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Conversations on Chemistry Part 110

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Such birds, in general, make but little use of their wings; if they fly, it is but feebly, and only to a short distance. Their flesh, too, partakes of the oily nature, and even in taste sometimes resembles that of fish. This is the case not only with the various kinds of water fowls, but with all other amphibious animals, as the otter, the crocodile, the lizard, &c.

CAROLINE.

And what is the reason that reptiles are so deficient in muscular strength?

MRS. B.

It is because they usually live under ground, and seldom come into the atmosphere. They have imperfect, and sometimes no discernible organs of respiration; they partake therefore of the soft oily nature of fish; indeed, many of them are amphibious, as frogs, toads, and snakes, and very few of them find any difficulty in remaining a length of time under water. Whilst, on the contrary, the insect tribe, that are so strong in proportion to their size, and alert in their motions, partake of the nature of birds, air being their peculiar element, and their organs of respiration being comparatively larger than in other classes of animals.

I have now given you a short account of the principal animal functions.

However interesting the subject may appear to you, a fuller investigation of it would, I fear, lead us too far from our object.

EMILY.

Yet I shall not quit it without much regret; for of all the branches of chemistry, it is certainly the most curious and most interesting.

CAROLINE.

But, Mrs. B., I must remind you that you promised to give us some account of the nature of _milk_.

MRS. B.

True. There are several other animal productions that deserve likewise to be mentioned. We shall begin with milk, which is certainly the most important and the most interesting of all the animal secretions.

Milk, like all other animal substances, ultimately yields by analysis oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. These are combined in it under the forms of albumen, gelatine, oil, and water. But milk contains, besides, a considerable portion of phosphat of lime, the purposes of which I have already pointed out.

CAROLINE.

Yes; it is this salt which serves to nourish the tender bones of the suckling.

MRS. B.

To reduce milk to its elements, would be a very complicated, as well as useless operation; but this fluid, without any chemical assistance, may be decomposed into three parts, _cream_, _curds_, and _whey_. These constituents of milk have but a very slight affinity for each other, and you find accordingly that cream separates from milk by mere standing. It consists chiefly of oil, which being lighter than the other parts of the milk, gradually rises to the surface. It is of this, you know, that butter is made, which is nothing more than oxygenated cream.

CAROLINE.

Butter, then, is somewhat analogous to the waxy substance formed by the oxygenation of vegetable oils.

MRS. B.

Very much so.

EMILY.

But is the cream oxygenated by churning?

MRS. B.

Its oxygenation commences previous to churning, merely by standing exposed to the atmosphere, from which it absorbs oxygen. The process is afterwards completed by churning; the violent motion which this operation occasions brings every particle of cream in contact with the atmosphere, and thus facilitates its oxygenation.

CAROLINE.

But the effect of churning, I have often observed in the dairy, is to separate the cream into two substances, butter and butter-milk.

MRS. B.

That is to say, in proportion as the oily particles of the cream become oxygenated, they separate from the other constituent parts of the cream in the form of butter. So by churning you produce, on the one hand, butter, or oxygenated oil; and, on the other, butter-milk, or cream deprived of oil. But if you make butter by churning new milk instead of cream, the butter-milk will then be exactly similar in its properties to creamed or skimmed milk.

CAROLINE.

Yet butter-milk is very different from common skimmed milk.

MRS. B.

Because you know it is customary, in order to save time and labour, to make butter from cream alone. In this case, therefore, the butter-milk is deprived of the creamed milk, which contains both the curd and whey.

Besides, in consequence of the milk remaining exposed to the atmosphere during the separation of the cream, the latter becomes more or less acid, as well as the butter-milk which it yields in churning.

EMILY.

Why should not the butter be equally acidified by oxygenation?

MRS. B.

Animal oil is not so easily acidified as the other ingredients of milk.

Butter, therefore, though usually made of sour cream, is not sour itself, because the oily part of the cream had not been acidified.

Butter, however, is susceptible of becoming acid by an excess of oxygen; it is then said to be rancid, and produces the sebacic acid, the same as that which is obtained from fat.

EMILY.

If that be the case, might not rancid butter be sweetened by mixing with it some substance that would take the acid from it?

MRS. B.

This idea has been suggested by Sir H. Davy, who supposes, that if rancid butter were well washed in an alkaline solution, the alkali would separate the acid from the butter.

CAROLINE.

You said just now that creamed milk consisted of curd and whey. Pray how are these separated?

MRS. B.

They may be separated by standing for a certain length of time exposed to the atmosphere; but this decomposition may be almost instantaneously effected by the chemical agency of a variety of substances. Alkalies, rennet*, and indeed almost all animal substances, decompose milk by combining with the curds.

Acids and spirituous liquors, on the other hand, produce a decomposition by combining with the whey. In order, therefore, to obtain the whey pure, rennet, or alkaline substances, must be used to attract the curds from it.

But if it be wished to obtain the curds pure, the whey must be separated by acids, wine, or other spirituous liquors.

[Footnote *: Rennet is the name given to a watery infusion of the coats of the stomach of a sucking calf. Its remarkable efficacy in promoting coagulation is supposed to depend on the gastric juice with which it is impregnated.]

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Conversations on Chemistry Part 110 summary

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