It might seem strange, but working with food is nothing new to the MYTHBUSTERS crew. According to this week’s “Cooking Chaos” episode, they’ve done 71 stories on food! Remember the episode where food-science chef Alton Brown joined them to test the myth that you can cook a full Thanksgiving dinner under the hood of a classic Cadillac de Ville?
This week, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman attempted to replicate two very different online videos involving food. One that showed making smoothies by exposing fruits and vegetables to a tank with exploding water. And one that purported to show shooting shrimp through separate flour, egg wash, bread crumb, and flame stations at a target and bouncing onto a plate, arriving on the plate cooked and ready to eat as Shrimp Tempura.
Using a waterproof tank with ballistic-shield glass just like they saw in the video, Jamie and Adam suspended a tomato wrapped in shrink-wrapped plastic from the bottom of the tank, exposing it to a blasting cap. The idea was to ignite the blasting cap so the shock wave through the water would release the juice in the tomato without tearing or rupturing the tomato’s skin.
The first shockwave was seven inches from the tomato and they got a mouthful of juice, not exactly an efficient result. So they reset the distance between blasting caps and tomatoes to see what was the closest they could come without breaking the skin of the tomato, to see if it produced more juice. The closer the blasting cap s to the tomatoes, the more juice they produced. It turned out, the closest distance between the blasting caps and the tomatoes without rupturing a tomato skin was an inch and a half.
Comparing the juice they produced from the closest blasting cap (30 percent of the tomato) to the juice they could produce using an industrial juicer (62 percent), while commendable, it didn’t seem all that efficient. Maybe what Adam and Jamie needed was add more explosive power.
Moving from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department explosives range – site of many an episode with explosions – to the lake where many an underwater explosion has taken place, Jamie and Adam set up bags of fruits and vegetables at various ranges. The bags contained cucumbers, tomatoes, oranges, pineapples, and more, just as used in the video. They set them at a depth of five feet at distances from the explosives of 2 feet, 5 feet, 10 feet, and every 5 feet up to 40 feet, to see how the fruits and vegetables would take the force of 20 pounds of TNT and whether any unruptured fruit would produce juice.
The slow-mo camera replay showed an impressive shock wave and multiple after shocks from the lake bottom. As Adam and Jamie pulled up the bags of fruits and vegetables, it became apparent the ramp up of explosive power was a failure. They lost the bags at 2, 5, and 10 feet. The fruits and vegetables in the other bags were in various degrees of condition, but of those whose skins remained intact, the fruit inside was tender but there was no juice. A bigger blast was not better.
Replaying their videos, Adam and Jamie concluded that the tank contained the blasts, sending shock waves back and forth through the fruit and pulverizing the insides to produce juice. In the lake, the blast tore through the fruit and then continued on, but didn’t have a chance to pulverize the fruit into juice. Thus, while it’s possible for a blast to produce juice it isn’t a foregone conclusion.
- Conclusion: Plausible
The original video shows an air canon shooting shrimp through the air at a target. On its way, the shrimp is dusted with flour from an air canon below, sprayed with egg wash from above with an air valve, puffed with bread crumbs from below with another air canon, sizzled with flames from below, and then strikes a target with a pillow made of bubble wrap, against which it bounces and lands on a plate, fully cooked. Shrimp Tempura!
Jamie and Adam dutifully measured every aspect of the set up on the original video and duplicated it in a large empty warehouse.
Reusing the air gun from multiple previous episodes, Jamie and Adam first tested their ability to hit the target with their shrimp. And at first the only thing the shrimp hit was Adam with its “shrapnel.” Stabilizing their rig helped, but it wasn’t until Adam added a paper cup (called a sabot) behind the shrimp that they got a solid shot of air behind the shrimp and they hit their target.
Then Adam and Jamie arranged the rest of the set up, matching what they saw in the original video, all timed to the millisecond with timers and switches so the shrimp passed through each step of the tempura prep. It worked perfect the first time through, sending the shrimp through all four steps including a 500º F fireball without a hitch — well, except that most of the shrimp wasn’t coated and it wasn’t cooked.
They tried it a couple of times and the result was the same. There wasn’t much Jamie and Adam could do to change the variables, because if they slowed down the timing to improve the coating or the cooking, the shrimp wouldn’t hit the target. If they added more air power, it would shred the shrimp. But what they could do was increase the heat, from 500º F to 2100º F.
After pre-coating the shrimp, Adam and Jamie shot the shrimp through a sword forge. But the shrimp was still not cooked.
Their final attempt was to combine four sword forges – 12 feet of flame at 2100º F to expose the pre-coated shrimp longer – in the hope of recreating the results. But after shooting the shrimp and hitting the target, it was still not cooked. “It’s not how fast the food moves through the flame,” said Adam, “it’s how long the heat can move through the food.” Jamie agreed: “The original video must have been faked.”
- Conclusion: Busted
So in this episode of MYTHBUSTERS we got to feast on food and explosions. Pretty awesome! If you missed “Cooking Chaos,” you can catch a repeat on the Science Channel Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. ET (6:00 p.m. PT) and midnight ET (9:00 p.m. PT). Bon apetit!