Pretty much every chemist worth his or her salt knows the Merck Index. First published in 1889, the Merck Index is an enormous compendium of chemicals, their physical properties and their industrial uses. Its genesis as a collection of medicinal chemicals is still apparent today, and many of the compounds therein are useful in pharmaceutical production or are finished pharmaceuticals themselves. Way back in the mists of time when I was at university and doing a summer internship, my friends and I used to take bets over who could find the deadliest or gnarliest chemicals in the Merck Index, or who could find the chemical with the most carbons or chiral centers — basically anything to pass the time while I was waiting for the gel electrophoresis to finish doing its thing. The Merck Index saved my sanity that summer and won me some bragging rights (and about $5 total).

Turns out that my friends and I are not the only ones who use the Merck for more than just a reference book. A UK-based organic chemist behind the blog BRSM posted today about a new kind of challenge: Make a three-course meal out of entries found in the Merck Index. Because, yes, there are some crazy entries in the Merck relating to, among other things, food processing and production, and they tend to be nestled in between entries for stuff like “Sudan Black B” and “Sufentanil” (the former is a biological stain for lipids; the latter an opiate analgesic). The entry in between those:

Suet, Prepared. Mutton suet. The internal fat of abdomen of sheep purified by melting and straining.
White, solid fat with slight odor and taste; bland if fresh, but rancid after long exposure to air. mp 45-50 degrees. n(d)60 1.449-1.451. Sapon no. 192-195. Iodine no. 33-46. Insol in water or cold alcohol; one gram dissolves in 45 ml boiling alcohol, about 60 ml ether.
USE: Preparing ointments.

In addition to mutton suet, BRSM has found almonds, asparagus, coriander and dozens of others, enough to make a pretty good three-course meal, plus whiskey to wash it all down.

Merck Index Tidbits

This is just an excerpt of the list of food items found in the Merck Index. To see the whole list, go to BRSM’s post about the Merck challenge.

I have the 13th Edition on my desk at PopSci; I am pretty sure BRSM uses the 14th Edition (per the photo on the blog entry). And the publisher of the Index has just released the 15th Edition, for those who have a $150 burning a hole in their pockets and want to join in the fun. Because I know what I’m going to be doing for the rest of the day.

ETA, 12:15 EDT:
I’ve already found:
West Indian Cherries
12:33 EDT
Agar (used in making jellied desserts)
Ajwain (spice)
Egg whites