The time I have left in Mexico feels like it’s slipping through my fingers, which is why it was so difficult to take this last week slow. Unfortunately I felt very sick this past Wednesday and couldn’t go to work, but I am so grateful for the care CIMMYT has provided me and the support of everyone around me. Despite illness, I was able to spend another amazing week in Mexico.

This week in the lab I patiently waited for my maheu trial #3 to ferment. I divided the sample into three different pots and placed them each in a different temperature. One was left at room temperature 20˚C, another in a stove at 25˚C and the last in stove set at 30˚C.

It was interesting to see how the rates of fermentation was different in the three different environments. After leaving them for seven days, I plan on asking other interns and researchers who are familiar with maheu to help me in a rudimentary sensory analysis test. To be authentic, I believe the drink must have the correct color, thickness, smell, and acidity. Throughout this process I have grown accoustomed to maheu’s distinct smell and honestly it is starting to grow on me, although not all of my co-workers feel the same. I’m sure they will be glad once I am finally finished with the cooking stage of my project.

While waiting, I was busy running physical analysis tests on my sample of Provitamin A orange maize. With a lot of help, I determined grain size using stacked trays that had decreasing sized holes from 22mm, decreasing by 2mm until 18mm. Later I was taught how to find the hardness of my sample by seeing how many kernels float to the surface in a solution of sodium nitrate (my sample was determined to be hard, in case you were curious). I was really confused as to why I had to perform these tests and what the significance of the results were. As it was explained to me, certain food products require a different sized grain or hardness level. For example, tortilla companies want to buy moderate sized kernels that are soft. Who knew tortillas were this complicated!

One other test I was able to help with this week was protein analysis. Using only 40mg of flour, one can find the percentage of nitrogen in a sample, which is indicative of the percentage of protein in a sample. I was able to help Miguel in preparing the samples and then run the actual test. My job was to read the lectura (reader) and use a little bit of math to find the %N.

Adding distilled water to the samples after digestion
What the reader looks like after a typical protein analysis

I’m starting to feel like I’m getting a hang of the lab life, thanks of course to the best teachers.

Despite my queasy Wednesday, I was feeling well enough by the weekend to take a trip with my good friend Joy and one of my advisors, Aldo, who very kindly drove us the two hours to Huasco de Ocampo to see the prismas. Once again Mexico proved to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We also learned about los duendes or trolls that according to Mexican folklore live amongst us causing mischief.

The view from above, wowza
a duende captured on film

The prismas are said to be formed from igneous rock thousands of years ago after a volcano eruption. Their unique geometric shape is due to the lava touching the frozen water below. Either way, pretty cool.

Week Four To-Do List:

  • seriously go to a salsa class, now that I’m healthy there are no excuses
  • visit my lovely cousin in la Ciudad de México
  • dissect some corn kernels

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Abby Overstrom

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