Friday, August 6, 2010

Stale Food And Play-Doh

Now, for most of you, I know this might sound like a weird association, but quite often, I open a box of food, especially grains and other carbohydrates, and get punched in the face with this really strong Play-Doh scent. Y'know, Rice Krispies gone bad in the box, old but not yet moldy grains, and in particular, an icing-paste my sister once made that even resembled Play-Doh (The smell seems to have come from the glucose syrup.). Oh, and not to mention that box of dry dog treats I have for my dog.

It just seems that it's all too strangely familiar to be true, right? Or am I simply the only one that notices these smells? At any rate, since I finally got curious enough about why every second box of puffed rice I bought smelled like something I used to refrain from putting in my mouth, I decided to do a little research. To my astonishment, however, there's no article about stale foods smelling like Play-Doh. Anywhere! Might just be my imagination.

So let's say my mind hasn't been playing tricks on me for the last couple of decades or so, and it really does smell like Play-Doh? Well, a brief stint through the internet tells me of a process called "retrogradation", which is a fancy way of saying something is getting old. Now, I found some stuff about it relating to stale textures - that is, chewy chips and floppy crackers, all based on how starches bond to water - but nothing about that damn smell. Is it bacteria? Is it mold? Is it Superman?

Of course, these stale foods might not smell exactly the same, but they do cut it pretty close. If you want a sample of the smell I mean, go to your local grocer and buy the cheapest, oldest bag of plain puffed rice cereal you can find. Preferably with a pre-existing hole. Normal rice puffs smell kind of sweet and malty. Stale ones smell kind of musty. And as far as I can tell, this seems to happen to almost every kind of grain I know of (Except pseudocereals like Amaranth and Buckwheat.). Of note, is that stale cooking oil (Termed 'rancid', due to excessive exposure to air and light.) also has a similar smell. Indeed, if you combined those two smells together, it'd smell even more like Play-Doh (It's only ingredients are flour, water, boric acid, salt, oil, and silicone oil.).

While all these stale and rancid foods are usually still edible (Even Play-Doh! I don't recommend it though.), I prefer not to eat them due to the rather annoying odor they hold. Unfortunately, for everyone out there reading this blog (Which is no doubt few in number.), I cannot seem to determine what causes this particular smell. If any of you have any idea at all, leave a comment at the end of my post! I'd seriously like to know what you think.

As a humorous side note, here is a list of the few bizarrely unrelated topics I came across while noseying around for this post:
- Does anyone else love that Play-Doh smell?
- How do you make Play-Doh?
- Is it just me or does Play-Doh taste like salt?
- Why does my belly button smell?
- Play-Doh scented perfume by Demeter Fragrance Library
- What do mice droppings look like? (The answer was brown ricies!)
- Why do my feet smell like Play-Doh?
- How to remove boric acid smell (Which ironically, is about how to use boric acid to remove OTHER smells.)

Honestly, some people. Tch.


CatMomma said...

I’m surprised no one has commented and you wrote this back in 2010!!! Well I’m glad I found your article bc I’m currently going through what you went through 8 years ago and it feels good to not be alone LOL. My mother’s been making homemade bread and this batch for some reason smelled strongly of play d’oh!!! It’s been driving me nuts so I’ve been googling and googling but hitting dead ends and the same funny auto-populated topics. I’m just as stumped as you were that (even after all this time) no one has cared to blog about this issue. It should be a major concern... bc I can’t stand the smell or taste of play d’oh, and I know my mom isn’t going to stop baking, nor am I allowed to stop eating! :(

[Demiurge] said...

Wow, I haven't looked at this blog in years lol.

Glad to know I'm not the only one. I have figured out since then that the cause of the issue seems to be from the oils present in the foods, so it must be from rancidification rather than staleness. Different kinds of fatty acids in the oils cause slightly different smells when the oil goes rancid. Unfortunately, I'm not able to pinpoint which one.

It's possible the bread your mother made has some ingredient in it where the oil or fat content has gone rancid. Not sure what kind of bread it is exactly, so I can't point out any specific ingredients, but check your pantry!