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Turning Water Into Wine: When Food Changes Color in Your Kitchen

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Water into Wine?

When I was a kid my parents gave me a chemistry set for my birthday. I was fascinated by all the bottles of strange chemicals. But, being a lazy sort, I never got around to doing any of the experiments that the instruction book laid out. Except for one. The headline proclaimed: Turn water into wine! It was a magic trick of sorts. You’d take colorless tap water with a little bit of an alkaline chemical added to it, pour it into a glass that had been coated on the inside with a colorless phenolphthalein solution, and voila!, two colorless liquids turn bright red!

My best friend Erik was fascinated by all this. He’d never drunk wine, and before I could stop him he grabbed the glass and swallowed it down. Erik died an agonizing death later that night, and his parents retired to Tahiti with the proceeds from their wrongful death lawsuit against the chemistry set maker. …no wait, I just made that last part up.


But Food is Made out of Chemicals Too!

I don’t have a chemistry set anymore. But I do have a kitchen, and you can think of that as a big chemistry lab. Baking soda is alkaline, vinegars and Coca Cola are acidic, and the refrigerator is filled with organic and inorganic chemicals. When you cook there are chemical reactions going on all the time, from the rising of your pancakes to the caramelization of your onions. Perhaps most fascinating, though, is the strange chemistry that goes on in the kitchen to change the color of foods.

Tahini Turns from Brown to White?

For example, when I make tahini sauce for my falafel sandwiches I mix brown tahini with yellow lemon juice and a bit of clear water and, before you know it, the resulting sauce is bright white. Weird, huh?


Red from Green Asparagus?

Even weirder is what happens to asparagus.

Take a nice, green vegetable, again squeeze on yellow lemon juice, and, amazingly, the juice in the bottom of the bowl is red! Whoa, where did that come from???


Purple and Turquoise from Red Kale?

Last night, though, I came across something weirder than weird.

I steamed a nice head of organic red kale. I have noticed in the past that when this vegetable cooks it comes out green. But I’d never paid attention to where the “red” goes. So, where does it go? Well I noticed that there was some red liquid in the steaming basket, and lots more in the serving bowl after dinner. No surprise there, I guess.


But when it cooled it turned a bright shade of purple. Very cool! But what about the water in the bottom of the steamer? I looked at that, and it wasn’t red, but a gorgeous shade of turquoise! Huh? The water in the steaming basket is red/purple, but just below it, and definitely connected to it, the water looks like it belongs on a beach in the Caribbean? Go figure.

Are There Gremlins in Your Kitchen?

Maybe you’ve noticed some strange color changes in your kitchen? Send us a description and a picture. You could win an all-expenses-paid trip to Tahiti! …no wait, I just made that last part up.

Mark is an attorney, author and long-time vegan.  He lives in Colorado with his cat Elgie.  Mark’s book, “ The Perfectly Contented Meat Eater’s Guide To Vegetarianism”  can be purchased at our store.


Author: Mark W. Reinhardt

Mark Warren Reinhardt is an attorney and author who has been writing and lecturing on veganism and animal rights issues for longer than anyone can remember. His book, “The Perfectly Contented Meat-Eater’s Guide to Vegetarianism” was published by Continuum in 1998. Mark has previously served on the boards of the Vegetarian Society of Colorado, Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, and Divine Feline, as well as a number of other nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Mark holds degrees in engineering and law from Duke, Harvard, and the University of Chicago. He lives in Denver with his cat Elgie.