It's not eggzactly the same thing.
May 3, 2012 7:00 AM   Subscribe

It doesn't seem like egg whites can be anything but runny egg whites, but I know if they're beaten long enough they eventually become meringue. What other examples are there in which something starts out as one thing and is transformed into something altogether different? The more unexpected the better.
posted by mcbeth to Grab Bag (51 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
cream => butter
milk => cheese
acorn => oak tree
fertilized egg => baby
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:02 AM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Chocolate mousse made from just chocolate and water - typically, you should keep chocolate and water away from each other.

Are you looking for just food examples?
posted by punchtothehead at 7:04 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gelatin is ground-up hooves and water.
posted by griphus at 7:05 AM on May 3, 2012

Emulsions of oil & vinegar, which are typically self-separated substances?
posted by kellyblah at 7:12 AM on May 3, 2012

Some fairly obvious examples are seed-->plant, fertilized egg-->baby (though I do appreciate those, Faint of Butt)

Yes, like mousse and gelatin, though needn't be restricted to food examples.
posted by mcbeth at 7:13 AM on May 3, 2012

Sugar syrup into hard candy.

And honestly, the moment when the pudding thickens always seems a little bit magic to me even though I know it's really just starch.
posted by Frowner at 7:15 AM on May 3, 2012

Oobleck a suspension of starch and water that, if it's hit in the right way, acts like a solid. Fun at parties!
posted by xingcat at 7:15 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh! Diamonds-to-carbon is a pretty spectacular transformation via heat and pressure.
posted by griphus at 7:17 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Soft copper and even softer tin alloy into hard, brittle bronze.
posted by gauche at 7:17 AM on May 3, 2012

Carbon-to-diamonds, rather.
posted by griphus at 7:18 AM on May 3, 2012

Also, it's kind of overused, but caterpillars to butterflies.
posted by xingcat at 7:19 AM on May 3, 2012

Making paneer, which is a very fresh cheese, is fascinating -- you more or less pour lemon juice (other acids might do) into hot milk, and it just suddenly congeals into this white lump!

Making saag is fun, too, since you cook a trash can of greens down to a couple of cups of sauce....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:19 AM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Egg Yolk + Oil = Mayonaisse
Hydrogen + Oxygen = water
posted by adamvasco at 7:20 AM on May 3, 2012

Old dinosaurs and other dead stuff -> chewing gum, aspirin, and fuel
posted by ubiquity at 7:23 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I recently started wet-shaving, thanks to the Wicked-Edge crew over at Reddit, and after decades of shaving with gel-based and can-based foams for shaving cream, making my own lather out of a badger-hair brush and soap can be one of the highlights of my morning. Lather is a great substance, and speaking as someone who has, ignorantly, tried to use soap and seawater (which doesn't lather), I can tell you that cleaning barely happens with out it.

Soap in itself is pretty amazing, inasmuch as it alters water and, so doing, makes water effective against oil.

One other thing to remember is that we often don't see the original form of things, but if you can imagine copper ore transforming into shining wire or cookware-- or any metal, really, comparing the origin to the end result.

The oak tree example above reminds me of the fact that oak trees are made of air-- the sheer mass of the tree, all those tons of wood, was primarily composed of carbon collected through the pores of the leaves, not just water and minerals from the ground.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:26 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Corn to popcorn is pretty unexpected; as is grapes to wine (or really any transformation of plant to alcoholic beverage).

Cotton and wool to clothing.

Tree sap to rubber bands.
posted by oddman at 7:42 AM on May 3, 2012

Plastic is made from petroleum. Go a step further to synthetic textiles and woah.

Whipping cream turns it into either butter or whipped cream, neither of which is an obvious end product.

Cheese in general is sort of weird too. Leave milk alone long enough, and... it turns solid...? And is tasty? Never saw that one coming.

And when you think about it, bread and baked goods are sort of unexpected. You take seeds, grind 'em up, mix 'em with water to make a wet, mushy substance, then bake, and wind up with this entirely different product afterward.

Beer too. Take a bunch of grain, stick it in water, leave it alone for a while, and... oat soda? Spirits too, and you add distillation in as an intermediate step. Wine seems more obvious to me, since you start with juice and wind up with better juice, but the move from grains to beverages is a bit counter-intuitive. As in, one wonders how that came about the first time. Cheese was maybe just the product of spoiling milk, but what'd somebody have to do to figure out beer?
posted by valkyryn at 7:46 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm going to say caterpillar to butterfly is even more amazing than egg to full grown animal. You are going from one completely functional life form to another.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:46 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cotton and wool to clothing.

Flax into linen is, I think, the most unexpected of these sorts of transformations.
posted by gauche at 7:49 AM on May 3, 2012

portland cement -- the combination of different rocks chemically changes as it hardens. It can "dry" underwater, and it cannot be "unmade", you cannot break it up and turn it back into its components after it has been turned into cement.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:58 AM on May 3, 2012

Banana "ice cream"? Cut bananas into slices and freeze them. Then put the whole mass into a food processor. Process. Longer. Nope, longer than that. Seriously, just another twenty seconds. They pulverize and, at some magical point, turn to paste. Banana ice cream without the cream.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:04 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sugar->Candy floss/cotton candy
posted by missmagenta at 8:23 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Speaking of soap, watching a pot of melted fat(s) slowly congeal into soap ("saponification") when you add the lye is pretty amazing.
posted by jquinby at 8:27 AM on May 3, 2012

Sand into glass is pretty impressive in my opinion.
posted by baf at 8:35 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Caramelizing onions. Cook and cook and keep cooking and you get something so sweet it gets put into a pastry.
posted by azathoth at 8:44 AM on May 3, 2012

Totally intentional thus not unexpected at all, but nevertheless sort of magical: two-part liquid epoxy adhesives. Two gooey syrups turn into solid glue.

And here's a demonstration of making nylon by interfacial polymerization between two liquids.
posted by Quietgal at 8:48 AM on May 3, 2012

soy products (more).

azuki beans (lots more)

fish sauce and shrimp paste

peanuts (article is a bit messed up but see "Cuisine" for lists of products)
posted by nangar at 9:03 AM on May 3, 2012

ice -> water -> vapor
posted by carmicha at 9:05 AM on May 3, 2012

posted by nangar at 9:05 AM on May 3, 2012

Mix equal parts cocoa powder and honey with a spoon. There's a startling transition when they finally mix ... dusty lumps dusty lumps dusty lumps dusty lumps GLOSSY PASTE. Doesn't sound too exciting but it is totally cool. (The paste forms the basis of a coffee drink I can't remember the name of.)
posted by mindsound at 9:09 AM on May 3, 2012

Cheese was maybe just the product of spoiling milk

Since milk is curdled into cheese by a reaction involving enzymes produced by the fourth stomach of an unweaned ruminant, I'd bet that the discovery of proto-cheese involved early man trying to eat every part of the calf or lamb, including the contents of its stomach.

Once you have proto-cheese (i.e., curds and whey) you are primed to discover that the whey is the part of milk that spoils very quickly without refrigeration. Salting the curds further draws out the whey, enabling longer and longer preservation.* Innoculation of the curd by exposure to various benign-to-humans bacteria is a further evolution, allowing preservation of the summer's milk surplus well into the winter and following spring.

It's a pretty amazing set of processes, to be honest, especially when you consider that the craft of cheesemaking had more or less completely matured prior to Pasteur's theory of microorganisms.

*I'm inclined to believe that our taste for salt co-evolved out of natural pre-refrigeration preservation methods: that is, salty things taste good to us in part because our ancestors learned to safely preserve foods by adding salt to them, rather than our ancestors addings salt to things to make them taste good.
posted by gauche at 9:10 AM on May 3, 2012

Sodium (Na) is an explosively reactive metal when exposed to air.
Chlorine (Cl) is an extremely toxic gas.

Put them together and you get ordinary table salt (NaCl).
posted by mmascolino at 9:15 AM on May 3, 2012

There are a lot of these sort of transformations in chemistry. Two that spring to mind are the sudden preciptation of crystals in a supersaturated solution of sodium acetate when a nucleation center is added; this transformation releases heat and is the basis for one type of hand warmer. Another is Tollens' reagent, a clear solution that in the presence of certain organic compounds will cause metallic silver to preciptate, suddenly forming a mirror on the inside of a glass container under the right conditions
posted by TedW at 9:17 AM on May 3, 2012

Garlic + Olive Oil = Aioli
posted by merocet at 9:36 AM on May 3, 2012

Clay, which looks like it's just mud, into solid ceramics. And ceramic glazes, too--the initial application of glaze is dull-looking and powdery, but when fired it turns into something smooth, hard, and glossy, usually in a colour nothing at all like what it was before.

How about rising in baked goods, like bread with yeast, or cookies/muffins/etc with baking powder or soda?

And you can make a lot more hay with eggs in this area. Quiche, scrambled eggs, etc.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:37 AM on May 3, 2012

Yogurt is amazing. Heat and cool some milk, inoculate with some bacteria, and hold at temp for about six hours. Now it's solid and preserved!

Seed + water + sunlight = plant!
posted by Gilbert at 9:50 AM on May 3, 2012

I don't really see what's so special about any of your examples, because there's hardly a single thing we see or touch that hasn't gone through a transformation like this. Or else, it can be induced at any moment -- chop a bureau up with an axe, and you have a pile of tiny bits! Where once a bureau used to stand! It's not that mind blowing.

I think the phenomena you are marveling at are just things passing through different states of matter, with a bit of organic chemistry thrown in for good measure.
posted by hermitosis at 10:00 AM on May 3, 2012

Since you didn't specify everyday human scale things, I'm personally a fan of the transition of vast clouds of dust and gas into stars.
posted by fearnothing at 10:00 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Star -> you (-> Star---probably).
posted by bonehead at 10:06 AM on May 3, 2012

Sugar + water -> a whole bunch of different things, depending critically on what temperature you heat it to.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:48 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sand into glass.

Also, calcium carbonate in one organism turns into eggshells. In another organism, it turns into pearls. And we humans ingest it as an antacid.
posted by ThisKindNepenthe at 10:59 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Corn kernels and sunflower seeds into corn and sunflowers is particularly amazing, since they shoot up 12 feet in one summer and turn GIGANTIC with all these complex structures. They are my favorite things to grow because it just seems so damned unlikely.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:11 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Physically cranking a handle > Minutes of sound on a crank radio
Pits and valleys in vinyl > Various sounds via a record player
Light pulses on a fiber optic cable > Various types of data on the receiving ends
Carbohydrates in food > Excess turns to unused calories and is stored as fat
posted by hgswell at 12:06 PM on May 3, 2012

Silly answer from Calvin and Hobbes: bread into toast.
posted by zoetrope at 12:09 PM on May 3, 2012

Corn starch + water = a non-Newtonian substance that will utterly and completely blow your goddamn mind.
posted by Shepherd at 12:56 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nerd + $5.00 = MeFite
posted by Cranberry at 1:52 PM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

When a boy becomes a man.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:13 PM on May 3, 2012

One time I threw away a banana (being pathologically incapable of baking) and didn't take the garbage out soon enough, and eventually it was buzzing with fruit flies. As I got out the fly spray I found myself boggled by the idea that, save a tiny amount of DNA and whatever else makes up a fly egg, these creatures were entirely made of banana. I mean, I eat bananas. But I wouldn't eat flies. And it's not like the atoms changed any. It's all the same stuff, just rearranged. It was, momentarily, astonishing.

And I wasn't even breathing the fly spray fumes yet.
posted by darksasami at 2:33 PM on May 3, 2012 [10 favorites]

Building on darksasmi, when I stopped to think about it, it was super-bizarre that with just a gamete from my spouse, I BUILT AN ENTIRE BABY MADE OF ME. And then, what was even WEIRDER, was that if you breastfeed, you feed them NOTHING BUT YOU for several months. Not only did I GROW A PERSON FROM SCRATCH, but then I ate food, made milk out of it, and fed the milk to the baby, who then grew for like six months until he started tablefood on NOTHING BUT ME AND STUFF I MADE. I made like 20 lbs. of living human being, out of me. Hair and fingernails and liver and toes and all of it.

Mammals are freaky.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:36 PM on May 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

less dramatic a transformation, but still quite a joy as a sweet little kid self:

knead a fluffy white marshmallow back and forth for a good minute and it becomes taffy.
posted by prithee at 7:09 AM on May 4, 2012

Wonderful examples. Oh thank you!
posted by mcbeth at 4:49 PM on May 8, 2012

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