Taking stupid memes and applying science, because without science we wouldn’t even have memes. Today’s episode: “Happiness is a good book, some chocolate, and a full glass of wine.” I removed the FB page name this came from. No need to call out the bullshitters gunning for hits and likes.

Printing Press

The sharp rise of medieval learning and literacy among the middle class led to an increased demand for books which the time-consuming hand-copying method fell far short of accommodating. So, science stepped in and we got the printing press.

The invention and spread of the printing press was one of the most influential events in the second millennium, literally revolutionizing the way people conceive and describe the world they live in, and ushering in the period of modernity.

The printing press was invented by the German Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, based on existing screw presses. Gutenberg, a goldsmith by profession, actually developed a complete printing system, which perfected the printing process through all of its stages by adapting existing technologies to the printing purposes, as well as making groundbreaking inventions of his own. His newly devised hand mold made for the first time possible the precise and rapid creation of metal movable type in large quantities, a key element in the profitability of the whole printing enterprise.

Technologies preceding the press that led to the press’s invention included: manufacturing of paper, development of ink, woodblock printing, and distribution of eye-glasses (more science). More about the printing press here.

Chocolate

Who doesn’t love chocolate?! It’s delicious, and in it dark form it can be very good for you — in moderation of course. But without science, we wouldn’t have chocolate as we know it today.

Chocolate is made from Theobroma cacao seeds, which have been cultivated by many cultures for at least three millennia in Mesoamerica. The earliest evidence of use can be traced back to the Mokaya (Mexico and Guatemala), with evidence of chocolate beverages dating back to 1900 BCE. In fact, the majority of Mesoamerican people made chocolate beverages, including the Maya and Aztecs, who made it into a beverage known as “xocolātl” — meaning “bitter water.”

Indeed, this drink was notoriously bitter, but nonetheless delicious and highly-prized. It’s even gaining in popularity once again in some areas. But why is it so bitter to begin with? Simple, the seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste. To fix that, the seeds must be fermented to develop the flavor. You need science for that!

Once the beans have gone through the fermentation process, they are dried, cleaned, and roasted. The shell is then removed to produce cacao nibs, which are then ground to cocoa mass, pure chocolate in rough form. Once the cocoa mass is liquefied by heating, it is called chocolate liquor. The liquor also may be cooled and processed into its two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Thanks to new processes that sped the production of chocolate during the Industrial Revolution, much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter or other fat, and sugar. Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that contains milk powder or condensed milk. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids.

One of those processes was invented by Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten in 1828 (chemistry rules!). He created a press to remove about half the natural fat (cocoa butter or cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, which made chocolate both cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. This innovation introduced the modern era of chocolate.

After numerous other inventions took chocolate even further into the realm of deliciousness, Rudolphe Lindt invented the conching machine in 1879, which further improved the texture and taste of chocolate.

But the part I really love is where the real science comes in. Chocolate just wouldn’t be chocolate unless it is tempered first. Without it, the surface of chocolate appears to be mottled and matte, and it crumbles rather than snaps when broken.

To figure out the best tempering process, you need chemistry — and loads of it. It all comes down to the fats in cocoa butter, which can crystallize in six different forms (polymorphous crystallization). The primary purpose of tempering is to assure that only the best form is present.

And last but not least…

Wine

Let’s face it, wine has been around forever. Like, really, forever. Indeed, archaeological evidence has established the earliest known production of wine from fermented grapes during the late Neolithic site of Hajji Firuz in the northern Iran Zagros Mountains or early Chalcolithic site in the northern edge of the Middle East.

Many religions incorporate wine into their worship. Even Jesus was said to make wine from water, most likely because water was full of little wiggly pests that could get into your innards and really do a number on your health. Wine was fermented (thanks science!), and therefore safer to drink.

Again, it takes a lot of science to get the wine right. See, during the fermentation process, yeast consumes the sugar in the grapes and converts it to ethanol and carbon dioxide. Get it wrong and you’ve got a barrel of nasty juice that no one wants to drink. That same yeasty process is used for chocolate as well.

But that’s not all, without science we wouldn’t know that moderate consumption of red wine comes with a myriad of health benefits, such as a decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even metabolic syndrome.

So you see, without science there’s a really good chance you wouldn’t have all these things. You might have them in a rudimentary and ancient sort of way, but certainly not in the way the meme presents it.

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