Some readers of an earlier blog entry wrote to say that while it’s important to be able to tell the difference between cheese and soap, the technique I described, which employs an electron microscope, is too cumbersome for daily use.
My first inclination was to tell them to suck it up. After all, even many older, used models of electron microscope, will easily fit into the back of a pickup truck. But after the fourth such message, I decided I should turn the question over to my research team, to see whether they might be able to find another way. And lo, they came through.
This alternate test is based on the fact that cheese and soap have different pH factors. Soap is basic or (if “pH balanced”) neutral, while cheese is slightly acidic. So all you have to do is pulverize a small sample and mix it with distilled water, then dip a strip of universal indicator paper and see how it changes color (regular litmus paper is probably not sensitive enough for this test).
So now, with a kit that fits into your pocket, you can readily distinguish soap from cheese. With just three small parts; a spoon for mashing, a tube for mixing, and indicator papers, you can live a safer, more fulfilling life. Of course, you also will not make the sort of exciting serendipitous discoveries that you might from peering at the atoms of a wedge of unknown substance. So the choice is yours; the convenience of an easy test, or the adventure of Science.
I also had an inquiry from one reader who used his electron microscope on a sample that was found to contain roughly equal amounts of sodium lauryl sulfate and amino acids. This would appear to be a sort of soap-cheese blend, which unfortunately is good neither for eating, nor for washing. Cut into pieces, however, it might make nice slingshot ammo if you plan to set your slingshot on “stun.”