Food Testing in the Labs

On several different situational comedies, I’ve seen the situation where People A are competing with People B’s food product. So, People A attempt to ateal some of B’s product in order to send it to some lab or another to be tested so that the secret ingrediant may be brought to light.

How realistic is this? I would imagine that if we can map out the human genetic code and find the gene for dyslexia, we ought to be able to determine if some pizza sauce contains celery salt or not. On the other hand, a strictly chemical analysis might determine that said sauce contains strands of CH2O4S2, but it wouldn’t be able to say if the chemical came from celery salt, parsley, dried slugs or just the jar of CH2O4S2 on the shelf.

So which is it? Can I enlist the powers of my secret lab to reveal the Colonel’s eleven herbs and spices?

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

William Poundstone did some of this type of thing in his Big/Bigger/Biggest Secrets books. (He even did the lab analysis on Kentucky Fried Chicken you describe.)

Poundstone comes to the conclusion that it would be quite easy for one company to determine what is in another company’s product, but there is no real reason for them to do so. The example he used was Coke and Pepsi. Despite the vaunted secrecy of the Coke formula, he says it would be quite easy for Pepsi to determine the formula of Coke. (He even gives the formula for Coke in the book.) But, Pepsi is better off producing a slightly different product to appeal to those people who prefer the taste of Pepsi to the taste of Coke. Producing a product exactly like Coke would lose market share for them.

So, yes, you can do it. Yes, companies probably do. But product differentiation and marketing are more important than reproducing your competitors product.

“You can’t run away forever; but there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start.” — Jim Steinman

Dennis Matheson —
Hike, Dive, Ski, Climb —

I bet a professional chef could tease out at least some of the flavors by taste alone.

I don’t know a lot about food chemistry, but I don’t think that most seasonings have been “mapped” in the sense of knowing their molecular structure.

Any food chemists out there?

The Cat In The Hat

I’m no professional chef, but I do cook a lot, and I’ve had quite a bit of success reproducing recipes from restaurants at home. You learn a little bit about food, and you learn that there’s basic building blocks. Once you know that it’s chicken breast grilled over fettucine and a feta-basil sauce, it’s no great feat to figure out the other spices and the sauce base. So I’d guess a professional could just about duplicate almost anything you’d ask for.

Oh, if you want to duplicate most of the “secret” recipes at home, check out:

“You can’t run away forever; but there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start.” — Jim Steinman

Dennis Matheson —
Hike, Dive, Ski, Climb —