007 Had It Right with the Martinis
GUY RAZ, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
Next week would have been the 100th birthday of Ian Fleming. We decided to honor Fleming in his most famous James Bond, by dedicating this week's Science Out of the Box segment to the science of the martini.
(SOUNDBITE OF THEME SONG OF JAMES BOND MOVIES)
RAZ: Ordering your martini shaken not stirred may not make you look as cool as 007 but it will get you a tastier drink, and maybe even a healthier one. Okay. So, maybe a little less unhealthy. Dr. Andrea Sella is a chemist who's researched the martini at University College London, and he joins us now from the studios of the BBC.
Dr. Sella, welcome.
D: Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to be here.
RAZ: So, how is it that a shaken martini is healthier than a stirred martini?
D: Well, it's an interesting debate and it's one that's been around for quite a while. It really comes from a paper that was published by a research group at the University of Western Ontario. What they did was they compared the ability of shaken martinis as opposed to stirred martinis to remove hydrogen peroxide, which is sort of a good indicator of the ability of a drink or a substance to act as an antioxidant.
And what they found was, to their surprise, that the shaken martinis were rather more effective than the stirred ones.
RAZ: So, let me get something straight: hydrogen peroxide actually has an aging effect on the human body, right?
D: One of the problems we have is that we live in an oxygen atmosphere, and oxygen is one of the most aggressive molecules we know. Now, because we're exposed to it all the time biology has developed very clever ways to handle it and sort of move it around very gently.
And along the path, which leads from oxygen down to water, which is its ultimate sort of fate, lies hydrogen peroxide. And because hydrogen peroxide is very reactive it has to be kind of kept away from things. But, yes, small amounts sneak out and they will result in a certain amount of damage inside cells and really the aging process, a lot of the aging process is associated with this kind of things.
RAZ: So, a shaken martini is an antioxidant?
D: Well, in martinis there are components, which are antioxidants, and it seems the antioxidant action is a little bit, you know, is a little bit higher in a shaken martini than in a stirred one. Although the details of how this work, you know, haven't really been worked out. But the crucial side seems to be coming from the vermouth.
RAZ: Now, in your research you've actually found shaking a martini makes it taste better.
D: Well, one might expect it to taste somewhat different. Now, first of all, let me declare my interest: I'm not a huge fan of martinis per se.
RAZ: Yeah, a lot of people hate martins.
D: Absolutely. I mean, martinis are definitely an acquired taste. But the crucial thing is that when you think about what happens between pouring something into your mouth and experiencing it in your mind, in your brain, it's not just the sort of chemical components. There's a lot more going on.
You taste the various chemical components but at the same time you feel the temperature. The other thing is you feel the texture. And one of the things that will be different between a shaken drink and a stirred one will be what is the fate of the ice, first of all. Will the ice actually crack, leaving little micro shards which will alter the mouth feel.
The other thing is if you shake it you may also get small bubbles adhering to the surface of the ice and, again, this will alter just the perceptual side. And so the science of martinis or cocktails in general will, I think, by its very nature always be rather imperfect and that makes it more fun.
RAZ: Well, Dr. Andrea Sella, a real mixologist with a Ph.D., thanks so much for speaking with us.
D: It's been a pleasure.
RAZ: Dr. Andrea Sella is a chemist at University College London. He joined us from the BBC. And in honor of your new finding...
(SOUNDBITE OF SHAKING ICE)
RAZ: ...a toast over a shaken martini.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHAKING ICE)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.