What Happens To A Cheeseburger In Hydrochloric Acid?

Some British scientists dunked a cheeseburger in hydrochloric acid to see what happens. This video is the result.

Everyone has hydrochloric acid in their stomachs, it’s one of the first steps in the digestive process. The dissolution in this video is incomplete because in our stomach the amino acids are there to help break down the fats. Also, fast food cheeseburgers are more an assemblage of chemicals that create the illusion of food rather than being real food. For instance, here’s one that’s been sitting around for 12 years and shows no signs of decomposition.

[via Grub Street New York]


Edit Your Comment

  1. blogger X says:

    I’m NOT loving it…

  2. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    The digestion process is not going to be pretty no matter what food you use.

  3. EmanNeercs says:

    Mmm…I’m thinking hamburgers tonight sounds great.

  4. FreshPorcupineSalad says:

    This article will take some time to digest.

  5. digital0verdose says:

    Yeah, that is pretty disgusting.

  6. dougp26364 says:

    And this proves what? I don’t know anyone that swallows a cheeseburger whole (unless it’s my dog) and, as mentioned you have bile in your gut to further digest the cheesburger. I’m hoping the British aren’t paying these guys with their taxes.

    • Platypi {Redacted} says:

      This. I learned in grade school that the first step to digestion is in the masticating of the food (biting/chewing). So, this cheeseburger would be in smaller parts, and mixed with acids and amino acids. What does this “experiment” show with vegetables? Fruit? Tofu?

      This reminds me of a 7th grade science fair project I did. Just put acid on everything and see how it reacts. Pretty cutting edge.

      • grucifer says:

        Right, I remember learning the same thing.

        What they SHOULD have done is had someone chew the burger and spit it into the acid. Seriously.

      • zandar says:

        ha, this is what i thought too. This proves what? that acid eats stuff. WOW.

        • Platypi {Redacted} says:

          Exactly, it was a stupid experiment then, and equally dumb here. This is such a waste of time (and cheeseburgers).

    • pastthemission says:

      you sound crochety

  7. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Way to bring back the classic scientist look! I have no choice to believe someone who looks as crazy smart as that.

  8. JMILLER says:

    All foods are “an assemblage of chemicals”. From the most high end item tomatoes. When you throw a steak on the BBQ grill the process that gives it flavor is the carbon forming on the outside of the meat. The caramelization of the sugars adds to that flavor.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      Everything that exists is an “assemblage of chemicals.” It’s a physical impossibility for anything to be “chemical-free” – no matter what the retards in marketing put on the label.

  9. ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

    I’m so tired of this nonsensical idea that hamburgers are inedible. Guess what- a lot of stuff in food isn’t digestible at all, regardless how organic/natural/angelic it is. Some stuff that’s digestible doesn’t decompose, and some stuff that doesn’t decompose is digestible. That’s because digestion!=decomposition. Two ENTIRELY different processes. You want to argue that fast-food is unhealthy? Guess what? I’m right there with you. But why resort to cheap gimmicks?

    That being said, I’m a huge chemistry-lover and the video (and all the other U of N videos for that matter) made my day.

  10. Andyb2260 says:

    I clicked on the link for the 12 year old hamburger, I love the line “Aside from drying out a bit”. Here’s a hint, drying food to preserve it has been around almost as long as the Human Race. The Bun acts like a big ol’ wick, leeching the moisture out of the meat and into the bun, the bun lets the moisture escape into the air, the process continues until the meat has little moisture left thus preserving the meat, and the bun dries out preserving it.
    Keep it loosely wrapped in a cool, dry place that hunk of meat will outlast you.

  11. Sockatume says:

    Not sure I agree with you on the “fast food burgers” thing. I agree that they’re not bad for you, and often loaded with preservatives etc., but McDonalds (here at least) makes a big song and dance of putting nothing but beef into the burgers, potato into the fries, and salt into everything, and the end product is still body-destroying garbage.

  12. shepd says:

    (Commenting on the article that links to a page suggesting you shouldn’t eat burgers because bugs won’t eat them)

    You don’t want to eat the things flies eat. Trust me. Poo.

  13. invisibelle says:

    That’s great, but it doesn’t mean much to me unless I see the same process on some vegetables.

  14. AllanG54 says:

    I hope we all noticed that the only think that really got broken down was the bun and the cheese. The burger looked whole to me. And, the bun would have fallen apart anyway because it was so soggy. This doesn’t seem to be much of an enlightening experiment.

  15. GuidedByLemons says:

    Interesting to see what an acid-eaten burger looks like I guess. This isn’t a legit experiment so much as “we were bored and felt like dissolving part of a hamburger.” I know people in academia in chemistry who do random stuff like this in their labs on occasion just for kicks.

    Pretending this has anything to do with proving fast food is unhealthy or fake or whatever is totally silly though. They certainly don’t have any such pretensions in the video.

    • ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

      I know people in academia in chemistry who do random stuff like this in their labs on occasion just for kicks.

      We have more fun than you and you’re jealous. We get it, it’s okay. ;-)

      • TheGreySpectre says:

        if you have a high enough molarity HCl then it will eat through the packaging on unopened alcaseltzer tabs then fiz a whole bunch

      • GuidedByLemons says:

        Hey man, these are my friends I’m talking about, I’m not complaining ;-)

  16. Fujikopez says:

    I wonder what the pH of the acid was…did I miss that? In the stomach, it’s 2-ish, no?

    • MrAgen10 says:

      Yeah, from what I know it hovers around 2-2.5.

    • plumbob says:

      Considering the fumes that came off that when they poured it, it looks like it was near saturation so that should make it from 1 to -1ph depending on the process they used.

  17. spazztastic says:

    Incredibly misleading, because the first two steps in digestion take place in the mouth, where chewing breaks down the large pieces, and your saliva acts on the starch. At least they acknowledge that your stomach has stuff in it besides HCl to work on the digestion process.

  18. Mr. Fancypants says:


    Judging by the appearance of the acid, and the fact that it was poured from a source container, it is 12 M acid, which is about as concentrated as you can buy it. That would give it a pH of 0, otherwise known as ‘so strong it burns your sinuses to stand near it.’

    One of my old coworkers spilled some on her pants. She got undressed and showered down before it did much to her, but when she tried to run her jeans and shoes through the wash they disintegrated. And the bottom of her chin got some mild irritation/burns from the vapors rising. Fun stuff!

  19. zandar says:


  20. dumblonde says:

    What a bullshit study. While burgers may be hard to digest there are many more chemicals involved in digestion including saliva.

    • magus_melchior says:

      I don’t know if this would qualify as a “study”, but you’re correct– we digest food using enzymes, some of which (stomach enzymes) only work at a lower pH. That’s why our stomach juices are acidic– and it’s a pretty dilute solution of HCl (0.5%). The Periodic Videos experiment, while impressive, is using a concentration of HCl that will also dissolve/destroy many of our organs if it were in our stomachs (30%+).

      Put another way, gastric acid without enzymes would probably give us a mild chemical burn at worst, but the hydrochloric acid the Nottingham boys used will quite literally melt through human tissue.

      It’s an interesting Molecular video, but I think there are much better videos out there, such as methane and many of their element videos. And frankly, if you made a cheeseburger and dip it in 30% HCl, you’re probably going to get the same result.

  21. sirwired says:

    The idea that a food product (any food product) that is dried out will not rot is not news. Drying meat has been a preservation method for millenia. (Now, to keep it from poisoning you, salt and smoke are used, but the basic principle is the same.

    Bread left on the counter will not mold; even fancy fresh-baked artisan loaves from all natural ingredients. An already-dry McD’s burger will go rancid, but will not rot if it manages to dry out before the sodium concentration becomes too high for molds, etc., to survive. If you season any thin hamburger with some salt and let it sit, it will do the same thing. These are not evil strange voodoo chemicals at work here.

  22. lostalaska says:

    I’m having a hard time telling the difference between that McBurger and the grease soaked ones i get from my local SmackDonalds.

  23. plumbob says:

    “Also, fast food cheeseburgers are more an assemblage of chemicals that create the illusion of food rather than being real food.”

    Do you think that is some sort of clever quip? How stupid, this writer clearly has no science background or science education and shouldn’t be posting articles like this.

    Any sort of synthetic “chemical” food that would come anywhere close to resembling a hamburger is strictly the realm of science fiction. All of the carbon in that burger (ie the protein, starch, sugar, etc. more or less ALL of the burger) was originally fixed from the air and soil by a plant. I would guess corn, wheat, and soy in that order.

    It is all heavily processed sure, but it is all from a natural source not some mystery meat made in a lab.

  24. trencherman says:

    I’m sure someone has already posted this. Digestion happens just fine without acid, thanks to the flora living in our guts. Most medications people take for GERD aren’t stopping the reflux, they are neutralizing the acid.

    • Dallaspp says:

      Actual no, medications for GERD, such as Pepcid, Prilocec, Zantac etc inhibit the excess production of acid, which is why they should be taken about an hour before meals for maximum effectiveness. And the stomach still needs some acid for proper digestion, without any proper digestion would be more difficult.

  25. LastError says:

    Not sure what the point was. Of COURSE there’s acid in our stomachs, but there’s also enzymes and other things, and then a whole range of different flora in the colon all of which do different things with the food we eat. Not to mention the whole chewing thing.

    But ultimately, almost nothing we eat is totally and completely destroyed. What isn’t converted and absorbed is excreted.. This is why we humans go to the bathroom, and no the process is not pretty and does not smell like mint. It’s not supposed to be. It just happens to work.

    Perhaps someday we will evolve ourselves to not need food or a way to eliminate the waste, and the reduced impact on the environment that would bring would be a truly wonderful thing. But for now, we’re gonna have to eat the old fashioned way.

  26. HeavyMental says:

    … but why not comparing … what if everything kinda looks like that after 3 hours on acid. fun to watch but those scientists fail at science

  27. PatrickPortland says:

    Unfortunately I got to see my digestive process at work about 20 minutes after eating two hot dogs at Ikea yesterday. Thank god there was a bathroom in the desks section.

  28. banmojo says:

    you truly are what you eat – think about it and learn to eat for your health rather than for convenience/taste/appetite.