Smog Tasting: How to monitor air pollution using meringues

Smog Tasting - The Centre for Genomic Gastronomy

Smog Tasting – The Centre for Genomic Gastronomy

“Thanks to Eggs we are able to harvest the air…at the ‘stiff peak’ stage…[egg] foam is approaching 90% air.” –  On Food and Cooking

The Centre For Genomic Gastronomy ran a fascinating project – Smog Tasting – earlier this year using egg whites to create a low-tech, edible record of the air quality in different parts of Bangalore.

The premise behing the project is simple: particulate matter from the surrounding air gets trapped in the foam as egg whites are whipped to form stiff peaks. As such, meringues using egg whites whipped in different areas of the city reflect changes in air quality.

If you’re feeling particularly research-oriented you could test the meringues for things like the presence of heavy metals and other pollutants, but if you forgot to bring your portable testing kit you could just conduct a taste test to see which suburbs are the most flavoursome.

“I think it was a nice breakthrough for us in terms of using food as a biosensor, something we have wanted to explore for a while,” explains Zack Denfield, co-founder of Genomic Gastronomy. “There is a lot of good work being done with digital air quality sensors, but this is a much more low-tech and hopefully evocative way to get people to think about (and taste?) their air quality.”

The baked goods are a simple way of making a largely invisible problem into a tangible reality. “Most citizens who live with poor air quality know it, and deal with it every day, but it is invisible and ambient. Hopefully Smog Tasting is a way of making something that is persistent and in the background more concrete and visible.”

The workshops run by the Centre for Genomic Gastronomy have now finished but Denfield is keen to see others explore the project’s potential, both political and industrial.

“I look forward to seeing if other foodhackers build on it or use it as a tactic, says Denfield. “It would be great if people sent politicians or industry chiefs boxes of Smog Tasting meringues.”

Smog Tasting - The Centre for Genomic Gastronomy

Smog Tasting – The Centre for Genomic Gastronomy