Be thankful potatoes are mashed, not paper towels: They're eerily similar

When you pass around the side dishes at this year's Thanksgiving feast, here's one thing to be thankful for: you're eating mashed potatoes instead of mashed paper towels. But if you were chewing on the towels instead of the spuds, would you even know it, asks a Thanksgiving-related video from the American Chemical Society. "That's not such an odd question from a chemistry standpoint," the society says, as the types of carbohydrates in potatoes and paper towels are so similar.

The long chains of glucose -- the stuff our body converts into energy and makes us go -- are composed of identical molecules in both paper towels (cellulose) and potatoes. "You could eat paper towels," says Diane Bunce, associate editor for chemical education research with the society's Journal of Chemical Education in the video. "You wouldn't get any flavor out of them."
So could a family in these cash-poor times whip up a much cheaper bowl of mashed wood pulp and serve them alongside the holiday turkey and gravy? At an average price of six cents a serving, according to the USDA, perhaps mashed potatoes aren't the best place to look for unusual cost savings.

But okay, American Chemical Society, let's go with it. At a little under a dollar per roll, and with a wild guess that one roll of paper towels could yield four to six servings, it would actually cost more to eat paper towels for the holiday.

It's always good to get people clicking on your cute video describing the chemical processes behind your Thanksgiving feast, yes? Let's get to the bottom of this: even though paper towels are, on average, more expensive than potatoes, would eating them actually work?

Nope. Though the molecules making up the long glucose chains are identical, the shape of the bond in those chains is different. Different enough that the enzymes in our body can break down the glucose chains in potatoes and convert them to energy but not in paper towels.

So, eating paper towels is not just weird, but also a gustatory bust. It tastes, well, like paper; once the substance hits our tongue, the enzymes can't derive any good tastes from the paper, as they can from potatoes. What's more, our body can't convert it to energy.

So there you are, folks: no matter how much money you'd like to save to head out on your holiday shopping rampage this weekend, you can't cook up the monstrous stack of Black Friday ads for dinner. Too bad, really, as what else will you do with all that paper?

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