Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/224

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sign of life. But when the seed is moistened and warmed, the starch is changed to dextrin by the action of diastase, and the dextrin is further converted into sugar. The food of the germ thus gradually rendered soluble penetrates its tissues; it is thereby fed and grows, unfolds its first leaf upward, throws downward its first rootlet, still feeding on the converted starch until it has developed the organs by which it can feed on the carbonic acid of the air and the soluble minerals of the soil. But for the original insolubility of the starch it would be washed away into the soil, and wasted ere the germ could absorb it. The maltster, by artificial heat and moisture, hastens this formation of dextrin and sugar; then by a roasting heat kills the baby plant just as it is breaking through the seed-sheath. Blue-ribbon orators miss a point in failing to notice this. It would be quite in their line to denounce with scathing eloquence such heartless infanticide.

Diastase may be obtained by simply grinding freshly germinated barley or malt, moistening it with half its weight of warm water, allowing it to stand, and then pressing out the liquid. One part of diastase is sufficient to convert two thousand parts of starch into dextrin, and from dextrin to sugar, if the action is continued. The most favorable temperature for this is from 140° to 150° Fahr. The action ceases if the temperature be raised to the boiling-point.

The starch which we take so abundantly as food appears to have no more food-value to us than to the vegetable germ until the conversion into dextrin or sugar is effected. From what I have already stated concerning the action of heat upon starch, it is evident that this conversion is more or less effected in some processes of cookery. In the baking of bread an incipient conversion probably occurs throughout the loaf, while in the crust it is carried so far as to completely change most of the starch into dextrin, and some into sugar. Those of us who can remember our bread-and-milk may not have forgotten the gummy character of the crust when soaked. This may be felt by simply moistening a piece of crust in hot water and rubbing it between the fingers. A certain degree of sweetness may also be detected, though disguised by the bitterness of the caramel, which is also there.

The final conversion of starch-food into dextrin and sugar is effected in the course of digestion, especially, as already stated, in the first stage—that of insalivation. Saliva contains a kind of diastase, which has received the name of salivary diastase and mucin. It does not appear to be exactly the same substance as vegetable diastase, though its action is similar. It is most abundantly secreted by herbivorous animals, especially by ruminating animals. Its comparative deficiency in carnivorous animals is shown by the fact that, if vegetable matter is mixed with their food, starch passes through them unaltered.