before putting it inside the raw bird to help sterilize some of those absorbed juices.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has similar guidelines for stuffing turkeys, and warns against purchasing pre-stuffed turkeys or using included pop-up meat thermometers, which only measure the meat’s temperature.

A recent patent application was clearly unsatisfied with such cooking workarounds. The patent proposes using a device invented to “simulate cooking stuffing in a bird” — a tube within a tube made of metal, plastic, or silicone. Stuffing is placed into the internal tube, turkey meat or liquid is placed into the cavity between the internal and external tube, and steam from those ingredients enters the internal tube through holes to moisten and cook the stuffing.

This patent claims to achieve stuffing that tastes like it would when cooked inside a bird, without the space limitations of the bird’s internal cavity, all while sterilizing any contaminating bacteria. It sounds over the top, but when it comes to Thanksgiving stuffing, people just like it the way they like it. If this stuffing-cooking-tube invention ever hits the shelves of Bed, Bath, and Beyond, just remember: you heard about it here, first.

Have a happy Thanksgiving and stay Salmonella-free!

And now for the cold — the Freeze Ray.

Lasers — we use them in a wide variety of applications including telecommunications, spectroscopy and imaging, medical diagnostics and therapies, welding and cutting, heating, and now, cooling.

Peter Pauzauskie’s group at the University of Washington’s (UW) Department of Materials Science and Engineering has published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which they use an infrared laser and an yttrium lithium fluoride (YLF) nanocrystal to cool down various liquids including water and physiological buffers such as PBS and DMEM. They suspend their nanocrystal in liquid and excite it by infrared radiation, which produces a higher energy glow of visible light by taking heat away from the liquid and uses it to shift the nanocrystal’s glow from blue-green to green-red. That color change also serves as a convenient built-in thermometer.

The authors highlight the significance of using an optical method to cool down a liquid: “The ability to optically generate local refrigeration fields around individual nanocrystals promises to enable precise optical temperature control within integrated electronic/photonic/microfluidic circuits, and also thermal modulation of basic biomolecular processes, including the dynamics of motor proteins.” In other words, they’re proposing applying their method to cooling down anything from electronic circuitry, which tends to heat up quickly, to cells, which might enable studying biochemical processes in slow-motion.

The only previous example of laser cooling was that of nanocrystals in vacuum conditions, by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1995. This UW group is the first to achieve laser cooling of a liquid in normal conditions — something that has never been done because liquid has a very high optical absorption coefficient for near-infrared radiation. A high absorption coefficient means that a large amount of radiation energy is absorbed, which heats up the liquid — we know intuitively that shining light at water warms it up.

Scientific breakthroughs are particularly exciting to the general public when they create something that has existed previously in our collective imagination through science fiction. The freeze ray — the fictional villain’s weapon to freeze enemies in a block of ice — seems slightly more possible now that a laser can be used both to heat things up and cool them down. Also, it’s pretty impressive that as versatile as laser technology is, it continues to reveal more and more applications with the passing years.