Monday, December 7, 2009

Periodic Tables of Food

A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon a poster at AllPosters of a Periodic Table of Vegetables. It's an interesting concept, to be sure. The Periodic Table of the Elements is a mapping of a particular type of data, organized by groups (columns) and periods (rows). Why not use the same style as a visual representation of something tastier?

Unfortunately, the image is a little too small to make out most of the veggies clearly, but it got me wondering what other kinds of periodic tables of food exist. The search was, and still is, on. I found several interesting tables of food, a couple of which I had even seen before. I also found non-food tables, my favorite being of game controllers. Here's what I've found so far:

The table that I've found myself looking at, and wanting to hang up on my wall the most, is the Periodic Table of Dessert. It breaks down its categorization into separate ingredients, which is important, because that's pretty much what the elemental table does. It makes an excellent effort to categorize things clearly, and assigns one- or two-letter symbols to each item. However, it does contain far fewer columns than the original, and uses symbols that I don't necessarily agree with (why P for peanut butter, instead of PB? How does M signify honey?). I would love to send this table through another revision. On the bright side, it is accompanied by a thermal spectrum (which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me) and what appears to be the crystaline structures for several compounds (which is just awesome). These are all available together as a single poster.

Next up is the Table of Condiments that Periodically Go Bad. Unlike the dessert table, this table is numbered. Unfortunately, the numbers really only make sense paradoically (is that a word?). Again, elements are given symbols, and any that crossover to the dessert table actually seem to match. This kills me. I don't think that salt should be S, I think it should be Sl or Sa. Ideally, we would break into a three-letter designation, and use Sal. <End Rant> The most important part of this table is the designation for each condiment of how long you have before it goes bad. Very nice, in terms of food safety.

The Periodic Table of Produce is similar, except that it feels much more serious to me. Really, it's a table of food storage of fresh produce, including storage suggestions and timelines to when a particular veg will go bad. I would love to find a higher-quality version of this, and put it on my refrigerator door.

Growing more complex, we have a Periodic Table of Cheeses, complete with full merchandizing on t-shirts, mugs, mouse pads and, of course, posters. According to the site, this table was created by the blind Russian cook Anatoli Grigor Konchalovsky, apparently in 1865. I don't know how true that is, but if it is, that probably makes it the first periodic parody of food. Some thought has clearly gone into its organization, but I'm not entirely sure yet what each color means, or how some of the groupings fit. I love the "Noble Cheeses" classification, though.

I found the Periodic Breakfast Table interesting, though I haven't yet found a copy that looks to be complete. Offhand, it seems to be sorted visually, rather than by type of grain, manufacturer, history, etc. It does have some of this printed with each cereal, but it doesn't seem to be sorted that way.

Going back to deserts, there was a Periodic Table of Cupcakes posted in Women's Day earlier this year. There's a part of me that is impressed, because I never would have expected any mainstream periodical (other than the venerable Cook's Illustrated) to expect their readers to enjoy a scientific nod like this. But then another part of me looks at the actual cupcakes printed, and would be entirely confused by the majority of them if it didn't know that really it's probably just a marketing gimmick for their own recipes. Still, it's cool.

The Periodic Table of Candy looks to be entirely parody, listing commercial candy varieties, numbered, and in alphabetical order. I haven't decided yet whether the little girl at the top is cute or frightening.

Our journey is almost over. Back at AllPosters, I also came across a poster of the Periodic Table of Sandwichry. There is no way I can make out anything sensible on this, but as one of the cheaper posted presented, I might be willing to order it along with something else.

To finish up, I present to you the Periodic Tables of Beer Styles and of Mixology. Add these to the category of "Text to small to read, so no clue as to any useful information, including accuracy." Still, it's a nice thought.


  1. My mom had the periodic table of fruits and nuts in our kitchen for years (I'm talking decades).

  2. Pb = Lead (Not exactly something you want in your PB&J.)

    Mel = honey. (In Portuguese, and probably other romance languages.)


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