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Gastropod

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Rank #7 in Food category

Arts
Food
Science
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Food Through the Lens of Science and History

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Food Through the Lens of Science and History

iTunes Ratings

2045 Ratings
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1815
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24
31

Very scientific

By Moxxxxxccccxxxh - Nov 24 2019
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Very scientific, well-researched, and overall great

The best food podcast

By Jasper Gioia - Nov 05 2019
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I think this is the most informative food podcast on the planet. Listen often!

iTunes Ratings

2045 Ratings
Average Ratings
1815
119
56
24
31

Very scientific

By Moxxxxxccccxxxh - Nov 24 2019
Read more
Very scientific, well-researched, and overall great

The best food podcast

By Jasper Gioia - Nov 05 2019
Read more
I think this is the most informative food podcast on the planet. Listen often!

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Gastropod

Updated 5 days ago

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Food Through the Lens of Science and History

Caffeine: The World’s Most Popular Drug

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A tablespoon of it will kill you, but most of us feel like death without it: we’re talking about caffeine this episode. Inspired by a listener question — does green tea have more or less caffeine than black? and what about yerba mate? — Cynthia and Nicky explore the history and science of the world’s most popular drug. Listen in as we discover the curious effect of birth control pills on how our bodies process it, calculate how much of an edge it gives athletes, and learn what dolphin dissection and the American Constitution have to do with each other, and with caffeine.

Caffeine is a miracle of plant chemistry—one that evolved on four separate continents, thought experts are not entirely sure why. The prevailing hypothesis has been that caffeine functions as a pesticide, but, on this episode, food science guru Harold McGee shares more recent science that seems to contradict that. In any case, humans quickly figured out that caffeine-rich plant products—cacao beans, coffee berries, tea leaves, kola nuts, and more—made them feel great: sharper, less tired, and even a little stronger. Murray Carpenter, author of Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us, gives us the scoop on the science behind how caffeine affects our brains and bodies, while author Bennett Alan Weinberg demonstrates caffeine’s impact by telling us the fascinating story of what happened when the stimulant finally arrived in Europe, a continent without a native source of its own.

And, finally, we answer our listener Erik’s question, and not just by saying, “It’s complicated”—although, of course, it is. All sorts of variables, from particle size to roast darkness to steeping time, affect how much caffeine is in your afternoon pick-me-up. And that’s before we even get to variations in how different people metabolize caffeine—and how other drugs and foods can speed that process up or slow it down. Could that variation help explain the current “bulletproof coffee” craze, or is it all just the placebo effect? We talk to The New York Times Magazine‘s Jenna Wortham to find out what putting butter in your coffee does to your buzz. Listen in now—you’ll never look at your espresso, English Breakfast, or energy drink the same way again.

Episode Notes

Murray Carpenter’s Caffeinated

Journalist and caffeine fiend Murray Carpenter’s book, Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us, includes all sorts of fascinating snippets about the drug. For example, did you know that one of Monsanto’s first products was caffeine? Or that synthetic caffeine and its natural counterpart are chemically identical, but can be differentiated using radiocarbon dating? (The carbon in synthetic caffeine comes from fossil fuels, so it’s much older than the carbon in plants.) Check out Murray’s book for all that and much more!

Harold McGee

Harold McGee writes about the chemistry of food and cooking, most famously in his book On Food and Cooking. He’s starred on Gastropod before, trying to help Cynthia overcome her dislike of cilantro.

Bulletproof Coffee

In her article, “You, Only Better,” Jenna Wortham meets the entrepreneur behind bulletproof coffee, Dave Asprey, as well as lots of other biohacking and self-optimization enthusiasts: read her story here, and follow Jenna on Twitter here.

The World of Caffeine

Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer co-authored The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug and maintain the World of Caffeine website.

The post Caffeine: The World’s Most Popular Drug appeared first on Gastropod.

Mar 21 2016

42mins

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Eat This, Not That: The Surprising Science of Personalized Nutrition

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This episode, we’ve got the exclusive on the preliminary results of the world’s largest personalized nutrition experiment. Genetic epidemiologist Tim Spector launched the study, called PREDICT, to answer a simple but important question: do we each respond to different foods differently? And, if so, why? How much of that difference is genetic, how much is due to gut microbes, and how much is due to any one of the dozens of other factors that scientists think affect our metabolic processes? You’ve heard of personalized medicine, will there be such a thing as personalized diets? And should there be? Can teasing out the nuances of how each individual body processes different foods make us all healthier? To find out, we signed ourselves up as study participants, sticking pins in our fingers, weighing our food, and providing fecal samples, all for science—and for you, dear listeners. Listen in now as we take part in this ground-breaking study, discover our own differences, and find out the early results!

Episode Notes

Tim Spector

Tim Spector is a professor of genetics at King’s College, London, and the author of two books, Identically Different and The Diet Myth.

PREDICT

Find out more about the PREDICT study here, and sign up to take part yourself, if you’re interested.

Jennie Brand-Miller

Jennie Brand-Miller is a professor of human nutrition at the University of Sydney. Among her many books is Low GI Diet: Managing Type 2 Diabetes.

Tim Caulfield

Tim Caulfield is the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta. His TV show, A User’s Guide to Cheating Death, can be found on Netflix, and his most recent book is titled Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? (To which we reply, pretty much!)

Dave Szalay

Listener and illustrator Dave Szalay is the genius behind the custom artwork for this episode. We love his work, which you can see more of here.

PREDICT and Gastropod in The New York Times

We wrote an article for The New York Times to go with this episode: check it out online here.

Sponsors

Find The Splendid Table online here.

The post Eat This, Not That: The Surprising Science of Personalized Nutrition appeared first on Gastropod.

Jun 10 2019

57mins

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Breakfast of Champions

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Breakfast: the most important meal of the day. Or is it? In this episode of Gastropod, we explore the science and history behind the most intentionally designed, the most industrialized, and the most argued about meal of all.

Armed with a healthy dose of caffeine chronopharmacology, we embark on a global breakfast tour that exposes the worldwide dominance of Nutella, as well as the toddler kimchi acclimatization process. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., we trace the American breakfast’s evolution from a humble mash-up of leftover dinner foods to its eighteenth-century explosion into a feast of meats, griddle cakes, eel, and pie—followed swiftly by a national case of indigestion and a granola-fueled backlash. Breakfast has been a battleground ever since: in this episode, we not only explain why, but also serve up the best breakfast contemporary science can provide.

To skip or not to skip

Much has been made about the importance of a good breakfast to a healthy lifestyle. It gives you energy to start your day, according to conventional wisdom, and scientific studies conducted a decade ago had proclaimed that eating breakfast was the key to maintaining a healthy weight.

Breakfast skippers are plagued with well-meaning spouses, partners, family members, and friends, all insisting that they should eat something in the morning. But, according to nutrition scientist P. K. Newby, that advice was based on what’s known as observational studies, in which scientists follow groups of people and observe the outcomes. The result had seemed to indicate that people who lost weight or maintained a healthy weight ate breakfast. The problem, Newby told us, is that those studies didn’t isolate breakfast as the important factor. It could be, she says, that those who lost weight also exercised more, or one of dozens of other variables.

Then, last year, a group of researchers at the University of Alabama published a study that took a more rigorous look at this question. They enlisted 300 participants and randomly assigned them to eat breakfast, to skip breakfast, or to simply go about their normal routine. After 16 weeks, they found no difference in weight loss among the three groups. Meanwhile, in a similarly controlled Cornell University study, people who skipped breakfast consumed fewer calories by the end of the day. And, in a smaller study at the University of Bath, people who skipped breakfast also seem to have consumed slightly fewer calories during the day, though they then expended slightly less energy.

Based on this new research, the bottom line, Newby says, is this: if you’re not hungry in the morning, there’s no harm in skipping breakfast when it comes to weight management. “It’s the what that is more important than the when, when it comes to breakfast,” she says, which also means that grabbing a sugary muffin, doughnut, or other pastry, just to eat something in the morning, is a worse idea than eating nothing at all.

Questioning the cult of juice

It’s January, and everybody on the Internet has embarked on a juice cleanse. But you don’t have to feel guilty for sticking to solids: without the accompanying fiber in fruit, juice delivers a straight shot of sugar.


Photography by Viktor Rosenfeld, used under a Creative Commons license.

Juice, like sugary cereals, muffins, and white bread, is “quickly metabolized,” said Newby. “These foods lead to a spike in sugar and insulin, and then it dissipates. And so then, in a short period of time, you feel hungry again.” That, she continues, can lead to overeating and weight gain. And there are long-term health consequences as well: she says diets high in refined carbohydrates are a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Newby says that the most important thing to understand about breakfast is that it’s simply another meal. It may seem as though we should eat only breakfast foods—cereal, juice, bagels—at breakfast time, but, as historian Abigail Carroll explains during this episode of Gastropod, that’s just a historical hangover from nineteenth-century American health reformers. And, as Newby points out, we already know what makes a healthy meal at any time of day: put vegetables at the center of the plate, accompanied by whole grains, beans, nuts, and healthy fats.

The first cup of coffee

Though Newby says that it’s what you eat that matters, not when, that may not be the case when it comes to coffee. We spoke to neuroscience PhD candidate Steven Miller, studying at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, about chronopharmacology, or the science of how brain chemistry interacts with drugs, in order to learn how timing affects the most popular stimulant in the world: caffeine.


Photograph by trophygeek, used under a Creative Commons license.

Cortisol, the stress hormone that helps us feel alert and energized, peaks at about 8 or 9am, at least for people who work a typical 9-to-5 job and sleep during the same hours each night. Most people, says Miller, don’t need caffeine to give them a boost at a time they’re already naturally alert. In addition, drinking a caffeinated beverage at a time when you’re already sharp could lead to desensitization, which, Miller explains, means that you’ll need an increasing amount of the drug—in this case caffeine—to get the same effect.

For the best morning buzz based on brain biology, Miller recommends saving your coffee fix until 9:30am, when cortisol levels are starting to drop off.

He admits, though, that his recommendation doesn’t hold true for everyone: anyone whose sleep schedule is not regular or who works evening or night shifts will have a different cortisol production rhythm. In fact, he actually doesn’t follow his own chronopharmacological advice. Miller told Gastropod that, as a neuroscience PhD student, he works long, irregular hours and gets little sleep, and he always starts off his day, at any hour, with an extra strong caffeinated beverage.

The most capitalist meal of all

Miller’s decision to design his coffee routine around his work schedule, rather than biology, isn’t surprising given the history of breakfast. As we learn from journalist Malia Wollan, while breakfast foods may be different all around the world, it’s the first meal to change in immigrant households. And, as Three Squares author Abigail Carroll explains, those classic American breakfast foods can be traced directly back to the Industrial Revolution and its transformation of labor—combined with some entrepreneurial innovations in processing, packaging, and marketing that were first pioneered in breakfast cereal but went on to transform the American diet. To learn more about the revolutionary history, global peculiarities, and surprising science of breakfast, listen to our latest episode!

Episode Notes

Thanks to all of you who wrote or called in to share your breakfast stories—we heard tell of pumpkin kasha, rabbit and Stilton casserole, memelitas, and coleslaw, proving (as if we didn’t already know) that Gastropod listeners are a most unusual and fascinating bunch.

What Kids Around the World Eat for Breakfast

Journalist and friend of Gastropod Malia Wollan teamed up with photographer Hannah Whitaker to put together this adorable photo essay, titled “Rise and Shine,” for The New York Times Magazine.

Baby’s First Kimchi


After Malia told us that YouTube is home to an entire subgenre of videos documenting Korean babies’ first taste of kimchi, we couldn’t resist watching one or two. Or three. Or four…  In fact, it’s a miracle this episode ever got made!

PK Newby’s Shakshouka

Nutritionist and epidemiologist PK Newby regularly shares healthy recipes on her website. To showcase what a healthy breakfast should look like, she prepared this shakshouka recipe for Cynthia.

Abigail Carroll’s Three Squares

As Nicky mentions during the episode, historian Abigail Carroll’s 2013 book, Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, tells the story behind breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s fascinating, fun, and highly recommended reading.

Steven Miller

Read Steven Miller’s fascinating exploration of the chronopharmacology of caffeine here at his blog post, “The best time for your coffee.”

Vintage Breakfast Cereal Ads

You may have caught a couple of jingles during the episode: one from a 1960 cornflake ad, and another from a 1936 Rice Krispies ad. They came from the extraordinary Prelinger Archives, a collection of over 60,000 “ephemeral” (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films founded by Rick Prelinger and since acquired by the Library of Congress. Browse it here, and prepare to lose the rest of your day.

Aspire Food Group

This episode was sponsored by the Aspire Food Group, an award-winning company with farming projects in the US, Ghana, and Mexico, whose goal is to feed the world, sustainably, through insects and insect-derived foods. As part of the sponsorship, we cooked with their finely milled cricket flour. Nicky made Hoppin’ Good Banana Oat Cricket muffins, which were a huge hit with her neighbors (though she personally felt the recipe was a little too healthy), and Cynthia and her partner Tim added some cricket flour to their blueberry pancakes. If you’d like to try them yourself, here’s the recipe, and Gastropod listeners get a 10 percent discount on both flour and whole cricket using the code “Gastropodcast” on their online store (enter it on the final page before confirming your purchase).

Buttermilk Blueberry Cricket Pancakes
Mix together these dry ingredients: one cup of white flour, 1/4 cup of cricket powder (substituting for 1/4 cup of flour), 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. In a separate bowl, mix 1 beaten egg, 1 1/3 cup of buttermilk, 1 tablespoon of oil. Mix the wet ingredients together with the dry. Tim found the batter a little thick, and so he added a splash more buttermilk. Then he poured a small amount of batter onto a hot, lightly oiled griddle, and pressed frozen blueberries into each as they cooked, then flipped them over. Enjoy!

Hopper Foods
Austin-based Hopper Foods also sent us some of their prototype Berry & Vanilla Cricket Granola (so, so good!), and a couple of their tasty Hopper Energy Bars. The granola is coming soon, but listeners can get 10 percent off the energy bars with the code “Gastropodcast.”

The post Breakfast of Champions appeared first on Gastropod.

Jan 20 2015

45mins

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The Bagelization of America

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Today, it’s a breakfast staple, but, as recently as 1960, The New York Times had to define it for readers—as “an unsweetened doughnut with rigor mortis.” That’s right, this episode is all about the bagel, that shiny, ring-shaped, surprisingly dense bread that makes the perfect platform for cream cheese and lox. Where did it come from? Can you get a decent bagel outside New York City? And what does it have in common with the folding ping-pong table? Come get your hot, fresh bagel science and history here!

Though the bagel is most closely associated with the American Jewish community, its actual origins in Eastern Europe have become the stuff of myth. Competing tales offer explanations as to how, as early as the 1600s in Poland, Jews came to relish the bagel at childbirth, celebrations, and funerals. But, according to Maria Balinska, author of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, this most Jewish of breads is likely descended from a German communion bread. The original communion bread was a large, ring-shaped bread that was baked in monasteries and shared among the congregation. “And my theory is that basically what you have is a family tree,” she told Gastropod. “One of the ancestors is the communion bread, and, from that, you have a descendant that becomes the pretzel, but you also have a descendant that becomes the bagel.”

Balinska’s theory makes even more sense when you learn that the original bagel was hard, like a pretzel. “You can’t slice it,” said Rabbi Jeff Marx, author of an essay titled “Eating Up: The Origins of Bagels and Lox,” published as a chapter in Tastes of Faith: Jewish Eating in the U.S. “All you can do is break off a piece of the bagel and dip it either in schmaltz—chicken fat—or maybe a little bit of butter.”

So how did the bagel become soft and puffy, and how did it eventually meet its soulmates, cream cheese and lox? For those stories, Balinska and Marx bring us—along with the bagel—to New York City, where the bagel helped transform America, and was itself transformed in the process. Today, bagels are found in supermarkets across the land, but many aficionados swear that a truly great bagel can never be made outside the five boroughs, due to the magical qualities of the city’s municipal water supply. To uncover the truth, we meet Francisco Migoya, head chef at Modernist Cuisine and co-author of Modernist Bread, who shipped NYC tap water to his kitchen in Seattle in order to put that belief to the scientific test. For his results, plus bagel jokes, bagel ballet, and the bagel machine that took bagels mainstream, listen in now!

Episode Notes

Maria Balinska and The Bagel

Maria Balinska is the author of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread,

Rabbi Jeff Marx and “Eating Up”

Rabbi Jeff Marx is the author of an essay titled “Eating Up: The Origins of Bagels and Lox,” published as a chapter in Tastes of Faith: Jewish Eating in the U.S.

Francisco Migoya and Modernist Bread

Francisco Migoya is head chef at Modernist Cuisine and co-author of Modernist Bread.

Mary Ting Hyatt and Bagelsaurus

Mary Ting Hyatt opened Bagelsaurus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2014, after operating a successful pop-in in nearby Brookline—and the lines have wrapped around the block ever since. Insider tip: On the weekends, you can skip the line and walk up to the front to buy a grab-bag dozen bagels, hot from the oven, with any type of packaged cream cheese. Or did you happen to come when the line’s not too long and you can order a sandwich? The Classic Jumbo is Cynthia’s go-to, and she loves it on an olive bagel, particularly with a roasted tomato (as per Nicky’s suggestion when she visited!).

The post The Bagelization of America appeared first on Gastropod.

Mar 26 2019

52mins

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Omega 1-2-3

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Based on all the hype, you’d be forgiven for believing that the fish oils known as omega-3s are solution to every problem. Heart disease, dementia, depression, even obesity—the list of ailments that experts claim a daily dose of omega-3 can help prevent seems endless. And with more than ten percent of Americans taking a capsule of fish oil daily, omega-3s are one of the most profitable supplements in the world, too. Listen in this episode, as author Paul Greenberg and scientist JoAnn Manson help us figure out what these supposedly miracle molecules are, and what consuming them is doing to our bodies—and to our oceans.

Paul Greenberg had already authored a couple of successful and award-winning books about fish by the time he hit his mid-40s—an age when he, like many people, started to feel the first, faint signs that he was no longer young. “When you Google all the things that are going wrong with you in middle age—your joints hurt, your high blood pressure, losing your memory—what comes up again and again are omega-3 supplements,” he told Gastropod. Greenberg knew those supplements are made from fish—millions of tiny fish that no one eats, like the menhaden and the Peruvian anchoveta. And so he set out to write his most recent book, The Omega Principle, which follows fish oils from their evolutionary origins at the dawn of photosynthesis, to their discovery by a Spam scientist, to the enormous extraction industry that feeds our hunger for them today.

The secret to omega-3’s success lies in their chemical structure, which makes them more flexible and dynamic than other fatty acids. That means they show up anywhere that needs to move or transmit signals rapidly—hummingbird wings, sperm, and, especially, the human brain. Experiments in the 1930s proved that fatty acids including omega-3s were essential for life, but, until relatively recently, they were mostly studied by scientists looking to extend the shelf-life of processed foods, as the dynamism of omega-3’s chemical structure also gives them a tendency to go rancid quickly. Then, in the 1970s, two Norwegian researchers published a paper linking low rates of cardiovascular disease among the Inuit to their elevated consumption of omega-3s.

Since then, more than 20,000 papers have been published examining their health benefits—but, according to Harvard epidemiologist JoAnn Manson, many of those studies were flawed. She’s the lead researcher on the first large-scale, randomized clinical trial of the efficacy of omega-3s in preventing cancer, heart disease, and stroke in the general public. Her VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL) study launched in 2010, and recently published its first results—which Manson shared with us this episode.

So, are omega-3s really the key to a healthy old age? And, if we should be consuming more omega-3s, then how much, and in what form? From cod liver oil to cardiovascular risk, listen in this episode for the history and science of America’s favorite fatty acid.

Episode Notes

Join Our Fifth Birthday Celebrations!

We’re turning five in September (we know, we don’t look it! or even act it sometimes…) and we need your help to put together a special birthday episode. Nominate your favorite Gastropod stories and moments from our first five years here, so we can revisit them in the show.

Paul Greenberg and The Omega Principle

Paul Greenberg is an award-winning journalist who writes mostly about the ocean and environmental issues. He’s the author of Four Fish, American Catch, and, most recently, The Omega Principle.

JoAnn Manson and the VITAL study

JoAnn Manson is chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and director and principal investigator of the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL).

Transcript

For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors

The post Omega 1-2-3 appeared first on Gastropod.

Aug 13 2019

47mins

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To Eat or Not to Eat Meat

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With flexitarianism on the rise throughout the developed world, and everyone from Bill Clinton to Beyoncé endorsing the benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet, it can sometimes seem as though meat is just a bad habit that the majority of us are too weak-willed to kick. But is giving up meat morally superior, healthier, and better for the planet, as its advocates insist? This episode, we fearlessly dive into the long, tangled history and surprisingly nuanced science behind those claims. Listen in now for the truth on Pythagoras, cow farts, and more.

The ideal of a non-violent diet goes back to the origins of most world religions. Adam and Eve’s pre-lapsarian diet was plant-based, while in the East, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism all embraced the concept of ahimsa, or non-violence toward living things—even if many Hindus and Buddhists aren’t necessarily vegetarian themselves. We speak with author Colin Spencer, Gastropod listener and Jain Purvi Shah, and theologian Jo Ann Davidson to understand the genesis of these beliefs and their evolution throughout human history.

In the 16- and 1700s, new scientific discoveries were employed to adjudicate the question of whether eating meat was morally wrong: author and activist Tristram Stuart explains that, while vegetarian advocates held up the similarity of human and animal nervous systems to condemn the suffering inflicted by meat-eating, their opponents used the newly invented microscope to demonstrate that even the most rigorous Jain is still killing untold quantities of microbial and insect life every time they sit down to dinner. Today, the debate over animal rights and an animal’s role as a potential source of food still rages.

But the claims that giving up meat will reduce heart attacks and save the planet—they must be much easier to prove, right? Not so fast: we speak to nutritionist Frankie Phillips, epidemiologist Corinna Koebnick, rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman, and researchers Gidon Eshel and Marco Springmann to understand the science behind a meat-free diet’s reported health and environmental benefits—and figure out its flaws. As we discover this episode, nothing about eating meat or not eating meat is as clear cut as it seems.

Episode Notes

Listener Survey

We’ve put together a short survey to help us understand more about you, your listening style, and what you’d like more of in 2017. The information will help us make a better show and help keep Gastropod going in the future, and filling it out won’t take more than ten minutes. It can be entirely anonymous, but, if you like, you can include your name and email address for a chance to win a $100 gift certificate on Amazon. Please fill it out now—and thank you!

Jo Ann Davidson

Jo Ann Davidson is professor of theology at Andrews University and the author of the article “World Religions and the Vegetarian Diet.”

Colin Spencer and The Heretic’s Feast

Colin Spencer is a novelist, painter, playwright, and cookery book writer, as well as the author of The Heretic’s Feast: A History of Vegetarianism.

Tristram Stuart and The Bloodless Revolution

Tristram Stuart is author of The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times, as well as a food waste activist. You can watch his TED talk on the subject here, and then learn more about the campaigning organization he founded, Feedback.

Frankie Phillips

Frankie Phillips is a registered dietitian and author of this briefing paper on vegetarian nutrition published by the British Nutrition Foundation.

Corinna Koebnick

Corinna Koebnick is an epidemiologist with Kaiser Permanente of Southern California. For this episode, we discussed her research paper on the implications of a long-term vegetarian diet for a healthy pregnancy.

Marco Springmann

Marco Springmann is a researcher at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, based at Oxford University. His paper, “Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change co-benefits of dietary change,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year.

Nicolette Hahn Niman and Defending Beef

Nicolette Hahn Niman is an environmental lawyer, rancher, and author of Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production, as well as Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms.

Gidon Eshel

Gidon Eshel is a professor of environmental science and physics at Bard College. Our discussion was focused on his 2014 paper, “Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States.”

Transcript

For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.

The post To Eat or Not to Eat Meat appeared first on Gastropod.

Feb 14 2017

49mins

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Say Cheese!

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Cheese is the chameleon of the food world, as well as one of its greatest delights. Fresh and light or funky and earthy, creamy and melty or crystalline and crumbly—no other food offers such a variety of flavors and textures.

But cheese is not just a treat for the palate: its discovery changed the course of Western civilization, and, today, cheese rinds are helping scientists conduct cutting-edge research into microbial ecology. In this episode of Gastropod, we investigate cheese in all stinking glory, from ancient Mesopotamia to medieval France, from the origins of cheese factories and Velveeta to the growing artisanal cheese movement in the U.S. Along the way, we search for the answer to a surprisingly complex question: what is cheese? Join us as we bust cheese myths, solve cheese mysteries, and put together the ultimate cheese plate.

The Secret History of Cheese, or, Why the Cheese Origin Story is a Myth

This is the story you’ll often hear about how humans discovered cheese: one hot day nine thousand years ago, a nomad was on his travels, and brought along some milk in an animal stomach—a sort of proto-thermos—to have something to drink at the end of the day. But when he arrived, he discovered that the rennet in the stomach lining had curdled the milk, creating the first cheese. But there’s a major problem with that story, as University of Vermont cheese scientist and historian Paul Kindstedt told Gastropod: the nomads living in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East in 7000 B.C. would have been lactose-intolerant. A nomad on the road wouldn’t have wanted to drink milk; it would have left him in severe gastro-intestinal distress.

Kindstedt, author of the book Cheese and Culture, explained that about a thousand years before traces of cheese-making show up in the archaeological record, humans began growing crops. Those early fields of wheat and other grains attracted local wild sheep and goats, which provide milk for their young. Human babies are also perfectly adapted for milk. Early humans quickly made the connection and began dairying—but for the first thousand years, toddlers and babies were the only ones consuming the milk. Human adults were uniformly lactose-intolerant, says Kindstedt. What’s more, he told us that “we know from some exciting archaeo-genetic and genomic modeling that the capacity to tolerate lactose into adulthood didn’t develop until about 5500 BC”—which is at least a thousand years after the development of cheese.

The real dawn of cheese came about 8,500 years ago, with two simultaneous developments in human history. First, by then, over-intensive agricultural practices had depleted the soil, leading to the first human-created environmental disaster. As a result, Neolithic humans began herding goats and sheep more intensely, as those animals could survive on marginal lands unfit for crops. And secondly, humans invented pottery: the original practical milk-collection containers.

In the warm environment of the Fertile Crescent region, Kinstedt explained, any milk not used immediately and instead left to stand in those newly invented containers “would have very quickly, in a matter of hours, coagulated [due to the heat and the natural lactic acid bacteria in the milk]. And at some point, probably some adventurous adult tried some of the solid material and found that they could tolerate it a lot more of it than they could milk.” That’s because about 80 percent of the lactose drains off with the whey, leaving a digestible and, likely, rather delicious fresh cheese.

Cheese Changed the Course of Western Civilization

With the discovery of cheese, suddenly those early humans could add dairy to their diets. Cheese made an entirely new source of nutrients and calories available for adults, and, as a result, dairying took off in a major way. What this meant, says Kindstedt, is that “children and newborns would be exposed to milk frequently, which ultimately through random mutations selected for children who could tolerate lactose later into adulthood.”

In a very short time, at least in terms of human evolution—perhaps only a few thousand years—that mutation spread throughout the population of the Fertile Crescent. As those herders migrated to Europe and beyond, they carried this genetic mutation with them. According to Kindstedt, “It’s an absolutely stunning example of a genetic selection occurring in an unbelievably short period of time in human development. It’s really a wonder of the world, and it changed Western civilization forever.”

Tasting the First Cheeses Today

In lieu of an actual time machine, Gastropod has another trick for listeners who want to know what cheese tasted like 9,000 years ago: head to the local grocery store and pick up some ricotta or goat’s milk chevre. These cheeses are coagulated using heat and acid, rather than rennet, in much the same way as the very first cheeses. Based on the archaeological evidence of Neolithic pottery containers found in the Fertile Crescent, those early cheeses would have been made from goat’s or sheep’s milk, meaning that they likely would have been somewhat funkier than cow’s milk ricotta, and perhaps of a looser, wetter consistency, more like cottage cheese.

“It would have had a tart, clean flavor,” says Kindstedt, “and it would have been even softer than the cheese you buy at the cheese shop. It would have been a tart, clean, acidic, very moist cheese.”

So, the next time you’re eating a ricotta lasagne or cheesecake, just think: you’re tasting something very similar to the cheese that gave ancient humans a dietary edge, nearly 9,000 years ago.

Camembert Used to be Green

Those early cheese-making peoples spread to Europe, but it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the wild diversity of cheeses we see today started to emerge. In the episode, we trace the emergence of Swiss cheese and French bloomy rind cheeses, like Brie. But here’s a curious fact that didn’t make it into the show: when Gastropod visited Tufts microbiologist Benjamin Wolfe in his cheese lab, he showed us a petri dish in which he was culturing the microbe used to make Camembert, Penicillium camemberti. And it was a gorgeous blue-green color.

Wolfe explained that according to Camembert: A National Myth, a history of the iconic French cheese written by Pierre Boisard, the original Camembert cheeses in Normandy would have been that same color, their rinds entirely colonized by Wolfe’s “green, minty, crazy” microbe. Indeed, in nineteenth-century newspapers, letters, and advertisements, Camembert cheeses are routinely described as green, green-blue, or greenish-grey. The pure white Camembert we know and love today did not become the norm until the 1920s and 30s. What happened, according to Wolfe, is that if you grow the wild microbe “in a very lush environment, like cheese is, it eventually starts to mutate. And along the way, these white mutants that look like the thing we think of as Camembert popped up.”

In his book, Boisard attributes the rapid rise of the white mutant to human selection, arguing that Louis Pasteur’s discoveries in germ theory at the start of the twentieth-century led to a prejudice against the original “moldy”-looking green Camembert rinds, and a preference for the more hygienic-seeming pure white ones. Camembert’s green origins have since been almost entirely forgotten, even by the most traditional cheese-makers.


Penicillium camemberti growing in a petri dish in Ben Wolfe’s lab. Photograph by Nicola Twilley.

Listen to this week’s episode of Gastropod for much more on the secret history and science of cheese, including how early cheese bureaucracy led to the development of writing, what studying microbes in cheese rinds can tell us about microbial ecology in our guts, and why in the world American cheese is dyed orange. (Hint: the color was originally seen as a sign of high quality.) Plus, Gastropod will help you put together the world’s most interesting cheese plate to wow guests at your next dinner party. Listen here for more!

EPISODE NOTES

Heather Paxson

Heather Paxson is a professor of anthropology at MIT, as well as the author of an excellent book, The Life of Cheese, all about the new wave of American artisanal cheese-makers.


Rind microbes from a Colston Bassett Stilton. Photograph courtesy of Benjamin E. Wolfe.

Microbes Make the Cheese

In the episode, Heather Paxson describes the struggles she and her colleagues went through as part of a committee responsible for writing this American Academy of Microbiology FAQ on microbes and cheese, “Microbes Make the Cheese,” published in February 2015 and available as a free PDF here.

Paul Kindstedt

Paul Kindstedt is a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont, where he studies the chemistry, biochemistry, structure, and function of cheese. His book, Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization, came out in 2012.

Benjamin Wolfe

At his lab at Tufts University, microbiologist Benjamin Wolfe studies how microbes from food (mostly cheese!) interact, in order to tease out the ecological and evolutionary forces that shape microbial diversity. He is co-founder of MicrobialFoods.org, an online publication exploring the science of fermented foods.


Ben Wolfe examining his in-vitro cheeses for signs of life. Photograph by Nicola Twilley.


In-vitro cheese rind communities in Ben Wolfe’s lab. Photograph by Nicola Twilley.

Cheese Rind Communities Provide Tractable Systems for In Situ and In Vitro Studies of Microbial Diversity

This paper, published in the journal Cell in July 2014, was co-authored by Benjamin Wolfe, Julie E. Button, Marcela Santarelli, and Rachel J. Dutton. The team surveyed 137 European and North American cheeses to assess microbial diversity, with some fascinating results. At the time, Wolfe was working in Rachel Dutton’s lab at Harvard’s FAS Center for Systems Biology. A Gastropod listener and current post-doc in Dutton’s lab, Kevin Bonham, recently wrote a three-part essay at Scientific American that goes into detail about the process for DNA-sequencing a cheese rind, and how to turn that data into useful information.

To eat the rind or not?

You may have noticed that some eaters scorn the rinds of cheeses, from the soft fuzzy white carpet that envelops brie to the tougher edge of an aged cheddar, while others tuck right into them. Which approach is correct? The answer depends on what kind of rind it is—as well as your own comfort level with microbes.

Some rinds today are covered with wax, and others, such as England’s Montgomery Cheddar, are surrounded by cloth, neither of which are edible. But for all the rest, the rind is what microbiologists such as Ben Wolfe call a “biofilm”—an entire ecosystem of microbes that colonize the cheese surface, gluing themselves together. Historically, the rind creates a method of preservation, a surface “to keep [the cheese] from being damaged and make it easy to transport. So people just let these rinds develop.” These microbial rinds are perfectly safe for consumption, though they have a different, sometimes stronger, taste than the cheese itself. So: Eat the rind or not? Heather Paxson, who unhesitatingly ate the rind on a St. Nectaire during an afternoon of cheese-tasting with Gastropod, says “It’s purely a matter of taste.”

Frankencheeses

As we explain in the episode, Ben Wolfe has become something of a “cheese doctor,” with cheese-makers sending him their “Frankencheeses” in the mail, in order to figure out what went wrong. Meanwhile, listener “Moldy in Avignon” sent us an email with the subject “Gross Cheese Mystery,” and a photograph of really, really old cheeses for sale in the Avignon market. We consulted with Ben, who shared his own photos of brown, nasty-looking French cheeses for sale at the Slow Food Festival in Bra, Italy. Apparently, these kinds of super-aged cheeses are meant for eating, though the cheese seller in this short video explains they are hard to find these days and much less popular than they used to be.

The brown dust is actually microscopic cheese mites: Wolfe calls them the “gophers” of the cheese world, as they eat into the rind, aerating it as well as increasing the surface area available for microbial colonization (and thus flavor development). They’re common in cheese aging, although in the U.S. they’re usually regarded as a pest, and cheeses are carefully brushed to remove them. Here’s footage of a cheese mite munching on microbial hyphae, filmed at the Dutton lab.


Very old cheeses (aged for up to five years) covered in craggly molds and a fine dust of cheese mites. (Left) Photographed by Ben Wolfe for sale at the Slow Food Festival in Bra, Italy. (Right) As photographed by listener “Moldy in Avignon.”

Cheese stories, cheese ads, and Wallace & Gromit

This episode wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without all your cheese stories: thanks to all of you who wrote or called in, and particularly to Elana Lubin, Roz Cummins, Emily Lo Gibson, Mike Simonovich, Jenny Morber, Etta Devine, Tasha from the Boston area, and Doug from Perth. We sampled audio from Alex Crowley’s Wallace & Gromit “The Cheesesnatcher” claymation, as well as a 1986 Velveeta ad, a 1958 Kraft ad, and a “Time for Timer” Saturday morning cartoon PSA from the 1970s.

The post Say Cheese! appeared first on Gastropod.

Mar 23 2015

54mins

Play

We’ve Lost It: The Diet Episode

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Diet dreams are splashed across magazine covers and blare from the T.V., offering tips and tricks, that will, readers and viewers are promised, make weight loss easy and fast. Diet books making similar claims can be found at the top of the best-seller list without fail, every January. But where does this obsession with losing weight to reach some kind of idealized body type come from? How long have gurus and doctors alike made millions from the West’s preoccupation with the “d” word, and why do strange fads such as chewing each bite hundreds of times stick around for centuries? This episode, we explore the history of diets, before asking a scientist: Does anything actually work?

Nobody knows exactly how long humans have elevated a particular physical ideal as the standard, with anyone who who weighs more considered “over.” But we do know where and when the word “diet” was invented: ancient Greece. In is original context, “diaita” wasn’t solely focused on eating certain foods to achieve weight loss—it was meant to represent an entire way of life, encompassing food, drink, lifestyle, and exercise. With the exception of running naked and regular vomiting, ancient Greek diet recommendations still sound like pretty sensible advice. “They didn’t get everything right,” Louise Foxcroft, author of Calories and Corsets: A History of Dieting Over 2,000 Years, told Gastropod, “but they did know that a healthy mind and a healthy body made for a healthy society”—for individuals and for society.

But the ancient Greek influence on diet culture had some built in biases that still resonate today. According to Foxcroft, the ideal body was male. “The male is quite slim, he’s quite muscled, and he’s very beautiful,” she told us. “Women can’t live up to that—or weren’t thought to be able to live up to that. So the onus on diet and on having an ideal body—it’s always been a much more difficult concept for women, and that’s reflected in our modern diet culture as well.” At the same time, early Christian concepts of gluttony, temptation, and morality condemned fat as sin written on the body—another idea that has shaped Western thought on food and weight for millennia.

It took another few hundred years for the idea of the diet guru to become an entrenched figure in the West. This episode, we unearth such gems as the first diet bestseller, meet the proto-Atkins, and discover that today’s celebrity dieters, from Oprah to the Kardashians, are really only following in the footsteps of Lord Byron. Finally, we talk with Susan Roberts, nutritionist at Tufts University and one of the experts on a panel that recently ranked forty well-known diets in order of effectiveness for U.S. News & World Report. Is there any science behind the low-carb craze? What does the Mediterranean Diet actually mean? And does any diet actually deliver the long-term weight loss they all promise? Listen in!

  • An earlier version of this episode incorrectly stated that protein is broken down to make ketones; in fact, fat is broken down to make ketones. We apologize for the mistake.

Episode Notes

Louise Foxcroft and Calories and Corsets

Louise Foxcroft is a writer, historian, and broadcaster. In addition to Calories and Corsets: A history of dieting over 2,000 years, she’s written on the topics as diverse as the history of the menopause and London’s Serpentine lake.

Susan Roberts and the iDiet

Susan Roberts is senior scientist and director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University, where she holds a dual appointment in nutrition and psychiatry. She served on the panel of experts that recently reviewed and ranked diets in order of effectiveness for U.S. News and World Report. And she has developed her own diet, the iDiet, which she notes is the only diet program ever clinically shown to reduce hunger during weight loss.

Lindy West, Susie Orbach, and Other Awesome Ladies

This episode, we featured clips of writer, comedian, and activist Lindy West talking to the Food Psych podcast about Weight Watchers and in conversation with Anne Summers at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre, discussing the moral judgement attached to fat. We also included a clip of Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, talking to The Guardian. And we recommend enjoying Margaret Cho’s “Persimmon Diet” routine in full, as well as Amy Schumer’s nutritionist sketch. Huge thanks to our amazing volunteer Ari Lebowitz for finding these clips!

Transcript

For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.

The post We’ve Lost It: The Diet Episode appeared first on Gastropod.

Jan 30 2018

52mins

Play

Ripe for Global Domination: The Story of the Avocado

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Avocados are on a roll. More precisely, they’re on toast—a lot of toast. Last summer, British Vogue reported that more than three million new photos of avocado toast are uploaded to Instagram every day. But how did this humble fruit, originally named after testicles, get from its Mexican forest home to a tattoo on Miley Cyrus’s upper arm? This episode, we unravel the avocado’s amazing journey, a story that involves not only conquistadors and cartel violence, but also a Southern California postman and actress Angie Dickinson lounging in a white leotard. And we discover where the avocado is headed next—a place where it’s known as the butter fruit, and often consumed in shake form. Listen in now for all this creamy green goodness and more.

Nobody is sure exactly where the avocado first came from, but the earliest evidence for its consumption dates back 10,000 years, from the remains of settlements in central Mexico. The avocado tree itself is, of course, much more ancient, so ancient that it had already been a so-called “evolutionary ghost” for three thousand years by that point. Its partners in evolution—the giant, elephant-like gomphotheres and three-ton ground sloths that dined on its fruit in return for transporting and then pooping out its giant seed—went extinct soon after the first bipedal apes arrived in the region. Rodents, jaguars, and eventually humans stepped in as dispersal mechanisms, albeit significantly less effective ones. The flourishing avocado forests that carpeted much of Mesoamerica during the Cenozoic era dwindled and died out. And, as Mary Lu Arpaia, who runs the avocado breeding program at the University of California, Riverside, explained, the avocado became a backyard fruit, enjoyed by first the indigenous peoples and later the conquistadors, but rarely cultivated intensively—until recent decades.

The story of this anachronistic fruit’s astonishing resurgence hinges on a trade agreement. With the help of financial columnist Brook Larmer, we explore the machinations that turned the avocado into green gold. But the avocado’s rise is more than just a business story: smashed up on a piece of toasted bread, avocado has become a signifier of a certain lifestyle, popularized by none other than Gwyneth Paltrow. Although journalist Lauren Oyler warned us that trying to pinpoint the dish’s origins is “a fool’s errand,” she nonetheless guides us through the celebrity-strewn story, dissecting avocado toast’s allure—and expense. Today, avocado is everywhere: it’s worshipped for its heart-healthy fats, and blamed for bankrupting a generation. But, according to Larmer, we’re nowhere near peak avocado yet. Listen in now for the next chapter in the avocado’s astonishing history.


As promised, Angie Dickinson in a white leotard, advertising California avocados in the 1980s.

Episode Notes

Mary Lu Arpaia

Mary Lu Arpaia leads the avocado breeding program at the University of California, Riverside. Cynthia visited her and her colleague Erich Focht to learn more about the avocado and their work—and to taste the avocado varieties of the future. We’ll have much more on that—including a new variety that is reportedly better than the Hass—in our special Gastropod Super-Fan newsletter, which goes out to supporters every two weeks. Find out how you can get in on that here.

Brook Larmer

Brook Larmer is the On Money columnist for The New York Times Magazine. Read his recent column, “How the Avocado Became the Fruit of Global Trade,” here.

Lauren Oyler

Lauren Oyler is a freelance journalist who wrote about her search for the origins of avocado toast for Broadly, the women’s website at Vice.

Luis Mario Tapio Vargas

Luis Mario Tapio Vargas leads the water and soil management research program at Mexico’s National Research Institute for Forests and Agriculture (INIFAP).

The Food Explorer: The Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats, by Daniel Stone

We spent our last episode telling this story, but we brought Daniel Stone back this week to tell us about Fairchild’s role in the origin of the world’s most popular avocado variety, the Hass. If you haven’t already, check out Stone’s new book, for more Fairchild fun!

Note on language

Please note that this episode contains two swear words.

Transcript

For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors

The post Ripe for Global Domination: The Story of the Avocado appeared first on Gastropod.

May 08 2018

48mins

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Can Diet Stop Alzheimer’s?

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Every three seconds, someone in the world develops Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a devastating disease: millions of people, as well as their caretakers, spend years dealing with disabling disorientation and memory loss. Today, it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. By 2050, an estimated 15 million people in America will have Alzheimer’s—the combined populations of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. But, after years of failed drug trials, scientists are now realizing that the disease begins with structural changes in the brain decades before sufferers show any symptoms. And some researchers now believe that diet may be the most important factor in determining whether or not those brain changes take place. Listen in now to find out: Can changing what you eat prevent Alzheimer’s?

In 1906, German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer dissected and stained the brain of a deceased patient. Auguste Deter had died in her fifties, after suffering from memory loss and delusions. In his postmortem examination, Alzheimer noticed Deter’s brain was clogged with gunk: agglomerations of proteins had formed pathological structures that are now called amyloid plaques and tau tangles. Though dementia has been recognized for millennia—the ancient Greek physician Galen called dementia “morosis”—Dr. Alzheimer was the first to see the physical effects of the disease’s most common cause on the brain.

Today, more than a century later, and despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent studying it, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and not much in the way of treatment, either. There are a few medications that help manage symptoms, but as Lisa Mosconi, a specialist in neuroscience and nuclear medicine and associate director of the Weill Cornell Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic, told Gastropod, “They work for a few years, for some people they work longer, for some people they don’t work at all. But they can’t stop Alzheimer’s, so they’re not a long-term solution.” In part, this seems to be because drugs designed to cure Alzheimer’s have focused on ridding the brain of amyloid plaques. Some of them even managed to remove the plaques, Mosconi told us. “But cognition did not improve,” she said. “There were an enormous amount of side effects, and some patients actually got worse. Some died. And that really begs the question: What are we doing wrong?”

For Mosconi and her colleague, Richard Isaacson, who founded and directs the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic, the first of its kind in the U.S. and still one of only a few in the world, the answer to that question has involved a shift in approach: from cure to prevention. Over the past decade, observational studies have revealed patterns that seem to link Alzheimer’s with exercise, sleep, cognitive stimulation, and, especially, diet. Based on the patterns in the data, it seems as though such so-called lifestyle factors make up to half a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

But, of course, correlation is not causation. And so Isaacson and Mosconi have set out to see whether they can prove that implementing changes in diet and lifestyle in middle age can actually prevent Alzheimer’s. Working with a cohort of healthy patients with a family history of the disease, Isaacson and Mosconi study whether a rigorous diet and exercise regime can actually prevent Alzheimer’s disease, or at least delay its onset. Meanwhile, Mosconi also puts her patients in a brain scanner to look for early signals of Alzheimer’s—and she’s seeing how what people eat is the biggest factor in changing brain structure.

These findings are brand new, but the emerging evidence for the power of lifestyle changes for Alzheimer’s prevention is now so compelling that the Alzheimer’s Association has just launched a $20 million, two-year clinical trial to study just that in 2,000 volunteers around the U.S. So, what should you eat to protect your brain? Listen in now for Gastropod’s scoop on this exciting new research.

Episode Notes

Lisa Mosconi

Lisa Mosconi is a specialist in neuroscience and nuclear medicine, as well as the associate director of the Weill Cornell Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic. You can find links to her publications here. She’s also the author of Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power.

Richard Isaacson

Richard Isaacson is a neurologist and the founder of the Weill Cornell Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic. His most recent paper based on his work at the clinic can be found here, and he expects to publish full results later this year.

Heather Snyder

Heather Snyder is the senior director of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

FINGER and POINTER

If you’re looking for more information on the FINGER study, the results were published here in 2015. The POINTER study is underway now, you can find more information here. (Together, are they the Pointer Finger? Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)

Illustration by Lauren Cierzan

The special illustration for today’s show was created by artist and Gastropod listener Lauren Cierzan. You can find more of her gorgeous work here. Thank you, Lauren!

Sloan Foundation and Burroughs Wellcome Fund

Speaking of thanks, we’d like to thank the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology, and Economics for supporting our science coverage, as well as the Burroughs Wellcome Fund for supporting our coverage of biomedical research.

The post Can Diet Stop Alzheimer’s? appeared first on Gastropod.

Mar 11 2019

43mins

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Secrets of Sourdough

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Today, you can find a huge variety of breads on supermarket shelves, only a few of which are called “sourdough.” For most of human history, though, any bread that wasn’t flat was sourdough—that is, it was leavened with a wild community of microbes. And yet we know surprisingly little about the microbes responsible for raising sourdough bread, not to mention making it more nutritious and delicious than bread made with commercial yeast. For starters, where do the fungi and bacteria in a sourdough starter come from? Are they in the water or the flour? Do they come from the baker’s hands? Or perhaps they’re just floating around in the foggy air, as the bakers of San Francisco firmly believe? This episode, Cynthia and Nicky go to Belgium with two researchers, fifteen bakers, and quite a few microbes for a three-day science experiment designed to answer this question once and for all. Listen in for our exclusive scoop on the secrets of sourdough.

No one knows how or when humans first figured out that if you mixed mashed-up grains and water and let them sit for a while, you got a bubbling beige goo that you could use to make beer or raise bread. (No one even knows whether humans went for the booze or the bread first, although Nicky is firmly on Team Booze.) Historians and archaeologists speculate that the first bread would have been fluffy and spongey, something like the injera that is still eaten in Ethiopia today. Despite the microbes, it would likely have still been quite flat, because the fermented ground grain-and-water mix would have been cooked simply by pouring it on a rock—there’s evidence that humans were grinding sorghum, an African grain, long before pottery was invented in which to bake the shaped dough into a loaf.

Sourdough starters in the Puratos Sourdough Library. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Karl de Smedt and Cynthia in the Sourdough Library at Puratos Center for Bread Flavour. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

But once Louis Pasteur explained yeast’s role in fermentation using his new compound microscope in the 1850s, sourdough’s popularity slumped. Sourdough was finicky, unreliable, and slow; commercial baker’s yeast, which was first sold by the Fleischmann brothers just eleven years after Pasteur first published his discoveries, worked well enough, and it provided the same rapid results every time. By the 1960s, sourdough had all but been forgotten. In this episode, we trace its revival, but also reveal how science, which initially gave us boring baker’s yeast, is now uncovering the secrets of sourdough.

Scientists Anne Madden and Rob Dunn (1) introducing the experiment, (2) swabbing the sourdough starters, (3) swabbing baker Paul Barker’s hands, and (4) peeking at the unbaked loaves. Photos by Nicola Twilley.

Microbiologists Rob Dunn and Anne Madden allowed us to accompany them to Belgium for their ground-breaking experiment to discover where the microbes in a sourdough culture come from. While there, we visit the world’s first and only Sourdough Library, learn how the microbes in sourdough improves the texture, flavor, and nutritional quality of bread, and eat our body weight in baked goods. And then, the results! Why do bakers have “sourdough paws”? What is so special about Australian starters? And where do all those microbes actually come from? All that and more this episode: listen in now!

Kasper’s Danish Dynamite starter; Tom gives Cynthia a sniff of his starter. Photos by Nicola Twilley.

Check out the eyeliner on Tom’s loaf! Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Episode Notes

Rob Dunn Lab

The bakers and Rob Dunn, sniffing bread. Photos by Nicola Twilley.

Rob Dunn’s lab at North Carolina State University aims “to tell the stories of the small species–whether on our bodies, under our beds or in our backyards–humans interact with every day but tend to ignore.” Their Sourdough Project is coordinated and led by Anne Madden, a post-doc in Dunn’s lab, and involves collaborations with Gastropod’s own in-house microbiologist, Ben Wolfe, at Tufts University, as well as many others. They have already posted the results of their big sourdough sampling project online here.

Puratos & the Sourdough Library

Puratos is a bakery supply company headquartered in Belgium. It generously hosted this three-day sourdough experiment at its Center for Bread Flavour in the small town of Sankt Vith, near Liège. Karl de Smedt, who also manages training and communications at Puratos, launched the Puratos Sourdough Library in 2013: it’s the largest collection of of sourdough starter microbial diversity in the world. You can take a virtual tour on the Puratos website here.

The Great Gastropod Shareathon

We need at least 500 more you to participate to reach our goal! The way this works, the more of you who get your friends to subscribe to the show, the better the rewards will be. In fact, if 500 more of you participate, you all get a super-cool, exclusive, bonus compilation of our favorite Gastropod moments—including the outtakes that we left on the cutting room floor! So do us a favor and do your friends a favor and do yourself a favor all at the same time: get them to subscribe to Gastropod, send us the five names—just first name is fine — and hey presto, we’ll get you the goods.

(1) Bakers baking using the same ingredients and protocol, (2) their very different finished loaves, (3) playtime! Hakan’s cheesy egg bread gets papped, (4) more recreational baking: Hakan shows off a fancy seed design. Photos by Nicola Twilley.

Transcript

For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.

The post Secrets of Sourdough appeared first on Gastropod.

Dec 18 2017

50mins

Play

Out of the Fire, Into the Frying Pan

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From rainbow-hued enameled stew pots to lightweight nonstick frying pans, the metal and ceramic vessels we use to heat our food are such an everyday aspect of the kitchen that they’re easy to take for granted. But make no mistake: the invention of the pot was, after fire, one of the most important innovations in cooking. You’ll want to hug your favorite skillet after coming along with us on this journey, which ranges from some of the earliest clay pots ever found in what’s now the Sahara Desert, to the British round-bellied cast-iron number that kickstarted the Industrial Revolution, to a legal challenge in Ohio that raised the question of Teflon’s health and environmental impact. Plus, can science help us find the perfect pot or pan? Listen in to find out.

In our last episode, we covered one of the most important innovations in human history: cooking food over fire. But, although cooking may have made us human, it is the invention of pots that made us into cooks. As Bee Wilson, author of Consider the Fork and frequent Gastropod guest, explained: “Pots led to cuisine itself. To me, it’s the great beginning of cookery.” Tens of thousands of years ago, the invention of pots brought with it life-changing benefits: prolonged cooking could slowly break down plants like yams and cassava that would have otherwise been inedible; the process releases more starches from foods and therefore more calories; long boiling kills harmful microbes and thus makes food safer; softened food like grains could be fed to babies, allowing children to be weaned earlier and leading to yet more children and early population growth; and finally, the ability to create dishes that were cooked slowly and indirectly, mingling many different ingredients, made the business of eating a lot more delicious.

The power hammer at Blu Skillet (left); Patrick Maher shaping the bowl of the pan by hand (right). Photos by Cynthia Graber.

But how did we get from those earliest examples of clay cooking containers to the incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and materials found in kitchen cabinets around the world today—and what stories can those pots and pans tell over the years? In this episode, Gastropod visits Blu Skillet in Seattle, Wash., to watch a carbon steel pan being forged and smithed by hand. Julie Dunne, a.k.a. @thepotlady, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Bristol, describes her discovery of the earliest known pots used to cook vegetables. Metallurgist Richard Williams introduces us to Abraham Darby, whose breakthrough in cast iron pot-making technology funded the R&D that led to the Industrial Revolution. Brown University epidemiologist David Savitz joins us to discuss the question of whether or not the chemicals involved in Teflon pans cause health issues. Finally, food science guru Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking, helps us answer a seemingly impossible question: What makes the perfect pan? Listen in now!

Patrick Maher shaping the handle for a Blu Skillet pan. Photo by Cynthia Graber.

Episode Notes

Blu Skillet

Finished Blu Skillet pans. Photo by Cynthia Graber.
Thanks to Patrick Maher and Caryn Badgett, who welcomed Cynthia into Blu Skillet‘s studio in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood to watch a pan being made. For locals, Blu Skillet hosts studio sales twice a year; otherwise, if you’re in the market for one of their hand-made pans, you’ll have to try your luck in their monthly lottery. They’ve been selling out regularly ever since this piece in Cook’s Illustrated on carbon steel that featured their work.

Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork

Bee Wilson is a food writer and author of Consider the Fork: A History of How we Cook and Eat, among other books. She’s a Gastropod regular, having starred in our very first episode, “The Golden Spoon,” as well as “First Foods: Learning to Eat.” You can find engineer Chuck Lemme’s reflections on the ideal pot in the 1988 Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery.

Julie Dunne, @thepotlady

Julie Dunne is a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Bristol. Her study on the potsherds found in Libya can be found here, and she’s current working on a multi-year project called Peopling the Green Sahara, which explores the ecological and demographic history of the region.

Sara Pennell

Historian Sara Pennell is a professor in the department of history, politics, and social sciences at the University of Greenwich, and the author of The Birth of the English Kitchen: 1600–1850.

Richard Williams

When metallurgist Richard Williams was asked to examine a cast-iron pot in the collection of the collection of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, he uncovered a story that led from kitchen wares to the Industrial Revolution.

David Savitz

Brown University epidemiologist David Savitz was asked to look into the health impacts of a chemical used in making Teflon called PFOA, as part of the settlement in a class action lawsuit filed by people in Ohio and West Virginia who lived near a DuPont manufacturing factory. The C8 panel he was part of published research on the likely links between PFOA in drinking water and a number of health outcomes. For more detail, here’s a long Mother Jones article on the lawsuit. Dupont and the chemical industry as a whole have since phased out PFOA, though there’s a debate about whether the replacement chemicals are significantly safer.

Harold McGee

Harold McGee writes about the chemistry of food and cooking, most famously in his book On Food and Cooking. He’s starred on Gastropod before, trying to help Cynthia overcome her dislike of cilantro, as well as explaining the mysteries of caffeine.

Transcript

For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors

The post Out of the Fire, Into the Frying Pan appeared first on Gastropod.

Jun 19 2018

49mins

Play

Kombucha Culture

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If you haven’t tasted kombucha yet, you probably will soon. The sour-sweet, fizzy, fermented tea is becoming ubiquitous in trendy cafes, workplaces, and health food stores across America. Where did it come from, and how did it get so popular? And what in the world is the slimy, beige blob that produces it? From German POWs to Lindsey Lohan to a kombucha zoo at Tufts University, this episode explores the history and science of summer’s hottest drink.

Kombucha’s origins—like almost everything about the drink—are a combination of myth and mystery. According to Tufts University microbiologist Ben Wolfe, all we know is “it was originally produced in parts of China, as well as what is now Russia.” Other countries, including Korea and Tibet, have their own kombucha creation stories. Though the exact date and location in which it was first brewed remains obscure, it seems clear that kombucha arose in the Far East, where tea has been popular for thousands of years.

That doesn’t explain how kombucha traveled west. But, by translating a little-known paper published in the Deutscher Apotheker Verlag (a German scientific journal) in 1930, Gastropod managed to trace the arrival of the “Indian tea fungus,” as the author called it, to Europe following World War I, when it was brought home by German POWs who had been held in Russia. Still, it wasn’t until 1990s Los Angeles that kombucha became a commercial success in the U.S., fueled first by the AIDS epidemic, and later by a growing interest in probiotics and gut health.


Wolfe lab kombucha pet; listener Amy Patterson’s SCOBY love hotel; and listener Rachel Khong’s July brew.

In the episode, listeners meet The Blob (also known as a SCOBY or mother): a fibrous, slippery mat of yeast and bacteria that ferments sugary tea into kombucha. Gastropod co-hosts Cynthia and Nicky bring segments of their own home-brew blobs to Wolfe’s lab, contributing to what may well be the world’s largest collection of kombucha cultures. (Wolfe created his kombucha zoo by scouring Etsy for samples from around the United States.) The hosts’ cultures go head-to-head, competing under the microscope and under the scientists’ noses for the healthiest, most fragrant, and all-round best kombucha. Along the way, Wolfe explores the fascinating microbiology behind each culture’s unique flavor and behavior.


Nicky and Cynthia’s blobs under the microscope. Courtesy The Wolfe Lab.

While kombucha fans have long promoted the drink as a cure-all, listeners may be disappointed to learn that there’s little science supporting such health claims, though Wolfe does suggest a potential mechanism through which fermented tea might have a positive impact on the gut microbiome. But, even though it likely doesn’t hold the secret to eternal life, Wolfe is hoping his kombucha collection will help answer much more fundamental questions about microbial life. Along the way, he may even discover how to engineer the perfect blob.

Cynthia records Ben pipetting.

Listen in now to discover the bizarre history and fascinating science of kombucha, as well to find out whether Nicky or Cynthia’s blob won the Great Gastropod Co-Host Kombucha Smackdown.

Episode Notes

Benjamin Wolfe

You can find our microbiologist-in-residence Ben Wolfe at Tufts University, where he heads the Wolfe Lab, as well as on Twitter @lupolabs.


Listener HEX Ferments’ terrifying megablob; listener Rachel Khong’s more reasonably sized one.

Extra Goodies for Sustaining Supporters

We have a special reward—a private newsletter crammed with extra snippets, recipes, and stories from each episode—for those of you who support Gastropod with a gift of $5 or more per episode on Patreon or $9 per month through our donation page. Don’t miss out!

Transcript

For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.

The post Kombucha Culture appeared first on Gastropod.

Aug 08 2016

43mins

Play

The Scoop on Ice Cream

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It’s one of the most complex food products you’ll ever consume: a thermodynamic miracle that contains all three states of matter—solid, liquid, and gas—at the same time. And yet no birthday party, beach trip, or Fourth of July celebration is complete without a scoop or two.

That’s right—in this episode of Gastropod, we serve up a big bowl of delicious ice cream, topped with the hot fudge sauce of history and a sprinkling of science. Grab your spoons and join us as we bust ice-cream origin myths, dig into the science behind brain freeze, and track down a chunk of pricey whale poo in order to recreate the earliest published ice cream recipe.

Colder Than Ice

Contrary to popular myth, ice cream was not brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo, and then introduced to France by Catherine de Medici. In fact, it is a delicious love-child, born of the union between a culinary tradition of custards and burnt creams in medieval Northern Europe, and the fruity, floral, sherbets (sharbat in Persian) that were typically served over ice as a refreshing drink in the Middle East.

For millennia, humankind has gathered and stored natural ice and snow in order to preserve food and chill drinks—snow was sold in the markets of Athens in the fifth century, and wealthy Romans, inspired by Middle Eastern sherbets, recklessly disobeyed the medical advice of their day by mixing ice chips to their wine. But simply adding ice is not enough to freeze sherbet into sorbet: to do that required the creation of a substance that was colder than ice.

Early ice creams were formed into elaborate molds and painted to create trompe l’oeil dinner displays. This image comes from Ivan Day, a food historian and teacher who tracked down the first published ice cream recipe and who owns an incredible collection of antique ice cream molds.

That scientific breakthrough occurred in Naples, when Giambattista della Porta, a Renaissance-era polymath who had already invented a new cryptographic system and perfected the camera obscura, decided to turn his attention to the science of freezing. By combining snow with saltpeter (potassium nitrate, which was manufactured in bulk as an explosive for military use) in a bucket, he managed to make a mixture that was cold enough that a sealed bottle of water submerged in it would turn to ice. It worked because the saltpeter draws the frozen water in the snow out from its crystalline structure, causing it to melt. The phase change from solid to liquid requires energy in the form of heat, lowering the temperature of the resulting salty slush to about 0ºF—plenty cold enough to freeze water.

Della Porta immediately tried his new technique out on a decanter of wine, which didn’t freeze solid because of ethanol’s low freezing point. Nonetheless, according to food writer Jeri Quinzio, his wine slushies were “a big hit on Italian banquet tables” of the late 1500s and early 1600s. By the 1620s, however, scientists and then cooks had worked out that della Porta’s technique worked even better using salt, rather than saltpeter, and that 0ºF was cold enough to freeze the perfumed sherbets of the Middle East into the first sorbets.

Before too long, an anonymous confectioner had the bright idea to see whether the same trick worked with a custard mix—and ice cream was born. The first recorded recipe comes from an unpublished cookbook written by an Englishwoman, Lady Anne Fanshawe, in 1665. Quinzio speculates that Fanshawe first encountered what she called “Icy Cream” in Spain, where her husband served as ambassador. In her recipe, she suggests flavoring it with orange-flower water (in a nod to its Middle Eastern roots), mace (a cousin of nutmeg), or ambergris—a greasy, odorous lump of fossilized squid beaks, mucus, and compacted fecal matter formed in the intestines of some sperm whales that, for thousands of years, has been prized as a perfume, spice, and even medicine. In the episode, historical gastronomist Sarah Lohman scored some wildly expensive and technically illegal ambergris in order to recreate Lady Anne Fanshawe’s ice cream; listen in to hear our verdict on the taste.

Historical gastronomist Sarah Lohman eats ambergris ice cream out of a reconstruction of the original ice cream cone.

Let Them Eat Ice Cream

Those early ice creams were a luxury item, found only on the tables of the aristocracy. Its journey to becoming America’s favorite dessert involved several more steps, including the repeal of heavy salt taxes, the huge reduction in the price of sugar brought about by the Atlantic slave trade, and even the French Revolution—as their aristocratic masters met the guillotine, fancy confectioners spread out across Europe, bringing the secrets of ice cream-making with them. Many opened cafes and restaurants, making ice cream accessible to the masses.


Harvesting ice today, using tools developed in Tudor’s era. Photograph by Nicola Twilley.

But the real breakthrough in the democratization of ice cream came thanks to Frederick Tudor, a Bostonian who had the brilliant idea of turning New England’s wealth of natural ice into a business. His first shipment set sail from Boston harbor in February 1806, bound for Martinique. Amazingly, a fair amount of his ice survived the journey—but upon arrival at the port of St. Pierre, Tudor encountered another challenge. There were no ice houses in Martinique, and the locals had no idea what to do with the lumps of melting ice that this peculiar American was trying to sell them. In desperation, Tudor used a large portion of his cargo to make ice cream—which was a huge hit, earning him the equivalent of $30,000 today.

By the mid-1800s, Tudor had perfected the art of harvesting, storing, and shipping ice, and the resulting economies of scale made it affordable for the majority of Americans. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, a woman named Nancy Johnson took the next great leap in ice cream technology, by inventing the first hand-cranked ice cream-maker. Previously, making ice cream was a tedious and fiddly process that involved fishing the pot of custard out of the bucket of freezing brine at regular intervals during the freezing process, in order to pry off the lid and stir it. Johnson’s patented device had a crank on the outside of the barrel, attached to a churn on the inside, with the salty slush enclosed in a slim gap between the two. The ability to churn the ice cream without removing it from the bucket was a significant step forward in both convenience and quality, allowing for a smoother texture, and Johnson’s machine quickly caught on. With the addition of a motor to power the churn and an even colder chemical inside the barrel walls, today’s ice cream-makers still work exactly the same way.

Traditional ice cream-maker from 1768, before Nancy Johnson’s labor-saving invention, via.

The New Golden Age

In the twentieth century, ice cream had its ups, including the invention of the popsicle and the Eskimo Pie, but also its downs, as industrial cost-cutting drove a reduction in the quality of ingredients. Today, however, ice cream is entering a new golden age. A new generation of artisanal ice cream-makers is experimenting with adventurous and unusual flavor combinations: listeners wrote in to tell us about poutine-flavored ice cream in Portland, chocolate-chile in Boston, and sweet corn with blackberry swirl in Cleveland. Meanwhile, scientists are developing an entirely new vocabulary of ice cream textures, from fizzy to stretchy. Listen to this episode to learn more—and to get to the bottom of the mystery of the first ice cream cone, as well as learn how ice cream escaped the confines of summer to become a year-round treat (hint: it involves breakfast cereal). And don’t forget to enter the Great Gastropod Raffle—with a $10 donation, you will be entered to win all sorts of fabulous prizes!

Episode Notes

Of Sugar and Snow

Writer Jeri Quinzio’s Of Sugar and Snow is a fascinating journey through ice cream’s history. We wanted to include many, many more of the stories she recounts, including why the term Hokey Pokey might have come from Italian ice cream street vendors, and how the U.S. Armed Forces got into the ice cream business during WWII. You’ll just have to read her book to find out.

Four Pounds Flour

Historical gastronomist Sarah Lohman regularly updates her amazing blog, Four Pounds Flour, with her adventures in recreating recipes from the past. She also co-hosts a fun event series all about the science and history of food called Masters of Social Gastronomy, or MSG, which, for those of you who don’t live in New York City, can also be enjoyed in podcast form.

The Science of Ice Cream

As Chris Clarke, author of the Science of Ice Cream, explained in this episode, it took hundreds of years for scientists to understand why ice cream is so complex. (His book is the textbook on ice cream science.) Still, the basic ingredients and technique for making ice cream haven’t evolved much since the 1600s, when spiced and scented custards first met a frozen slushy bath. But today, scientists are thinking outside of the mold to develop new and exciting textures. John Brisson, a mechanical engineer at MIT, worked with his former PhD student Teresa Baker Peters to develop fizzy ice cream (though it hasn’t yet been commercialized—we’re waiting!). And scientists Arielle Johnson and Kent Kirschenbaum developed a new way to make stretchy ice cream that still melts in your mouth; they were inspired by the traditional Turkish ice cream called salep dondurma, which is made using the roots of an endangered orchid. Johnson and Kirshenbaum’s version used konjac, a much more common plant found in Japanese dishes such as sukiyaki. The resulting ice cream is apparently “both ‘slightly sweet with a nutty flavor similar to dried milk powder’ and ‘capable of being used as a jump rope.'”


From Teresa Baker Peters’ 2006 PhD thesis on fizzy ice cream: “Carbon dioxide flash-freezing applied to ice cream production.”

Brain Freeze

Ice cream headaches feel like a short, sharp shock to the brain. But until three years ago, scientists weren’t sure quite why they happened. In 2012, a group of researchers wanted to study migraine headaches and so turned to brain freeze as a model. They published this study that finally explains the science behind brain freeze.

Lady Anne Fanshawe’s Icy Cream

Lady Anne Fanshawe published the first known recipe for ice cream, which Sarah Lohman and Nicky tested for the show. Here’s her recipe, so you can try it at home. Notice she fails to mention that you need to add ice to the salt—did she forget, or did she not know the true secret of ice cream?

Ambergris

Ambergris seems like a strange substance to flavor food and use as a perfume, as it is created when sperm whales get squid beaks stuck in their intestines. They eventually pass the irritating lump, and it then cures in the hot sun and saltwater before washing up on a beach somewhere to make somebody’s fortune. Read Cynthia’s article in Scientific American for more unusual ambergris facts.

Frederick Tudor and the Frozen-Water Trade

The rise and fall of the natural ice harvest makes for a fascinating story. While you wait for Nicky’s magnum opus (!) on refrigration, check out Gavin Weightman’s excellent book on Frederick Tudor’s life and work, The Frozen-Water Trade.

The Great Gastropod Raffle


We have all sorts of treats for you. First and foremost, check out these great Gastropod T-shirts! We have a few, in both men’s and women’s sizes, for a handful of lucky winners.

You can also win a couple of different ice cream history books, including Jeri Quinzio’s; Dave Arnold’s stunning book, Liquid Intelligence, from our cocktail episode; and even some packages of the special edition “Confused” Skittles that starred in our flavor episode, which Nicky smuggled over from England. Each ten dollar gift to support our work buys you one raffle ticket (we’ll enter multiple tickets for you if you donate more than $10)—make a donation here to win! (No donation necessary to enter, though, of course, we hope you will; email contact@gastropod.com to throw your name in the hat without a donation.)

Cynthia models a Gastropod T-shirt.

The post The Scoop on Ice Cream appeared first on Gastropod.

Jul 28 2015

45mins

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The Curry Chronicles

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Curry is, supposedly, Indian. But there is no such word in any of the country’s many official languages—and no Indian would use the term to describe their own food. So what is curry? This episode takes us to India, Britain, and Japan on a quest to understand how a variety of spicy, saucy dishes ended up being lumped together under one name—and then transformed into something completely different as they were transported around the world. From a post-pub vindaloo in Leeds to comforting kare raisu in Kyoto, we explore the stories and flavors of curry—a dish that’s from nowhere and yet eaten nearly everywhere.

According to Lizzie Collingham, food historian and author of Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, to trace the origins of curry, we need to go back to when the Portuguese first set up shop in Goa, in the early 1500s. “And they’d say, Oooh, what are you eating?” said Collingham, “And the Indians replied using a word like khari or caril.” At the time, Collingham explained, those words likely referred to a particular spice blend, as well as the finished dish it was used in; the same words are still in use, but they now mean sauce or gravy. Today, that’s Raghavan Iyer’s definition: he authored a doorstop of a cookbook called 660 Curries, and he uses “curry” to refer to “anything that has a sauce or gravy—it can be with or without spices.”

But how did India’s many and varied ragouts and stews all come to be known as curry? For that, we have to look to the British. With Collingham’s help, Gastropod teases out the origins of dishes such as biryani and vindaloo, tracing their journey from complex, regional specialties to simplified, curryhouse classics, thanks to a combination of colonialism, empire, and immigrant entrepreneurialism. Along the way, we pinpoint the rise of curry powder, trace curry’s global diaspora, and spend some time with Mr. Bean. We even get to the bottom of why the Japanese—a nation whose cuisine is defined by its exquisite aesthetic—love their own brown, gloppy version. Listen in now to discover the world of curry.

Episode Notes

Lizzie Collingham’s Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors

Lizzie Collingham is a historian and author of a number of books, including, most recently, The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. Her 2006 book, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, is a deeply enjoyable read, and even contains a few historical recipes, for the adventurous.

Raghavan Iyer‘s 660 Curries: The Gateway to Indian Cooking

Chef and culinary educator Raghavan Iyer is author of several cookbooks, including the epic 660 Curries: The Gateway to Indian Cooking.

Takashi Morieda 

Takashi Morieda is a photojournalist based in Tokyo. He’s written extensively about Japanese curry culture, including this essay, titled “The Unlikely Love Affair with Curry and Rice.”

Vindaloo!

Vindaloo is a song by British prank art collective/band Fat Les, whose members are Blur bassist Alex James, actor Keith Allen, and artist Damien Hirst. It was released in 1998, in the run up to the football World Cup, as a parody of football chants. It has been stuck in Nicky’s head throughout the time we’ve been working on this episode.

Comedy Gold

For your viewing pleasure: curry scenes from Only Fools and Horses, Gavin and Stacey, Peep Show and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. Astonishingly, a British man (Vern Slade from Newcastle) actually had Smithy’s curry takeaway order from Gavin and Stacey tattooed on his arm while on a lad’s holiday. Also for your enjoyment: Rowan Atkinson’s sketch about drunk Englishmen in an Indian restaurant, and the cast of Goodness Gracious Me “going out for an English.”

What’s a Ruby?

Cockney rhyming slang for a curry! Ruby Murray was one of the most popular singers in the British Isles in the 1950s. Murray, of course, rhymes with curry—so, fancy a Ruby?

Correction

In the episode, Nicky says that long pepper is not related to black pepper. This is incorrect: they are both in the Piperaceae family, and are close relatives. We apologize for the mistake!

The post The Curry Chronicles appeared first on Gastropod.

Apr 09 2019

43mins

Play

The United States of Chinese Food

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Wander into any town in the U.S., no matter how small and remote, and you’re likely to find at least one Chinese restaurant. In fact, there are more Chinese restaurants in America than McDonalds, KFC, and Burger King combined. And the food they serve is completely unlike anything you’ll find in China. In this episode of Gastropod, we ask one crucial question: why?

From the Gold Rush to MSG, via the scandalous story of gender-bending Chinese restaurants in 1920s New York City, this episode of Gastropod serves up a tasty buffet of American Chinese food. Grab your chopsticks and dive in!

Inspired by the new documentary “The Search for General Tso,” directed by Ian Cheney and co-produced by Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, Gastropod embarked on a quest of our own to untangle the curious history of Chinese food in America. Things got off to an unpromising start: in the nineteenth century, the first wave of Chinese immigrants was greeted with deep suspicion and hostility by Americans of European descent. This mistrust extended to their food: the Chinese ate rice with sticks and, many believed, hid all manner of unpleasant meats in their dishes. A perfectly serious 1883 article in The New York Times began with the question: “Do the Chinese eat rats?”


Stereoscopic view of the interior of a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, in the 1880s, from the collection of the New York Public Library. Below, Chinese restaurant menu from 1904, from the collection of the New York Public Library.

And yet, between 1870 and 1920, the number of Chinese restaurant workers in America grew from 164 to 11,438. Why did Chinese immigrants abandon mining and manual labor to open restaurants—and, more importantly, how on Earth did these new chefs convince white Americans to eat their food? We speak with researcher Heather Lee, who discusses the loophole in American immigration law that unintentionally incentivized the Chinese to become culinary entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, with Jenny 8. Lee we explore the murky origins of chop suey, the dish that took America by storm, but one she considers “the best culinary joke played by one culture on another.”

By the early twentieth century, Chinese food was well on its way to becoming the most popular ethnic food in America. The same adaptive strategies that allowed them to bypass the racist Chinese Exclusion Act and reinvent their cuisine for the American palate continued to serve Chinese restaurateurs well throughout the twentieth century. In this episode, Heather Lee introduces us to the “dine & dances” of the 1920s—exotic, late-night Chinese restaurants in New York City where young people could experiment with new gender roles. Outside the context of their own cultural expectations, women flirted and couples kissed in public, shocking the city’s anti-vice inspectors.

American Chinese food’s biggest headache arrived in the 1960s, with a letter to the New England Medical Journal blaming monosodium glutamate for a range of unpleasant symptoms. But is MSG actually harmful? We dig into the science behind “Chinese restaurant syndrome” to try to put the myth to rest for once and for all.

Listen in to this episode of Gastropod for all this and more, including the economics of the Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet and the curious regional and global variations on Chinese cuisine. Just don’t blame us if you end up ordering take-out tonight…

Episode Notes

Gastropod Listener Survey

It will take you five minutes or less and, in return, you will be entered for a $100 Amazon gift certificate and earn our undying gratitude: please take our completely anonymous survey now, so we can let advertisers know a little bit about you.

The Search for General Tso

The movie that inspired this episode of Gastropod! Ian Cheney’s documentary (co-produced by Gastropod guest Jenny 8. Lee) is a funny and fascinating look at the story behind the most famous American Chinese dish of all. It was released earlier this year and is now available on Netflix, iTunes, The Search for General Tso">Amazon, etc. Be sure to check it out!

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

Guest Jennifer 8. Lee’s 2008 book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food">The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, explores the many mysteries of American Chinese food—who invented fortune cookies? why is Chinese food so popular with American Jews?—but also tells the stories and struggles of the immigrants who cook, serve, and deliver it.

Heather Lee

Heather Lee is a postdoctoral researcher at MIT, working on a book about the Chinese immigrant experience, and Chinese restaurants in particular, in America. A fascinating talk she gave at MIT about her research on New York City’s “dine & dances” provided one of the inspirations for this episode. In 2016, she’ll be an assistant professor at NYU in Shanghai.

Jonathan Soma, MSG and the Brooklyn Brainery

With ice-cream episode guest Sarah Lohman, Jonathan Soma co-hosts the other MSG—the Masters of Social Gastronomy event series. He also runs the Brooklyn Brainery, and does lots of interesting things with data and code.

The Great Gastropod Raffle

This is your last chance to enter the Great Gastropod Raffle and win fabulous prizes—gorgeous Gastropod T-shirts, fascinating food books, and limited edition “Confused”-flavor Skittles. Donate $10 or more to support the show, and we’ll throw your name in the hat, to be drawn at the end of the month. (No donation necessary to enter, though, of course, we hope you will; email contact@gastropod.com to be entered without making a donation.)

The post The United States of Chinese Food appeared first on Gastropod.

Aug 25 2015

43mins

Play

Green Gold: Our Love Affair with Olive Oil

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Olive oil is not what you think it is. According to Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, an olive is a stone fruit like a plum or cherry—meaning that the green-gold liquid we extract from it “is, quite literally, fruit juice.” And, while we’re blowing your minds, have you ever stopped to wonder what “Extra Virgin” means? “It’s like extra dead or semi-pregnant,” Mueller said. “I mean, it doesn’t make any sense at all.” This episode we visit two groves—one in the Old World, one in the New—to get to the bottom of olive oil’s many mysteries. Listen in this episode as we find out why the ancient Romans rubbed it all over their bodies, and whether the olive oil on our kitchen counters really is what it says on the label.

Olive oil’s original home lies along the shores of the Mediterranean, where its wild ancestor, the oleaster, can still be found today. Somehow, people realized that the bitter berry from these hardy trees tasted excellent when brined in salt and, even better, could be crushed to produce a liquid fat that was not only delicious but, Mueller says, burns as hot as benzene and has twice the caloric content of carbon. By the seventh century BCE, olive oil production was taking place at industrial scale: olive presses excavated at Ekron, in modern-day Israel, were capable of producing 500,000 liters of oil a year. The demand was equally enormous: olive oil powered lamps and preserved and enhanced food, and it was used an all-purpose medicine, a contraceptive—even an aphrodisiac. Olive oil was so critical to Greek and Roman culture that wars were fought over it and fortunes made, much like the petroleum sheikhs of today.


Olive trees at the Castello del Trebbio in Tuscany; olive oils (Frantoio single varietal, the Castello del Trebbio blend, and the Castello del Trebbio blend gone rancid) laid out for tasting in the castle courtyard. Photos by Nicola Twilley.

Today, olive oil is more popular in the kitchen than in a lamp, but it still enjoys a superior status to its fellow fats—particularly since the 1980s, when it began began to be promoted by medical researchers as a key component of the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet. But all is not well in the olive groves. In Italy, millions of olives have already been killed by Xylella fastidiosa, an insect-borne pathogen that was detected in 2013. The disease can cause mature trees to die of thirst within two years. We speak to Rodrigo Almeida, a professor of environmental science at the University of California, Berkeley, to find out how worried we should be about the future of Italian olive oil. Meanwhile, olive oil fraud is rampant in general, but especially in the U.S., as profits from fraudulent oil can be more lucrative than dealing cocaine.


Kathryn and Robin watching their olives in the malaxer; first oil from the centrifuge. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

But fear not: we won’t leave you on this depressing note. Instead, olive oil growers Anna Casedei of the Castello del Trebbio in Tuscany, and Kathryn Tomajan and Robin Sloan of Fat Gold in Sunol, California, lead us through harvesting, milling, and, most importantly, tasting, in order to equip us to buy, use, and love olive oil nearly as much as they do. Listen in now, and then enjoy a big glug of oil over your veggies—heck, we won’t judge if you want to rub it on your skin, too!

Episode Notes

The Great Gastropod Shareathon

We need your help! We need to grow to make Gastropod financially sustainable, and we know from our recent survey that 20 percent of you found us from a friend. So … be that friend! Here’s our plan: podcasting’s very first Shareathon. Get five friends to subscribe, email us their names (just first name is fine), and get your hands on some awesome new and exclusive rewards. Here’s a page explaining exactly how it works (it’s not complicated, but just in case). If 1000 of you participate, we’ll even make a special Gastropod outtakes mp3, just for you. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start sharing and winning today!

Kathryn and Robin’s Fat Gold

Olive Gothic: Robin and Kathryn pose with the vibrating rakes. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Kathryn Tomajan is an award-winning olive oil taster, miller, and consultant; her partner Robin Sloan is a novelist. Together, they decided to lease a small grove in California’s East Bay and make olive oil. This year is their very first harvest, and they are making their single-varietal oil available by subscription: get yours, and read about their adventures, here.

Anna’s Castello del Trebbio

Anna Casadei oversees roughly ten thousand olive trees at the Castello del Trebbio, her family estate in the hills outside Florence. In addition to growing olives and making oil, she serves on the Florence Chamber of Commerce as an official extra virgin olive oil taster. In case you happen to be traveling in the area, they do offer tours, as well as apartments for farm stays!


Cynthia taping Anna in the olive grove at the Castello del Trebbio.

Toni Mazzaglia and Taste Florence

Toni Mazzaglia is the best. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, you need to take one of her amazing Taste Florence food tours. And, if you’re a journalist looking to report a story in Italy, Toni has seeming magical powers to make things work: you can reach her here. We can’t recommend her highly enough!

Tom Mueller and Extra Virginity

Tom Mueller is a freelance writer whose book, Extra Virginity, is a New York Times best-selling account of olive oil culture, history, and crime.

Rodrigo Almeida and Xylella fastidiosa

Rodrigo Almeida is a professor of environmental science at the University of California, Berkeley, much of whose work focuses on Xylella fastidiosa.

UC Davis Olive Oil Fraud Report

In 2010, UC Davis published this report into olive oil authenticity. Among their findings: sixty-nine percent of the extra virgin olive oil for sale on California supermarket shelves was not authentic.


The barns on the ranch where Fat Gold’s grove lies are designed to look like a Wild West town. Listener Sarah Sclarsic provides scale. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

The post Green Gold: Our Love Affair with Olive Oil appeared first on Gastropod.

Dec 05 2017

52mins

Play

The Good, The Bad, The Cilantro

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On the surface, it’s just a leafy green herb. Its feathery fronds add a decorative note and a distinctive flavor to dishes across Latin America and Asia, from guacamole to phở. And yet cilantro is the most divisive herb in the kitchen, inspiring both deep dislike and equally deep devotion. What’s the history and science behind these strong reactions—and can cilantro disgust ever be overcome?

Some people (like Gastropod co-host Cynthia Graber) absolutely detest cilantro. From their very first taste of the humble herb, they find themselves repelled by what many consider a soapy, metallic, deeply off-putting flavor. These people are not shy about sharing their feelings: there are “I Hate Cilantro” websites, Facebook groups, and blogs. Somehow, cilantro inspires a degree of vociferous loathing that is unlike any other food.

And yet there are others (like co-host Nicola Twilley) who adore the herb. It adds what they consider a delightful green, herbal complexity to cuisines from Mexican to Thai to Indian. Billions of people around the world enjoy cilantro daily, and consider their guacamole, noodles, and soups nearly naked without it.

What is it that makes this herb a culinary essential for some and a culinary nemesis for others? In this episode of Gastropod, we speak with botanist Michael Balick to learn about the long culinary and medicinal history of the herb, whose recorded use dates back to the Babylonians. With scientist Charles Wysocki, we investigate the popular belief that cilantro hatred has a genetic basis by visiting the annual twin meet-up in Twinsburg, Ohio. And food scientist and author Harold McGee joins Gastropod to coach Cynthia through his recommended cilantro desensitization technique, by adding cilantro pesto to her daily diet.

This episode is introduced by best-selling author and marketing guru Seth Godin, a cilantro hater who suggested Cynthia become a guinea pig for cilantro conversion therapy, in his stead. But will Cynthia be able to choke down a daily dose of the green stuff? Will she end up tolerating—even perhaps liking—the herb by the end of the week? Whether you’re a lover or a hater, listen in to find out the answer—and the history and science behind it.

Episode Notes

Seth Godin

Seth Godin is the cilantro hater who asked Gastropod to investigate the science and history behind this divisive herb. He’s also the author of 18 bestselling books on marketing, leadership, and the way ideas spread: the most recent is titled What To Do When It’s Your Turn. He writes one of the most popular blogs in the world.

Michael Balick

Michael Balick is vice president for Botanical Science at the New York Botanical Garden, and author of Rodale’s Twenty-first Century Herbal: A Practical Guide for Healthy Living Using Nature’s Most Powerful Plants.

Harold McGee and the Cilantro Desensitization Pesto

Harold McGee writes about the chemistry of food and cooking, most famously in his book On Food and Cooking. His 2010 New York Times article titled “Cilantro Haters, It’s Not Your Fault” suggested making this Portuguese-inspired pesto as the first step in cilantro conversion therapy.

Washington Post, 1994

In her senior year of college, Cynthia and her roommate Melissa Strecker gleefully brandished this Washington Post article, “Has a Nation Taken Leaf of Its Senses?” to demonstrate they were not alone in their cilantro dislike. This was the first instance Cynthia had seen of a public display of cilantro loathing, one to which she felt an immediate kinship.

Ihatecilantro.com

An anti-cilantro community.

Charles Wysocki

Charles Wysocki is an emeritus member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center whose research explores individual variation in smell perception as well as human pheromones. His 2012 paper, “Genetic Analysis of Chemosensory Traits in Human Twins,” identified the genetic associations common to cilantro haters.

Twins Festival

The world’s largest gathering of twins takes place each year in Twinsburg, Ohio.

This episode was sponsored by Squarespace: sign up using the offer code “gastropod” to get 10 percent off your first purchase while showing your support for the show.

The post The Good, The Bad, The Cilantro appeared first on Gastropod.

Oct 06 2015

32mins

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Running on Fumes: Strawberry’s Dirty Secret

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This episode, we tell an age-old tale: an innocent young berry heads west to make its fame and fortune—but sells its soul in the process. In order for our hero, the strawberry, to defeat its nemesis, a fungus called wilt, the aromatic red fruit makes a deal with the devil—and duly becomes America’s favorite berry. But its success relies on fumigants, toxic gases injected into the soil that kill everything in their path. So what are fumigants; what’s their effect on farm workers, local communities, and the environment; and can the strawberry break free of their poisonous grip? Listen in this episode to find out!

Unlike many of our favorite fruits and vegetables, we know exactly where and when the cultivated strawberry that we buy in our grocery stores and farmer’s markets was born: 300 years ago in a greenhouse in Versailles, France. Scientist Patrick Edger, whom Gastropod listeners will remember from our Cutting the Mustard episode, and whose recent work includes a collaborative project to assemble the strawberry genome, told us the tiny North American strawberry Fragaria virginiana accidentally crossbred with strawberries collected from Chile, Fragaria chiloensis, in the French greenhouse—”and then, all of a sudden, they saw this massive strawberry emerge,” said Edger. “And that really transformed the strawberry industry.”

The next big transformation occurred when the strawberry moved West. Social scientist Julie Guthman‘s new book, Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry, tells the little-known story of how the strawberry overcame all obstacles to become an everyday treat all around the U.S.—thanks to lucky breeding, smart marketing, and some left-over tear gas from World War I. But today, with one of the primary soil fumigants that strawberry farmers previously relied on banned, and with increasing pressure from farm-worker groups, local communities, and consumers, can strawberries clean up their act? With the help of Steven Knapp, who directs the strawberry breeding program at the University of California, Davis, Dan Nelson, who is growing baby strawberry plants without fumigants at Innovative Organic Nursery, and Matt Celona, who manages to grow Cynthia’s favorite strawberries without any inputs whatsoever at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm, we explore whether the strawberry can quit fumigants and become even tastier in the process. Listen in now for the surprising story of strawberry’s dirty secrets and bright future.

Episode Notes

Matt Celona and Drumlin Farm

Matt Celona is head farmer at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, where he grows some of Cynthia’s favorite strawberries.

Patrick Edger

Patrick Edger is assistant professor in the department of horticulture at Michigan State University, where his research focuses on polyploid plant genomics. He recently co-authored a ground-breaking paper on the evolution and origin of the octoploid strawberry genome with Steve Knapp.

Steven Knapp

Steven Knapp is director of the strawberry breeding program at UC Davis, which just released five new varieties for growers. When he isn’t eating his strawberries fresh, he’s whipping up this Strawberry, Marscarpone, and Budini recipe.

Julie Guthman

Julie Guthman is a professor of social sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry.

Dan Nelson and Innovative Organic Nursery

Dan Nelson is co-founder and co-manager of Innovative Organic Nursery, the only nursery supplying baby strawberry plants raised without fumigants to independent growers.

Transcript

For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors

The post Running on Fumes: Strawberry’s Dirty Secret appeared first on Gastropod.

Aug 27 2019

48mins

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The Salt Wars

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Salt is a magical substance. It reduces bitterness, enhances sweetness, boosts flavor, and preserves perishable foods. Without it, we would die: the human body can’t make sodium, but our nerves and muscles don’t work without it. It was considered rare until quite recently, so it’s hardly surprising that, throughout history, salt has been the engine behind empires and revolutions. Today, there’s a new battle in the salt wars, between those who think that we eat too much of it and it’s killing us—and those who think most of us are just fine. Join us for a serving of salt, seasoned with science, history, and a little politics.

One of salt’s many mysteries is how our ancestors first figured out that they needed it: unlike hunger or thirst, someone suffering a sodium deficiency doesn’t crave salt. What’s more, until humans began farming, we had no need to add salt to our diets—even today, Masai hunter-gatherers can get enough salt simply by drinking the blood of their livestock. But, however our need for salt was discovered, extracting it and trading it has shaped human history. From the very first brine wells in Sichuan province, China, to Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian independence movement, author Mark Kurlansky helps us trace the impact of salt through language, taxation, cuisine, and empire.


Cynthia and Nicky interviewing Don Tydeman at The Salt Cellar, Portsmouth, NH. Photo by Kathi Bahr.

Although salt was one of the world’s most valuable commodities for millennia, modern geology, technology, and food processing has made it cheap and ubiquitous. Globally, we each eat an average of 3,500 milligrams of sodium a day—a little more than a teaspoon and a half of salt. According to institutions such as the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and the American Heart Association, that’s too much, and, if we want to avoid dying from cardiovascular disease, we need to reduce our consumption. But is that really true?

As the U.S. Food & Drug Administration prepares to issue new sodium reduction goals for food manufacturers, we dive into the contentious science of sodium to tease out what we do and don’t know about the connection between salt consumption and health. It’s a much more nuanced story than the constant refrain that we need to cut down would imply. So why is the U.S. government making policy if the scientific evidence isn’t conclusive? In a special collaboration with the podcast DecodeDC, we untangle what the FDA is doing, and why—and what that means to you, as a consumer. The draft guidance remains open for comment until August 31.

Finally, we come full circle and explore salt’s current culinary renaissance. From artisanal Icelandic lava salt to handmade hyper-local sea salt, we visit the enthusiasts who are restoring salt’s lost status and value.

Worried that you need to shake your salt habit? Curious about the merits of different gourmet salts? Mystified by the popularity of salt cod? Listen in this episode for answers to all these questions and more.

Episode Notes

DecodeDC

This episode is a special collaboration with our friends at DecodeDC, the podcast that helps make sense of people, policies, and politics in the nation’s capital. To explain what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is doing with regard to salt and why, host Jimmy Williams spoke to Robert Brackett, vice president and director of the Institute of Food Safety and Health (IFSH) at Illinois Institute of Technology, and former director of the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Listen to their conversation here.

Mark Kurlansky

Mark Kurlansky is the author of twenty-nine books, including Salt: A World History. His most recent book, Paper: Paging Through History, explores the ways in which this seemingly simple technology has shaped the world.

Salt Science

We spoke with a number of scientists to help unravel the competing arguments for and against salt reduction. This explainer by Julia Belluz for Vox provides a good overview of the logic behind salt reduction targets, and the evidence thus far. This 2013 Institute of Medicine report on the subject is a more in-depth read that concludes that there is not sufficient evidence to set an upper limit for sodium consumption. This Politico analysis by Helena Bottemiller looks at the conflicts between the food industry, policy makers, and scientists on the subject of salt.

Michael (Micky) Alderman, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, is a specialist in hypertension who has authored many papers on the subject, including a 2014 meta-analysis that found that consuming less than 2,600 or more than 4,900 milligrams of sodium per day was associated with increased mortality compared to the ninety percent of the population who consume between 2,600 and 4,900 mg/day. Andrew Mente, an epidemiologist at McMaster University, co-authored a recent study in The Lancet in July 2016, in which he and his colleagues concluded that there was no benefit to reducing sodium for people with normal blood pressure.

Sandra Jackson, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, published a study showing how much sodium Americans consume in January 2016. More information on the CDC’s sodium reduction initiatives can be found online here. Nancy Cook, an epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Harvard, leads the Trials of Hypertension Prevention (TOHP) Follow-up Study, focusing on the long-term effects of weight loss and sodium reduction interventions on subsequent cardiovascular disease. Her findings show that for a population with hypertension, there are no risks from low sodium consumption and, in a paper currently in press, that lowering sodium consumption is associated with a reduction in mortality.

Gary Beauchamp, emeritus director and president of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, is an expert on salt taste perception.

Food & Drug Administration Guidelines

The FDA’s draft guidance for industry on sodium reduction was issued in June 2016, and will remain open for comment through August 31, 2016. (UPDATE: The comment period has now been extended until October 17, apparently “to give industry more time to respond.”)

The Salt Cellar

Husband and wife team Don and Judit Tydeman opened The Salt Cellar, a store devoted entirely to salt, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 2011. They now have a second location in Portland, Maine.

Loyal Nine Restaurant & Cafe

Chef Marc Sheehan spoke to us about the process and concept behind making his own salt, which he uses to finish dishes at his restaurant, Loyal Nine, in Cambridge, Mass.

Extra Goodies for Sustaining Supporters

We have a special reward—a private newsletter crammed with extra snippets, recipes, and stories from each episode—for those of you who support Gastropod with a gift of $5 or more per episode on Patreon or $9 per month through our donation page. Don’t miss out!

Transcript

For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.

The post The Salt Wars appeared first on Gastropod.

Aug 23 2016

44mins

Play

Are Insect Guts the Secret to the Most Delicious Kimchi?

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This side dish of spicy, bubbly, funky pickled vegetables is such a staple in Korea that no meal is considered complete without it—but, recently, kimchi has found its way into burgers, pasta, grilled cheese, and even tacos. This episode, we trace the behind-the-scenes story of the “kimchi diplomacy” that turned Korea’s favorite fermented cabbage into an international food trend. And then, because we’re Gastropod, we take part in our very own cutting-edge science experiment to understand one of kimchi science’s most mysterious questions: where do the microbes that transform the sugars in cabbage into such tangy, savory flavors actually come from? Is it our hands? The soil? Or could the secret to all that deliciousness actually lie in the stomach of beetles and bugs? Listen in this episode for kimchi secrets, kimchi explosions, and a little bit of kimchi K-pop, too.

“Koreans traditionally have kimchi at all three meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” food ethnographer Kevin Kim told Gastropod. Some scholars say the true origin of kimchi lies in China and Chinese fermented vegetables, and others point out that the chili pepper that gives most kimchi its distinctive spiciness is a New World ingredient. But kimchi is so quintessentially Korean that, according to historian Michael Pettid, as early as 2,000 years ago, Chinese records remarked on the special fondness that the people living in the Korean peninsula had for fermented vegetables.

More recently, Kim told Gastropod, Korean politicians have invested heavily in supporting kimchi producers, kimchi science, and kimchi marketing campaigns as a “soft power” strategy to promote the country and its culture overseas. Their efforts have paid off. As Lauryn Chun, creator of Mother-In-Law’s Kimchi and author of The Kimchi Cookbook, can attest, today, kimchi is found on grocery store shelves across America, where it’s beloved for its salty, spicy, garlicky crunch, as well as its probiotic potential. Some credit the kimchi taco, which chef Roy Choi first served from his Los Angeles-based Kogi food truck in 2008, with inspiring kimchi’s cult status among foodies, but kimchi has since gone mainstream: in the past decade, the condiment has begun popping up on chain restaurant menus from TGI Fridays to California Pizza Kitchen.

The microbial diversity of Cynthia’s kimchi, as plated by Esther Miller.

Surprisingly, it turns out that all that deliciousness is dependent on a set of microbes—specifically, lactic acid bacteria—that are extremely hard to find on cabbages and in the field. “One thing that I find really fascinating about kimchi compared to other fermented foods is that, unlike cheese or salami or yogurt, where you use starter cultures—these microbes that you buy—kimchi is not inoculated,” said Tufts University researcher Benjamin Wolfe, who also serves as Gastropod’s in-house microbiologist. This made him wonder: if these bacteria don’t really like to hang out on cabbage leaves, and we don’t intentionally add them to our ferments, where do the microbes that turn cabbage into kimchi come from?

To investigate, we team up on an experiment of our own, making multiple large jars of kimchi in an attempt to discover whether the microbes in the final ferment differ depending on the farm where the cabbage was grown. Listen now to find out the results of the experiment—and hear stories of insect-smushing, kimchi block parties, and the kimchi that was specially designed for space!

Esther Miller with her sterile cabbages. Photo by Kevin White.

Episode Notes

Benjamin Wolfe

You can find our microbiologist-in-residence Ben Wolfe at Tufts University, where he heads the Wolfe Lab, as well as on Twitter @lupolabs. He starred in our kombucha episode, as well as our episode all about cheese. Graduate student Esther Miller joined the Wolfe Lab in 2015, and her research focuses on microbial dynamics in the cabbage phyllosphere.

Cynthia’s microbial terroir kimchi experiment in the lab.

Kevin Kim

Kevin Kim is a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, in the department of American Studies. His focus on food ethnography includes research on “kimchi diplomacy.”

Lauryn Chun

Lauryn Chun is the founder of Mother-In-Law’s Kimchi, and author of The Kimchi Cookbook.

Michael Pettid

Historian Michael Pettid’s book, Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History, is a definitive guide to kimchi’s origins and traditional cultural significance.

The post Are Insect Guts the Secret to the Most Delicious Kimchi? appeared first on Gastropod.

Dec 03 2019

41mins

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Menu Mind Control

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At its most basic, a menu is simply a way for a restaurant to communicate its offerings and their prices to its customers. But, perhaps even more importantly, says Alison Pearlman, author of a new book on menus called May We Suggest, a menu has to persuade diners that they want what the restaurant is selling. So how do menus do that—and are they somehow subconsciously manipulating our choices? Are there universal principles of effective menu design that savvy diners can identify and outsmart? Listen in this episode as we decode the history and science of the not-so-humble menu.

As long as there have been places to eat outside the house, there has been some form of menu. For most of its history, however, the menu hasn’t been the individually printed document we think of when we hear the word today. According to Pearlman, the earliest menu we’ve found is a list written on the wall of a bar in Pompeii, dating back to the second century BCE. Menus have also often been communicated verbally, or even, during China’s Southern Song Dynasty, in the form of special viewing dishes—sample dishes that servers would bring out for diners to choose between.

In the U.S., the first printed bill of fare dates back to 1834. According to Josh Kun, who told Los Angeles’ history through the public library’s menu collection in his recent book, To Live and Dine in L.A, most early menus weren’t linked to restaurants, but rather to special events, as the high cost of printing individual menus only made sense for a banquet. (In Los Angeles, Kun added, the earliest menus were printed before the city’s first books. #priorities.) Nowadays, printed menus have trickled down to the rest of us—and the shifts in their design over time reveal not just the changing economics of restaurant dining, but also trends in demographics, aesthetics, and values.

But what about menus as sales tools? Can menu design and language sway our choices as consumers? That’s exactly what art historian and food lover Pearlman set out to discover, by interviewing restaurateurs, visiting dozens of restaurants and analyzing their menus, and reading every book and study she could find on the science of menu engineering. To test Pearlman’s findings, we visited two restaurateurs with two very different menus: Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, owner of Alcove, a year-old fine-dining restaurant in Boston, and Ayr Muir, CEO of a small chain of fast-casual restaurants called Clover. With their help, and Pearlman and Kun’s research, this episode we get to the bottom of menu design’s many mysteries. Is there such a thing as a sweet spot on the menu—and, if so, where is it? Does anchor pricing, where a menu features one extremely expensive dish so everything else looks like a bargain, actually work? And how is the rise of digital menu technology helping restaurateurs make menus more manipulative than ever before? Listen in now for all that—and a couple of garlic cloves in a hot tub.

Episode Notes

Alison Pearlman and May We Suggest

Alison Pearlman is an art historian and professor at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. She is the author, most recently, of May We Suggest: Restaurant Menus and the Art of Persuasion.


TGI Friday’s menu, 1976, collection of Alison Pearlman.

Josh Kun and To Live and Dine in L.A.

Josh Kun is director of the USC Annenberg School of Communication, and author of To Live and Dine in L.A.: Menus and the Making of the Modern City , which Nicky wrote about for The New Yorker when it was first published, in 2015.

The Los Angeles Public Library Menu Collection


The Owl Drug Company (various locations), 1940s. Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Gastropod listener Bob Timmermann wrote this introduction to the Los Angeles Public Library’s menu collection, one of the Rare Book’s divisions many and varied special collections (Nicky’s favorite is the citrus label collection). If you’re in Los Angeles, you can make an appointment to see its treasures for yourself; if not, the library has been digitizing its collection and many are available online.

Alcove

Restaurant industry veteran Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli opened his first restaurant, Alcove, in Boston’s West End, just over a year ago. A year before that, he started working with designer Drew Katz on the menu. Both the design and the dishes listed on it are gorgeous—do visit if you’re in town.


Alcove’s menu, photographed by designer Drew Katz.

Clover

Clover began life as a food truck on the MIT campus in 2005; today, the fast-casual chain (which is meat-free but deliberately never uses the word ‘vegetarian’) has twelve locations throughout Boston and Cambridge. CEO Ayr Muir prioritizes local, seasonal food, makes pretty much everything in-house, from scratch, everyday, and his digital menu is cutting-edge. Both Cynthia and Nicky are big fans.


Clover’s digital menu, displaying the popover sandwich. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

The post Menu Mind Control appeared first on Gastropod.

Nov 18 2019

51mins

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Of Ghost Foods and Culinary Extinction

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The earliest humans favored juicy, meaty mammoth at mealtimes. Ancient Romans loved their favorite herb, silphium, so much that they sprinkled it on everything from lamb to melon. In the 19th century United States, passenger pigeon pie was a cherished comfort food, long before chicken pot pie became commonplace. And, for dessert, Americans a century ago might have enjoyed a superlatively buttery Ansault pear, reckoned to be the greatest pear ever grown. What did these foods beloved by previous generations taste like? Well, apart from some written descriptions, we’ll never know: they’re all extinct. Join us this episode as culinary geographer Lenore Newman takes us on a tour of lost foods—and the lessons they can teach us as we fight to save our current favorite foods from disappearing forever.

“Shooting wild pigeons in Iowa,” illustration from the 2 July 1867 edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (vol. XXV, no. 625, p. 8), from “Large-scale live capture of Passenger Pigeons Ectopistes migratorius for sporting purposes: Overlooked illustrated documentation,” by Julian Hume.

“This project started because of a bird,” Lenore Newman told Gastropod. “And that bird was Martha.” Newman’s project is a new book titled Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food; Martha was a passenger pigeon and the last living member of her species—an “endling,” as such lonely creatures are evocatively called. Her death, on September 1st, 1914, represented the first time that humanity watched a species disappear, in full awareness of the concept of extinction and our role in causing this particular one. “There was no denying it was us,” said Newman: somehow, together, we had eaten so many pigeons that we had wiped the most abundant bird in North America off the face of the planet.

But the passenger pigeon wasn’t our first culinary extinction. This episode, Newman takes us on a tour through the foods we have eaten to their end, such as the Pleistocene megafauna, which early humans destroyed as our numbers spread around the world, and the leek-flavored silphium that was so valuable its last stalks were hoarded, alongside gold and jewels, by Roman emperors. In each case, we sift through the evidence that points to human appetite as the leading cause of extinction, and unpack the response of a bewildered, bereft humanity.

Gold coin from Cyrene, from between 308-250 BC; the tails side depicts silphium.

The Romans clung to the belief that their beloved silphium could perhaps spontaneous reappear someday; the idea that that something could be gone forever was simply, at the time, inconceivable. The concept of extinction—along with its mirror, evolution—wasn’t formulated until the end of the eighteenth century, and it finally gave humans a framework within which to understand their actions. But, as Newman describes, the pace of culinary extinctions has only increased since then, with thousands and thousands of varieties of plants and breeds of animals vanishing in the early 20th century.

Why have we allowed so many of the foods we love to vanish? What impact has their loss had—and what lessons can it teach us for the future? Listen in this episode as Newman helps us tackle these morbid questions, leaving us with some hope, as well as a whole new perspective on chicken.

Episode Notes

Lenore Newman‘s Lost Feast

Lenore Newman holds a Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley, where she is currently an associate professor of geography and the environment. Her most recent book is Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food; prior to that, she authored Speaking in Cod Tongues: A Canadian Culinary Journey.

The Ansault pear, painted by Deborah G. Passmore on 10/13/1897, from the collection of the USDA National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland.

The post Of Ghost Foods and Culinary Extinction appeared first on Gastropod.

Nov 05 2019

52mins

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Tiki Time!

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Tiki bars are hot these days: you can enjoy a fruity tropical drink while surrounded by faux-Polynesian décor in most major cities around the U.S. and elsewhere, with new tiki spots opening every month. The trend is a revival of a nearly century-old American tradition—but the knowledge of how to make these classic tiki cocktails had been all but lost over the intervening decades. It took an amateur sleuth who went on a deep dive into cocktail archaeology and recipe cryptography to bring back the lost flavors. But, while the drinks he rediscovered are delicious, does the classic tiki bar interior, adorned with carvings that resemble traditional Polynesian gods, stand the test of time? Listen in for tales of Hollywood celebrities, backyard luaus, and a savvy restaurateur with a wooden leg.

When Donn Beach, né Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, opened his bar Don the Beachcomber in December 1933, Prohibition had ended just days earlier. Marie King, beverage director at the Tonga Hut, the oldest operating tiki bar in Los Angeles, believes he must have been doing some bootlegging or rum running on the side. “He had to have some kind of speakeasy to develop all the recipes,” King told Gastropod. Beach, the son of a Texas wildcatter, had spent his youth—and his college fund—traveling the world, where he first fell in love with the South Pacific. When the money ran out, he ended up in LA, where one of his many hustles involved building movie sets for Hollywood. Beach decorated his new bar with what he called ‘flotsam and jetsam’ meant to invoke Polynesia, most of which he bought from the movie sets he’d once decorated.

Don the Beachcomber was a huge hit, and the tiny space was usually filled with a who’s-who of Hollywood: Howard Hughes, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable. It wasn’t just the décor, which capitalized on a 1930s fascination with the South Pacific—it was also Donn’s inventive new drinks. The drinks were based on rum, says Shannon Mustipher, author of Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails. Cuba was nearby and willing to sell to the U.S., she said, “And so rum was the only spirit that had been readily available in the U.S. while distillers were not in operation.” Plus, she pointed out, rum was cheap at the time—a major selling point for a bar that opened during the Great Depression.

Don’s cocktails blended multiple versions of rum, as well as multiple citrus juices, sweeteners, and spices in complicated, innovative recipes that took their inspiration from traditional Caribbean punch recipes but added layers of flavor and nuance, according to Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, owner of the tiki bar Latitude 29 in New Orleans. This was truly the second wave of American craft cocktails, Berry told Gastropod. “Nobody ever had drinks like this before,” he said. “Nobody ever made drinks like this before.”

Berry tasted his first classic tiki cocktail in the 1980s, when tiki bars had nearly disappeared and cocktails were limited to three-ingredient Harvey Wallbangers. Its balance and complexity stood out like a beacon of hope amidst the sea of cheap spirits and sickly sweet mixers that were popular that decade. But, as he set out to drink more of these delicious tropical cocktails, he realized he had a problem: most bartenders had no idea how to make Donn the Beachcomber’s original drinks correctly, and, to make matters worse, Beach had written his original recipes in code.

This episode, Jeff Berry tells Gastropod about the story of how he decoded Beach’s legendary concoctions and fueled today’s tiki renaissance. And we do some detective work  of our own to investigate tiki’s rise, fall, and revival. Why did tiki bars peak in the 1950s and 60s, before nearly disappearing in the ensuing decades, and what brought about the revival today? Sarah Miller-Davenport, author of Gateway State: Hawai’i and the Cultural Transformation of American Empire, describes how Polynesian-style bars and restaurants allowed mid-century middle class white Americans to feel cosmopolitan and adventurous, in part by playing on racist stereotypes of Polynesian sexuality. These stereotypes are part of the reason that Kalewa Correa, curator of Hawai’i and Pacific America at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, says tiki bars make him, a native Hawai’ian, uncomfortable—that and the ubiquitous tikis, Polynesian-style carvings that invoke images of Polynesian gods. Are tiki bars a form of cultural appropriation, a 20th-century fad that should offend our slightly more enlightened 21st-century values, or are they a purely American invention that provides harmless, escapist fun? Listen in for the story—and the debate!

Episode Notes

Marie King and the Tonga Hut

Marie King runs the Tonga Hut, LA’s oldest surviving classic tiki bar in North Hollywood, which was established in 1958. If you want to step back in tiki history, this is a great bar to check out.

Jeff Berry, the Grog Log, and Latitude 29

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s decades-long cocktail sleuthing resulted in the revival of classic tiki cocktails, originally detailed in his Grog Log.  You can still find copies of the original spiral-bound, photocopied version online! If that’s too pricey, his other books include Sippin’ Safari and Potions of the Carribean. Today, he runs Latitude 29 in New Orleans.

Shannon Mustipher

Shannon Mustipher runs the bar at the Caribbean-themed Glady’s in Brooklyn, and you can make her tiki cocktails at home from her new book, Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails.

Kalewa Correa

Kalewa Correa is curator of Hawai’i and Pacific America at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

Sarah Miller-Davenport and Gateway State

Sarah Miller-Davenport is a historian at the University of Sheffield, and her first book is Gateway State: Hawai’i and the Cultural Transformation of American Empire.

The post Tiki Time! appeared first on Gastropod.

Oct 22 2019

45mins

Play

What’s CRISPR Doing in our Food?

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You’ve probably heard the hype: CRISPR will revolutionize biotech, cure disease, resurrect extinct species, and even create new-and-(not-so)-improved humans. But what is CRISPR—and what’s it doing in our food? The first generation of genetically modified crops, or GMOs, were labelled “Frankenfoods” by critics and are banned in the European Union. Can CRISPR succeed where fish-tomatoes failed? And what’s yoghurt got to do with it? Listen in this episode for the CRISPR story you haven’t heard—and for a taste of our CRISPRized future.

When old-school genetic modification began in the 1980s, scientists typically took a gene that conferred desirable properties in one species—say, cold-tolerance in a winter flounder—and blasted it into the genome of another species—say, a tomato. The hope was that the alien gene would be incorporated, albeit at random, in the host plant’s DNA—and that the resulting hybrid would gain a useful new function. Frost-resistant fish-tomatoes, as it happens, were not particularly successful in field trials, but they also became a symbol for everything that critics—of which there were many—saw as wrong with genetically modified foods.

Next-generation gene-editing, using CRISPR, promises to be far more precise, faster, and cheaper. As Jennifer Kuzma, co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University, explained it to Gastropod, if DNA is a book, CRISPR is like a pen. “You can go in and you can edit the letters in a word, or you can change different phrases, or you can edit whole paragraphs at very specific locations,” she said. “Whereas with first-generation transgenic techniques, it was essentially throwing a new paragraph into a book.”

CRISPR proponents such as Yiping Qi, a genetics researcher at the University of Maryland, say this new tool promises to transform agriculture. Researchers are already using it to edit a much wider variety of foods—not just commodity crops such as soy and corn, but also more minor vegetable and fruits. “CRISPR has been put into many, many crops—nearly all the crop plants that you can transform,” said Qi, whose lab has already used the technology to dramatically raise yields in rice, but also tweak the color of carrots. And, whereas the majority of first-generation GMOs were simply designed to be herbicide resistant, Kuzma told us that CRISPR is being used to create a much wider variety of traits, “because you don’t need to invest as much money necessarily in the development of the crop.”

None of these CRISPRized crops are on supermarket shelves just yet, but several are coming soon. To understand how CRISPR will transform our food, we begin our episode at Dupont’s yoghurt culture facility in Madison, Wisconsin. Senior scientist Dennis Romero tells us the story of CRISPR’s accidental discovery—and its undercover but ubiquitous presence in the dairy aisles today. Jennifer Kuzma and Yiping Qi help us understand the technology’s potential, both good and bad, as well as how it might be regulated and labeled. And Joyce Van Eck, a plant geneticist at the Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, New York, tells us the story of how she is using CRISPR, combined with her understanding of tomato genetics, to fast-track the domestication of one of the Americas’ most delicious orphan crops.

So: should we be worried about CRISPR’s unintended consequences for the environment and human health, or excited about what it means for the future of food? Will we all soon be eating CRISPRized dishes—or are we already, and we just don’t know it? Listen in now for the CRISPR story you haven’t heard!

Episode Notes

Dennis Romero, DuPont

Dennis Romero is principal senior scientist and technical fellow at DuPont, where he leads research and development in the company’s dairy cultures business.

Joyce Van Eck

Joyce Van Eck is associate professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, New York, where she directs the BTI Center for Plant Biotechnology Research. You can find out more about her ground cherry improvement project online here. And you can read Cynthia’s article about ground cherries, written soon after she tried her first one back in 2007, here.

Yiping Qi

Yiping Qi is assistant professor in the plant sciences department at the University of Maryland. Earlier this year he published a paper titled “The emerging and uncultivated potential of CRISPR technology in plant science.”

Jennifer Kuzma

Jennifer Kuzma is a professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University, where she also co-directs the Genetic Engineering and Society Center.

Transcript

For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors

The post What’s CRISPR Doing in our Food? appeared first on Gastropod.

Oct 08 2019

49mins

Play

Happy Birthday to Us: Gastropod Turns Five

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We launched Gastropod in September 2014, which means we’re turning five this month, and that’s approximately 100 in podcast years. We’re celebrating our birthday with a special episode featuring highlights from the past five years’ worth of episodes, as chosen by you, our listeners—served up alongside a generous slice of cake science and history. Join the party and listen in now as we revisit fan favorites and behind-the-scenes highlights from our first half-decade, and then sit down with this souvenir list: 25 of our favorite fun facts from Gastropod, or five for each of the five years we’ve been making the show!

The Mafia got its start in the 1860s, in the lemon groves of Sicily. (At the time, growing lemons was the most lucrative form of agriculture in Europe, thanks to scurvy and the British Navy.

Episode: Museums and the Mafia: The Secret History of Citrus

Using gold (or gold-plated) cutlery makes food taste sweeter.

Episode: Episode 1: The Golden Spoon

Olive oil is fruit juice.

Episode: Green Gold: Our Love Affair with Olive Oil

Saliva is filtered blood.

Episode: Guts and Glory

The enamel on our teeth is the hardest tissue in our entire bodies—at 95 percent mineral, it’s basically a rock.

Episode: The Truth is in the Tooth: Braces, Cavities, and the Paleo Diet

The invention of forks changed the shape of our jaws.

Episode: Episode 1: The Golden Spoon

Medieval nuns used to get high on saffron, to help them get through their prayer marathons.

Episode: Meet Saffron: The World’s Most Expensive Spice

In the absence of kitchen timers or affordable clocks, recipes in the earliest cookbooks gave timings in the form of prayers, like two Lord’s Prayers or four Hail Marys.

Episode: Cooking the Books with Yotam and Nigella

True wasabi (most wasabi in the U.S. is just colored horseradish) has a flavor “window”: it has no taste for the first five minutes after being grated, then the flavor explodes—but it fades after another ten to fifteen minutes. You have only a few minutes to enjoy wasabi at its peak!

Episode: Espresso and Whisky: The Place of Time in Food

The word “avocado” comes from the Nahuatl word for testicle.

Episode: Ripe for Global Domination: The Story of the Avocado

The word “cocktail” comes from the practice of putting a piece of ginger up a horse’s butt to make it cock its tail up, and seem younger and friskier.

Episode: The Cocktail Hour

Jell-O was originally sold as a patent medicine that was good for hair and nails.

Episode: Watch it Wiggle: The Jell-O Story

The earliest recorded recipe for ice-cream was flavored with ambergris, which is a salt- and air-cured whale excretion (no one is quite sure whether it’s vomit or poo).

Episode: The Scoop on Ice Cream

New York City’s first soda fountains used marble scraps left over from building St. Patrick’s cathedral to produce their carbonation.

Episode: Gettin’ Fizzy With It

The superiority of New York City’s bagels has nothing to do with the city’s water.

Episode: The Bagelization of America

Donald Rumsfeld was the man behind the launch of Nutrasweet.

Episode: Sweet and Low (Calorie): The Story of Artificial Sweeteners

George W. Bush and a trade deal involving Harley Davidsons were the reason that the Indian Alphonso, the so-called “king of mangoes,” can now finally be imported to the U.S.

Episode: Mango Mania: How the American Mango Lost its Flavor—and How it Might Just Get it Back

Jack Daniel learned how to make whiskey from an enslaved African, Nearest Green, who went on to become the company’s first master distiller.

Episode: The Secret History of the Slave Behind Jack Daniel’s Whiskey

The first pasta machine was designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

Episode: Remembrance of Things Pasta: A Saucy Tale

In England in the 1600s, a special breed of dogs were used to turn spits of roasted meat in front of the open fire. (These turnspit dogs are now extinct; their closest relation is thought to be a corgi.)

Episode: Hotbox: The Oven from Turnspit Dog to Microwave

In America in the early 1900s, the pawpaw was voted the native fruit most likely to succeed, ahead of the blueberry.

Episode: Pick a Pawpaw: America’s Forgotten Fruit

The story that carrots are good for eyesight was World War II military disinformation, spread by the British to prevent the Germans from realizing that the Royal Air Force were shooting down so many enemy planes because their cockpits were now equipped with radar and red lighting.

Episode: How the Carrot Became Orange, and Other Stories

Mustard became spicy over the course of a 90-million-year evolutionary arms race against caterpillars.

Episode: Cutting the Mustard

Plants can hear themselves being eaten.

Episode: Field Recordings

A raw human male contains, on average, 143,770 calories.

Episode: Cannibalism: From Calories to Kuru

Episode Notes

Alysa Levene and Cake

Alysa Levene is a Reader in History at Oxford Brookes University. We talked to her about her delightfully readable, recent book, Cake: A Slice of History.

Illustration

It’s gorgeous! And it’s by Jackie Botto, a Gastropod listener who does all kind of food visuals and story-telling.

Swag

Want some of the brand-new Gastropod gear we mentioned in our episode? Get over to our shop and kit yourself (and your friends and family) out with the good stuff!

The post Happy Birthday to Us: Gastropod Turns Five appeared first on Gastropod.

Sep 24 2019

45mins

Play

Celebrate Mexico’s True National Holiday with the Mysteries of Mole

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In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is an excuse for margarita-fueled partying. But in Mexico, that date—the anniversary of a military triumph over Napoleon on May 5, 1862—is marked by a parade and not much else. The real celebrations happen on September 16, which is Mexican Independence Day. At Gastropod, we’re always down to party, so here’s to Mexico’s true national holiday—and its true national dish: mole! But what is mole? Listen in this episode as we trace mole’s complicated evolution from medieval Moors to the invention of the blender, and from something that had been considered peasant food to a special occasion showstopper.

Rachel Laudan is a food historian and author of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History—but, when she started researching mole, the first document she uncovered was hardly deep in the archives. When she first visited Mexico in the 1990s, Laudan went to a restaurant famous for its mole. “And, of course, they had the statutory place mat with the story of mole poblano being invented in a convent in the eighteenth century,” she told us.

According to the origin story on the place mat, some nuns, in a panic because an archbishop was visiting and they had nothing to serve him, threw a bunch of spices in a pot and somehow came up with the perfect rich, chocolate-brown sauce. “That, to me, just sounds like propaganda,” said Fernando Lopez, one of three siblings whose father founded Guelaguetza, an Angeleno restaurant that is a temple to Oaxacan mole. He believes mole is far too complex to have been created overnight. Plus, mole comes in many varieties and colors. Guelaguetza serves six kinds of mole—mole negro, mole rojo, mole coloradito, mole amarillo, mole verde, and mole estofado—but Sandra Aguilar-Rodriguez, associate professor of Latin American history at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, told us that she could name ten versions off the top of her head, and that each town in the south of Mexico will have its own variation on the classic recipes.

So where does this delicious and extremely labor-intensive sauce come from? This episode, with the help of chef Iliana de la Vega, Rachel Laudan, Sandra Aguilar-Rodriguez, and the Lopez siblings, we trace the varied elements that make up mole: the indigenous tradition of hand-ground sauces, the Old World ingredients and Baroque aesthetic, the surprising Islamic influence, and, yes, the nuns. And we tell the story of how mole was elevated from its humble, southern origins to become a sophisticated sauce that doubles as Mexico’s national dish. Plus, we’ve got the expert verdict on jarred mole pastes, for those of you who can’t face spending two to three days roasting and grinding nuts, chiles, and spices. Listen in now for a deep dive—literally, someone falls into a bucket of the stuff—into the mysteries of mole.

Episode Notes

Guelaguetza

Guelaguetza’s website is ilovemole.com, and the restaurant in LA’s Koreatown is known for its delicious mole, as well as other Oaxacan specialties. We spoke to three of the four Lopez siblings—Bricia, Paulina, and Fernando Jr.—who run it today. You can buy mole paste from their online store (they have three varieties: rojo, negro, and coloradito) and order their new cookbook here.

Iliana de la Vega and El Naranjo

Chef Iliana de la Vega grew up in Mexico City, but her mother was from Oaxaca, and when she opened her first restaurant, El Naranjo, it was in Oaxaca. So many people asked for her mole recipe that she ended up opening a cooking school there, too. In 2006, she moved to Austin, Texas, and re-opened El Naranjo there; this year, she was a semi-finalist in the James Beard Awards for best chef in the Southwest.

Rachel Laudan

Rachel Laudan is a food historian whose most recent book, Cuisine and Empire, won Best Book in Culinary History from the International Association of Culinary Professionals Award in 2014. Her blog is required reading.

Sandra Aguilar-Rodriguez

Sandra Aguilar-Rodriguez is assistant professor of history at Moravian College, and author of the recent article, “Mole and mestizaje: race and national identity in twentieth-century Mexico.”

The post Celebrate Mexico’s True National Holiday with the Mysteries of Mole appeared first on Gastropod.

Sep 10 2019

47mins

Play

Running on Fumes: Strawberry’s Dirty Secret

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This episode, we tell an age-old tale: an innocent young berry heads west to make its fame and fortune—but sells its soul in the process. In order for our hero, the strawberry, to defeat its nemesis, a fungus called wilt, the aromatic red fruit makes a deal with the devil—and duly becomes America’s favorite berry. But its success relies on fumigants, toxic gases injected into the soil that kill everything in their path. So what are fumigants; what’s their effect on farm workers, local communities, and the environment; and can the strawberry break free of their poisonous grip? Listen in this episode to find out!

Unlike many of our favorite fruits and vegetables, we know exactly where and when the cultivated strawberry that we buy in our grocery stores and farmer’s markets was born: 300 years ago in a greenhouse in Versailles, France. Scientist Patrick Edger, whom Gastropod listeners will remember from our Cutting the Mustard episode, and whose recent work includes a collaborative project to assemble the strawberry genome, told us the tiny North American strawberry Fragaria virginiana accidentally crossbred with strawberries collected from Chile, Fragaria chiloensis, in the French greenhouse—”and then, all of a sudden, they saw this massive strawberry emerge,” said Edger. “And that really transformed the strawberry industry.”

The next big transformation occurred when the strawberry moved West. Social scientist Julie Guthman‘s new book, Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry, tells the little-known story of how the strawberry overcame all obstacles to become an everyday treat all around the U.S.—thanks to lucky breeding, smart marketing, and some left-over tear gas from World War I. But today, with one of the primary soil fumigants that strawberry farmers previously relied on banned, and with increasing pressure from farm-worker groups, local communities, and consumers, can strawberries clean up their act? With the help of Steven Knapp, who directs the strawberry breeding program at the University of California, Davis, Dan Nelson, who is growing baby strawberry plants without fumigants at Innovative Organic Nursery, and Matt Celona, who manages to grow Cynthia’s favorite strawberries without any inputs whatsoever at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm, we explore whether the strawberry can quit fumigants and become even tastier in the process. Listen in now for the surprising story of strawberry’s dirty secrets and bright future.

Episode Notes

Matt Celona and Drumlin Farm

Matt Celona is head farmer at Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, where he grows some of Cynthia’s favorite strawberries.

Patrick Edger

Patrick Edger is assistant professor in the department of horticulture at Michigan State University, where his research focuses on polyploid plant genomics. He recently co-authored a ground-breaking paper on the evolution and origin of the octoploid strawberry genome with Steve Knapp.

Steven Knapp

Steven Knapp is director of the strawberry breeding program at UC Davis, which just released five new varieties for growers. When he isn’t eating his strawberries fresh, he’s whipping up this Strawberry, Marscarpone, and Budini recipe.

Julie Guthman

Julie Guthman is a professor of social sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry.

Dan Nelson and Innovative Organic Nursery

Dan Nelson is co-founder and co-manager of Innovative Organic Nursery, the only nursery supplying baby strawberry plants raised without fumigants to independent growers.

Transcript

For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors

The post Running on Fumes: Strawberry’s Dirty Secret appeared first on Gastropod.

Aug 27 2019

48mins

Play

Omega 1-2-3

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Based on all the hype, you’d be forgiven for believing that the fish oils known as omega-3s are solution to every problem. Heart disease, dementia, depression, even obesity—the list of ailments that experts claim a daily dose of omega-3 can help prevent seems endless. And with more than ten percent of Americans taking a capsule of fish oil daily, omega-3s are one of the most profitable supplements in the world, too. Listen in this episode, as author Paul Greenberg and scientist JoAnn Manson help us figure out what these supposedly miracle molecules are, and what consuming them is doing to our bodies—and to our oceans.

Paul Greenberg had already authored a couple of successful and award-winning books about fish by the time he hit his mid-40s—an age when he, like many people, started to feel the first, faint signs that he was no longer young. “When you Google all the things that are going wrong with you in middle age—your joints hurt, your high blood pressure, losing your memory—what comes up again and again are omega-3 supplements,” he told Gastropod. Greenberg knew those supplements are made from fish—millions of tiny fish that no one eats, like the menhaden and the Peruvian anchoveta. And so he set out to write his most recent book, The Omega Principle, which follows fish oils from their evolutionary origins at the dawn of photosynthesis, to their discovery by a Spam scientist, to the enormous extraction industry that feeds our hunger for them today.

The secret to omega-3’s success lies in their chemical structure, which makes them more flexible and dynamic than other fatty acids. That means they show up anywhere that needs to move or transmit signals rapidly—hummingbird wings, sperm, and, especially, the human brain. Experiments in the 1930s proved that fatty acids including omega-3s were essential for life, but, until relatively recently, they were mostly studied by scientists looking to extend the shelf-life of processed foods, as the dynamism of omega-3’s chemical structure also gives them a tendency to go rancid quickly. Then, in the 1970s, two Norwegian researchers published a paper linking low rates of cardiovascular disease among the Inuit to their elevated consumption of omega-3s.

Since then, more than 20,000 papers have been published examining their health benefits—but, according to Harvard epidemiologist JoAnn Manson, many of those studies were flawed. She’s the lead researcher on the first large-scale, randomized clinical trial of the efficacy of omega-3s in preventing cancer, heart disease, and stroke in the general public. Her VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL) study launched in 2010, and recently published its first results—which Manson shared with us this episode.

So, are omega-3s really the key to a healthy old age? And, if we should be consuming more omega-3s, then how much, and in what form? From cod liver oil to cardiovascular risk, listen in this episode for the history and science of America’s favorite fatty acid.

Episode Notes

Join Our Fifth Birthday Celebrations!

We’re turning five in September (we know, we don’t look it! or even act it sometimes…) and we need your help to put together a special birthday episode. Nominate your favorite Gastropod stories and moments from our first five years here, so we can revisit them in the show.

Paul Greenberg and The Omega Principle

Paul Greenberg is an award-winning journalist who writes mostly about the ocean and environmental issues. He’s the author of Four Fish, American Catch, and, most recently, The Omega Principle.

JoAnn Manson and the VITAL study

JoAnn Manson is chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and director and principal investigator of the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL).

Transcript

For a transcript of the show, please click here. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors

The post Omega 1-2-3 appeared first on Gastropod.

Aug 13 2019

47mins

Play

Meet Sharbat, the Ancestor of Sorbet, Syrup, Shrub, Sherbet, and Pretty Much Everything Else Cool

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Many of you won’t have heard of sharbat, the delightfully tangy, refreshingly icy Persian drink. But most of you will have tasted at least one of its many descendants: sorbet, sherbet, syrup, shrub, and even the julep. So, what is sharbat? How did it inspire so many variations on cooling deliciousness? And how did Persians manage to make ice in the middle of the desert—thousands of years before the invention of mechanical refrigeration? Find out while keeping cool in this special episode of Gastropod, sponsored by McCormick.

Episode Notes

Najmieh Batmanglij

Najmieh Batmanglij is the grande dame and guru of Persian cuisine in the United States. She’s written eight cookbooks, most recently Cooking in Iran: Regional Recipes & Kitchen Secrets, the culmination of five years of travel and research.


Najmieh Batmanglij pouring sharbat. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Naz Deravian

Naz Deravian is an actor and writer, and author of Bottom of the Pot: Persian Recipes and Stories.

Samin Nosrat

Samin Nosrat is a writer, cook, and teacher. She’s the author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, and star of the Netflix series of the same name.

Oliver Wilton and the Meybod Yakhchal

Oliver Wilton is a lecturer in environmental design at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. With engineers Hareth Pochee and John Gunstone at Max Fordham, he performed an in-depth analysis of the design, engineering, and performance of the Meybod Yakhchal, in Yazd, Iran.


Meybod Yakhchal, Iran. Photo by Ggia, Wikipedia.

McCormick Flavor Forecast

Thanks so much to Chef Kevan Vetter of McCormick and Company, the sponsor of this special episode. Their Flavor Forecast identifies top trends and ingredients to discover the tastes of tomorrow. Created by a global team of McCormick experts, including chefs, culinary professionals, trend trackers and food technologists, the Flavor Forecast inspires culinary exploration and innovation around the world. You can check out their Refresh. Replenish. Rehydrate forecast and recipes online here.

The post Meet Sharbat, the Ancestor of Sorbet, Syrup, Shrub, Sherbet, and Pretty Much Everything Else Cool appeared first on Gastropod.

Aug 06 2019

22mins

Play

Super Fry: The Fight for the Golden Frite

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Shoestring, waffle, curly, or thick-cut: however you slice it, nearly everyone loves a deep-fried, golden brown piece of potato. But that’s where the agreement ends and the battles begin. While Americans call their fries “French,” Belgians claim that they, not the French, invented the perfect fry. Who’s right? This episode, we take you right into the heart of the battle that continues to be waged over who owns the fry—who invented it, who perfected it, who loves it the most? And then we take you behind the scenes into another epic fight: the struggle for the perfect fry. Can food scientists create a fry with the ultimate crispy shell and soft inside, one that can stay that way while your delivery driver is stuck in traffic? Plus, the condiment wars: does mayo really have the edge over ketchup? Listen in now to find out!

Potatoes were domesticated in what’s now Peru approximately ten thousand years ago, but fries—sticks of potato cooked in oil so that a crispy shell surrounds a creamy potato interior—are a European invention. Exactly where and when these crispy delights evolved, however, remains a matter of debate. The Spanish brought potatoes to Europe from their South American colonies in the 1500s, but, although they undoubtedly fried pieces of potato in olive oil, the results wouldn’t have been fries as we know them. It took Northern Europeans, with their animal fat-based deep frying, to create the true fry. But which Northern Europeans: the Belgians or the French?

To get to the bottom of this mystery, we travel to Belgium to both visit the world’s largest and smallest fry museums—the Frietmuseum, in Bruges, and the Home Frit’Home micro museum, in Brussels. With the help of the museums’ founders, Eddy van Belle and Hugues Henri, we examine the evidence—books, engravings, fairground posters, missing letters, and dead journalists—and declare a victor. And then, undaunted, Gastropod wades into another battlefield: the fight for the perfect fry.

The perfect Belgian fry as served at the Frietmuseum: a Bintje potato fried in beef tallow and served with mayonnaise. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Thanks to food scientists, this is a battle that has largely been won. “About fifty, sixty years ago, it would be not unusual to walk into a restaurant and eat a fry that was soggy, doughy, mealy, limp, or very hard,” Kantha Shelke, principal at Corvus Blue, a food science and research firm, told us. “You don’t get that today. Practically every restaurant has fries that are crisp and deliciously and sensually soft inside.”

We go behind the scenes with Shelke, as well as Deborah Dihel, vice president of innovation at Lamb Weston, one of the largest producers of frozen french fries in the U.S., to learn the scientific secrets of that success. We also hear about the failures along the way—from Lamb Weston’s fry shape graveyard to Shelke’s undercover operation to try to make a certain fast-food restaurant’s fries match up to those of their competitor. (Shelke wouldn’t reveal the name of either restaurant, but we have an educated guess!)

A Freedom Fries watch on display at Home Frit’Home. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Today, however, there’s a new challenge facing fry scientists: the rise of delivery. “When you make fresh French fries and you put them in a closed package, you create a little sauna in there,” explained Dihel. Dihel’s team has spent years fighting soggy delivery fries—one of her colleagues even signed up to be an Uber Eats driver, to better understand the challenge facing fries. Can they deliver a fry that stays crispy all the way from the restaurant to your front door? Listen in to find out!

Episode Notes

Eddy van Belle, and the Frietmuseum

Cynthia and Eddy van Belle at the Frietmuseum, Bruges. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

You can find everything you need to know about Eddy van Belle’s Frietmuseum on its website, here. And, if you do get to Bruges for an in-person visit, why not check out van Belle’s chocolate museum and lamp collection, too?

Hugues Henri, and Home Frit’Home

Cynthia and Hugues Henri at Home ‘Frit Home. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Hugues Henri’s fry micro museum is also an Airbnb lodging, should you wish to fully embrace frite culture on your next visit to Brussels.

Kantha Shelke

Kantha Shelke is principal at Corvus Blue, a food science and research firm, and a regular guest on Gastropod: you can hear her talk to us about the science of jelling agents and plant milks in our Watch it Wiggle and Who Faked My Cheese? episodes.

Deborah Dihel

Deborah Dihel is vice president of innovation at frozen potato company Lamb Weston, where her most recent triumph is the “Crispy on Delivery” project.

The post Super Fry: The Fight for the Golden Frite appeared first on Gastropod.

Jun 19 2019

44mins

Play

Eat This, Not That: The Surprising Science of Personalized Nutrition

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This episode, we’ve got the exclusive on the preliminary results of the world’s largest personalized nutrition experiment. Genetic epidemiologist Tim Spector launched the study, called PREDICT, to answer a simple but important question: do we each respond to different foods differently? And, if so, why? How much of that difference is genetic, how much is due to gut microbes, and how much is due to any one of the dozens of other factors that scientists think affect our metabolic processes? You’ve heard of personalized medicine, will there be such a thing as personalized diets? And should there be? Can teasing out the nuances of how each individual body processes different foods make us all healthier? To find out, we signed ourselves up as study participants, sticking pins in our fingers, weighing our food, and providing fecal samples, all for science—and for you, dear listeners. Listen in now as we take part in this ground-breaking study, discover our own differences, and find out the early results!

Episode Notes

Tim Spector

Tim Spector is a professor of genetics at King’s College, London, and the author of two books, Identically Different and The Diet Myth.

PREDICT

Find out more about the PREDICT study here, and sign up to take part yourself, if you’re interested.

Jennie Brand-Miller

Jennie Brand-Miller is a professor of human nutrition at the University of Sydney. Among her many books is Low GI Diet: Managing Type 2 Diabetes.

Tim Caulfield

Tim Caulfield is the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta. His TV show, A User’s Guide to Cheating Death, can be found on Netflix, and his most recent book is titled Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? (To which we reply, pretty much!)

Dave Szalay

Listener and illustrator Dave Szalay is the genius behind the custom artwork for this episode. We love his work, which you can see more of here.

PREDICT and Gastropod in The New York Times

We wrote an article for The New York Times to go with this episode: check it out online here.

Sponsors

Find The Splendid Table online here.

The post Eat This, Not That: The Surprising Science of Personalized Nutrition appeared first on Gastropod.

Jun 10 2019

57mins

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Guts and Glory

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What does it mean when your stomach rumbles? How do our bodies extract nutrients and vitamins from food? Does what you eat affect your mood? Digestion is an invisible, effortless, unconscious process—and one that, until recently, we knew almost nothing about. On this episode of Gastropod, we follow our food on its journey to becoming fuel, from the filtered blood that helps slide food into the stomach, to the velvet walls and rippling choreography of the small intestine, to the microbial magic of the colon and out the other end. And we do it by visiting the world’s most sophisticated artificial gut at dinner time—a plumbing marvel named TIM that chews, swallows, squeezes, farts, and poops just like the real thing.

Before the invention of refrigeration, cadavers that early scientists dissected to learn about human physiology usually had their guts removed, to help reduce the stink. As a result, the digestive system largely remained a black box—food went in, the processed remains came out—until a window opened that black box in 1822, in the form of a bullet hole in the stomach of Alexis St. Martin. An impoverished French Canadian trapper, he worked for the American Fur Company until he was accidentally shot. As Mary Roach, author of Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, told Gastropod, a surgeon named William Beaumont discovered that the bullet hole offered a literal opening into the mysterious workings of the stomach, because St. Martin’s “breakfast kind of spilled out.” Roach says it’s unclear whether Beaumont did his best to heal St. Martin: “He says that he did. But, I’m just guessing, maybe he kind of saw an opportunity here.”

For more than a decade, the two enjoyed a strange relationship, each dependent on the other. St. Martin lived at Beaumont’s house, and Beaumont took advantage of the unhealed stomach opening to dangle food in on a string, to learn that stomach acid can digest food even without the stomach’s vise-like squeeze. Today, Beaumont is recognized as one of the fathers of modern physiology.

TIM 1, with stomach and small intestine (left); TIM’s inputs are stored on shelves at the side of the cabinet (right, top); TIM’s chewing machine (right, bottom). Photos by Nicola Twilley.

Though scientists have long moved past the food-on-a-string method of research, the current techniques for investigating how we process our food, as digestion is occurring in our bodies, remain invasive and expensive. And so researchers also rely on sophisticated models of the gut that attempt to mimic every critical stop along the thirty-odd feet our of digestive systems. To learn what these models can teach us, we traveled to the Netherlands to visit TIM, the world’s most sophisticated model gut, at the Dutch public-private research organization TNO. TIM’s entire system fills two huge beige cabinets of silicone tubes and metal valves, from its mouth input funnel to the fart tube that removes the smelly gas produced at the other end.

TIM’s system is larger than life—but biologist Don Ingber and his colleaugues at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have shrunk the large and small intestines down to two small, flexible squares of clear rubber. On each “organ-on-a-chip,” nearly invisible tubes are lined with cells from our intestinal walls—cells whose function mimics the activity in our own real intestinal walls.

To compare these models to the real thing, we spoke with Giulia Enders, doctor and author of Gut, The Inside Story of our Bodies’ Most Underrated Organ, and perhaps the biggest gut fan of all. Enders explains how the gut acts as a second brain in the body, with its own form of consciousness. By the time we’re through, you’ll have a new appreciation for the gut as a thing of beauty—and you may never be embarrassed by a rumbling stomach again. Listen in now!

Episode Notes

Giulia Enders

Giulia Enders is a medical doctor and author currently studying for her Ph.D. in gastroenterology at the Institute for Microbiology and Hospital Hygiene in Frankfurt. She’s the author of Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ.

Mary Roach

Mary Roach is the author of seven books, many of which explore the human body, including Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.

Susann Bellman, Mans Minekus, and TIM, TNO

Susann Bellman is a senior scientist at TNO who studies digestion, nutrition, and the microbiome. Mans Minekus is one of the creators of  TIM, the artificial gut.

TIM 2, the large intestine. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Don Ingber

Don Ingber is the founding director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard and lead inventor of the organs-on-a-chip.

The post Guts and Glory appeared first on Gastropod.

May 21 2019

47mins

Play

BONUS: Introducing Science Rules! with Bill Nye

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We interrupt our regular programming to bring you news of a new podcast you might like. Bill Nye is on a mission to change the world—one phone call at a time. On his new podcast, Science Rules!, he tackles your questions on just about anything in the universe. Perhaps you’ve wondered: Should I stop eating cheeseburgers to combat climate change? How often should I really be washing my pillowcase? Can I harvest energy from all those static-electricity shocks I get in the winter? Science Rules! is out NOW—find it in your favorite podcast app.

The post BONUS: Introducing Science Rules! with Bill Nye appeared first on Gastropod.

May 16 2019

3mins

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The Great Gastropod Pudding Off

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Four bakers, one evening, and one challenge: Who can steam the best spotted dick? On this week’s action-packed episode, Tom Gilliford, Selasi Gbormittah, and Yan Tsou of Great British Bake-Off fame, along with honorary Gastropod member (and Cynthia’s partner) Tim Buntel, compete to see who can master this most classic of British puddings for the first-ever Great Gastropod Pudding Off! But what in the world is spotted dick? “It’s got nostalgia, mystery, horror, and comedy—it’s a perfect British dish,” explained British food designer and jellymonger Sam Bompas, who joined us to judge the competition. Listen in as Tom tries to beat his rival Selasi, Yan revives the flavor combination that robbed her of a Bake Off victory, and Tim tests out his Yankee-style pudding on the Brits. While the four bakers duke it out in the kitchen, we dive into the history and science of British pudding to find out what makes a pudding a pudding, the secret ingredient that will give your pud a lovely light texture, and why anyone would name a dessert “spotted dick.”

Today, when you mention pudding, Americans will picture a rich, creamy, custard-like dessert, while British people use the word to mean any kind of dessert—but then also attach it to very traditional but deeply savory dishes such as steak & kidney pudding and blood pudding. Meanwhile, in seventeenth-century Britain, “pudding time” meant dinner time. So what is pudding? We consulted pudding expert Regula Ysewijn, a Belgian Anglophile whose book, Pride & Pudding, tells the stories behind Britain’s most peculiar puddings, from spotted dick to dead man’s arm. “Haggis, sausages, black pudding—that’s the actual mother of pudding, the alpha pudding,” said Ysewijn. Indeed, she told us that first pudding in literature was actually a tripe-based dish, “bubbling with its blood and fat,” that awaits Odysseus upon his (delayed) return from the Battle of Troy.

Tim, Tom, Selasi, and Yan with their puddings, at Bompas & Parr HQ. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

This episode, we trace pudding’s migration from the start of a meal to the end—and its transition from meaty to meat-free. With the help of award-winning British food writer Felicity Cloake, we discover the essential elements of a traditional British pudding—suet and steam—and the science behind the super-moist, super-fluffy result. We even solve the mystery of sticky toffee pudding, which seems as British as Oliver Twist, but turns out to likely be a twentieth-century import from Canada. All that plus plenty of juvenile spotted dick-related puns, as pans boil dry, custard splits, and Selasi sets the kitchen on fire in this first-ever Great Gastropod Pud Off! Listen in now—and find out who won!

Tim, Cynthia, Tom, and Danny in the Bompas & Parr Test Kitchen. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Yan, Cynthia, and Nicky, exhausted and euphoric at the end of the evening. (The Great Gastropod Pud Off took place on the day Brexit was originally supposed to take place, so Nicky was celebrating that not happening, too!).

Selasi setting his puddings on fire. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Episode Notes

Felicity Cloake

Felicity Cloake is a food writer and the author of multiple cookbooks, including the forthcoming One More Croissant for the Road, based on her very own bike-based culinary Tour de France. Her “How to cook the perfect…” column for The Guardian features several classic British puddings, as well as the sticky toffee pudding recipe that Nicky swears by and that Tim successfully made for Cynthia’s birthday.

Selasi pressed against the window as our expert tasters confer: Sam and Felicity pictured, with Nicky and Cynthia taping, and Danny taking the photo.

Regula Ysewijn

Regula Ysewijn is the author of Pride & Pudding: The History of British Puddings Savoury and Sweet, which tells the story of the British pudding from ancient times until today, complete with recipes. Her most recent book is the National Trust Book of Puddings, and she is also a judge on the Belgian version of the Great British Bake Off (Bake Off Vlaanderen).

Regula holding a pudding basin. (We went on to eat its delicious contents—a steamed plum pudding!)

Tom Gilliford, Selasi Gbormittah, and Yan Tsou

Tom, Selasi, and Yan were all contestants on the Great British Bake Off—Tom and Selasi in 2016, Yan in 2017. Unfortunately, despite winning many star baker awards and Hollywood handshakes, none of them won the competition—but they definitely won our hearts! We can’t thank them enough for giving up their Friday evening to make spotted dick in South London. Follow Yan, Selasi, and Tom on Instagram to stay up to date with what they’re doing.


From left to right and top to bottom, Tim’s Yankee dick, Selasi’s spotless dick with rhubarb jelly, Yan’s lemon and blueberry dick with Bird’s custard, and Tom’s apricot, sage, and pistachio dick with Laphroaig custard. Photos by Danny Cheetham.

Sam Bompas and Danny Cheetham of Bompas & Parr

Sam Bompas is the co-founder of Bompas & Parr, a multi-sensory design studio in London known for their fine English jellies; you’ll recognize him as the star of our Jell-O episode! Danny Cheetham is Bompas & Parr’s development chef. We are eternally grateful to them for loaning us their test kitchen and their time for a night of spotted dick shenanigans!

Post-tasting. Note that Tom served his with a golden spoon! Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Tim’s Yankee Dick

(Makes two mini-dicks)

Ingredients
For the dick:
70g white flour
70g cornmeal
25g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
55g butter
70ml whole milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
Zest of half a lemon
1 tbsp sour cream
50g dried cranberries

For the maple-rum custard:
150 ml whole milk
100 ml heavy cream
2 egg yolks
40ml maple syrup
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp dark rum (not spiced)

1. Mix dry ingredients in food processor. Add butter cut into 1cm-ish cubes.
2. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand and return to large bowl.
3. Combine milk, sour cream, lemon zest, vanilla, and cranberries in second bowl. Add to dry mixture and stir until combined.
4. Scoop into butter-lined mini muffin tins and cover with second tins
5. Place on rack in pot of steaming water. Cover and steam undisturbed for 45 minutes.
6. While your puddings are steaming, make your custard. Mix milk and cream and bring to simmer (190 degrees Farenheit) over low heat.
7. Whisk egg yolks, maple syrup, and cornstarch in large bowl.
8. SLOWLY add hot milk to egg mixture, whisking constantly.
9. Return to pan and add vanilla and rum. Stir with wooden spoon over low heat until thickened.
10. Remove puddings from steam and let rest for a few minutes. Invert onto plate and cover with custard.

Tom and Selasi cooking. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Tom and his puddings. Photo by Nicola Twilley

Tom’s Apricot, Pistachio, Sage and Laphroaig Spotted Dick

(Makes 2 mini-dicks)
Ingredients
For the dick:
80g soft dried apricots, diced
200g self-raising flour
50g vegetable suet
4 teaspoons of ground pistachio
Zest of 1/4 of a lemon, finely diced
4 sage leaves, finely diced
25g caster sugar
66g full-fat milk

For the custard:
4 egg yolks
250ml double cream
50ml Laphroaig
4 teaspoons powdered demerara sugar

For the garnish:
Soft dried apricots
60ml Laphroaig

For the syrup:
2 teaspoons set wildflower honey
5 sage leaves, finely sliced
splash of cold water

Method

24 hours before making the puddings prepare your garnish by soaking the dried apricots in the Laphroaig.

1. Fill a pan with water and set it on the hob to boil.
2. Grease two mini-pudding tins and then line with cling film before greasing the cling film.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine all the dry pudding ingredients. Mix these with a knife until evenly distributed.
4. Add the milk to the pudding mix and combine using the knife. Take care to work the firm dough as little as possible and try to keep the shreds of suet as whole as possible as it is these that will provide your aeration later.
5. Divide the dough in two and place firmly into the lined pudding tins.
6. Cover the tins with tin foil making sure you leave some room for the pudding to expand into while also making sure the at the edges are well sealed.
7. Place the tins into a bamboo steamer and place the steamer lid on top. Cover the join between the lid and steamer with tin foil.
8. Place the steamer over the now rapidly boiling pan of water for 45 mins, check regularly to ensure that your pan has not boiled dry (!).
9. While the puddings are steaming, in a glass combine the sage, honey and water for the syrup and stir until it is loose. If it remains thick, you can add a few drops more water until it is a syrup consistency
10. Prepare your custard around 5 mins before your puddings are due to be ready. Start by whisking the egg yolks with the Laphroaig and powdered demerara sugar until light.
11. In a saucepan bring the cream just to the boil and then immediately remove from the heat.
12. Splash a little of the hot cream into the eggs and whisk vigorously before adding the rest of the cream and whisking until fully combined.
13. Return your egg and cream mix to the pan and on a gentle heat cook for around 3 mins, stirring constantly. Allow to thicken slightly.
14. If you have a nitrogen siphon, you can pop it in there, charge it and it will be ready to use. If not, use an electric whisk to beat the mix until it is aerated but not so that it thickens into whipped cream.
15. Once the puddings are cooked, tip them out onto individual plates, place a few of the soaked apricots on top and then spoon over the honey and sage syrup.
16. Pour the custard however you like, but I like a pool of it around my pudding, especially if I am using the siphon.

Tom holds the pink jelly! Photo by Nicola Twilley.

The post The Great Gastropod Pudding Off appeared first on Gastropod.

May 06 2019

56mins

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Potatoes in Space!

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Today, a half century after Neil Armstrong took one small step onto the surface of the Moon, there are still just three humans living in space—the crew of the International Space Station. But, after decades of talk, both government agencies and entrepreneurs are now drawing up more concrete plans to return to the Moon, and even travel onward to Mars. Getting there is one thing, but if we plan to set up colonies, we’ll have to figure out how to feed ourselves. Will Earth crops grow in space—and, if so, will they taste different? Will we be sipping spirulina smoothies and crunching on chlorella cookies, as scientists imagined in the 1960s, or preparing potatoes six thousand different ways, like Matt Damon in The Martian? Listen in this episode for the stories about how and what we might be farming, once we get to Mars.

Space is harsh. We aren’t suited to the thinner atmospheres and lower gravitational pull of Mars or the Moon, and, without Earth’s atmosphere to protect us, cosmic rays damage the structure of our cells, including our DNA. Plants, it seems, are a little tougher than humans when it comes to adapting to the rigors of alien worlds: according to NASA scientist Ray Wheeler, scientists began sending algae into space in the 1950s, and, since 2015, U.S. astronauts on the ISS have been able to enjoy the odd leaf of home-grown lettuce, thanks to the work of Wheeler’s Kennedy Space Center colleague, Gioia Massa.


Gazing wistfully at produce growing in the Veggie system. Photo: Oleg Artemyev.

One of the big leaps forward in space agriculture came with the introduction of broad-spectrum, affordable LED lights, little more than a decade ago—these are now powerful, efficient, and cool enough to allow plants to be grown entirely indoors. This episode, Gastropod visits Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the world leader in indoor farming, where scientist Esther Meinen drew on her greenhouse expertise to select the crops and design the best “light recipe” for EDEN ISS, a European space farming prototype that provided fresh herbs and vegetables to the crew of the Neumayer Antarctic station throughout last polar winter.


EDEN ISS in position at the South Pole, complete with penguins. Photo: Harald Rentsch.

Those radishes, celery, and tomatoes were all grown hydroponically, without soil. But plants love soil—and, on Mars, the subsurface soil may even offer some water. So can we grow crops directly in Martian or Moon dirt? As it turns out, although Apollo astronauts brought nearly a thousand pounds of rocky dust back from the surface of the Moon, no one at NASA had used it to grow plants. The remaining lunar material is too precious for NASA to hand out, and we don’t even have soil from Mars. But, a few years ago, Meinen’s colleague, Wieger Wamelink, decided to try growing plants using Martian and lunar soil simulants. This episode, we visit his Martian test plot to learn about the challenges of exoplanetary terroir—and taste the results. And, whether we get there or not, it turns out that figuring out how to grow plants in space has plenty to teach us about farming here on Earth. Listen in this episode for the how, what, and why of space agriculture.


Cress leaves from plants grown in (left to right) Martian, Earth, and lunar soil. Photo: Nicola Twilley.

Episode Notes

Wieger Wamelink and Soil Simulants

Wieger Wamelink is an ecologist and exobiologist at Wageningen University in The Netherlands. You can read more about his ongoing research (mostly in Dutch) on his blog and read the paper detailing the results of his initial experiments here. Over the years, NASA has developed a few lunar and Martian soil simulant recipes, which have been produced both in-house and by vendors. Right now, the best bet for those looking to source their own exolith simulants is the Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science, which is based at the University of Central Florida and is part of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute.

Martian soil in a terrarium in Wieger’s office; the layer in which the worms have been active is quite distinct. Photo: Nicola Twilley.

Esther Meinen and EDEN ISS

Esther Meinen is a plant physiologist at Wageningen University. Together with her colleagues and collaborators from across Europe, Canada, and the U.S., she worked on the EDEN ISS project, a European Union research initiative to develop innovations in cultivating food in closed-loop systems. You can read more about EDEN ISS’s ground test at the South Pole here.


Technician Paul Zabel in EDEN ISS, holding kohlrabi.Photo: EDEN ISS.


Plants growing under pinkish light in Esther Meinen and Luuk Graaman’s test greenhouse in Wageningen. Photo: Nicola Twilley.

Gioia Massa and Veggie

Gioia Massa is the NASA science team lead for Veggie, a modular plant growth unit designed to provide salad-type crops for the crew of the ISS. Veggie was launched in 2014, and U.S. astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren were finally given permission to eat a romaine leaf grown in the system in 2015.


Astroanuts sampling red romaine lettuce leaves grown onboard the ISS. Photo: NASA.

Raymond Wheeler

Ray Wheeler is a colleague of Gioia Massa’s at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and author of the recent paper “Agriculture for Space: People and Places Paving the Way.”

Sounds and Movies

We used archival sound from NASA, whose SoundCloud page is well worth exploring. We also featured clips from Star Trek: Voyager, The Martian, Total Recall, this Russia Today visit to Bios-3, and Eater. A huge thanks to all of you for suggesting so many fun space farming movies, books, and T.V. shows to check out—we had to drag ourselves out of the rabbit hole you sent us down to get this episode out on time!

Sloan Foundation

We’d like to thank the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology, and Economics for supporting our science coverage this episode.

The post Potatoes in Space! appeared first on Gastropod.

Apr 23 2019

48mins

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The Curry Chronicles

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Curry is, supposedly, Indian. But there is no such word in any of the country’s many official languages—and no Indian would use the term to describe their own food. So what is curry? This episode takes us to India, Britain, and Japan on a quest to understand how a variety of spicy, saucy dishes ended up being lumped together under one name—and then transformed into something completely different as they were transported around the world. From a post-pub vindaloo in Leeds to comforting kare raisu in Kyoto, we explore the stories and flavors of curry—a dish that’s from nowhere and yet eaten nearly everywhere.

According to Lizzie Collingham, food historian and author of Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, to trace the origins of curry, we need to go back to when the Portuguese first set up shop in Goa, in the early 1500s. “And they’d say, Oooh, what are you eating?” said Collingham, “And the Indians replied using a word like khari or caril.” At the time, Collingham explained, those words likely referred to a particular spice blend, as well as the finished dish it was used in; the same words are still in use, but they now mean sauce or gravy. Today, that’s Raghavan Iyer’s definition: he authored a doorstop of a cookbook called 660 Curries, and he uses “curry” to refer to “anything that has a sauce or gravy—it can be with or without spices.”

But how did India’s many and varied ragouts and stews all come to be known as curry? For that, we have to look to the British. With Collingham’s help, Gastropod teases out the origins of dishes such as biryani and vindaloo, tracing their journey from complex, regional specialties to simplified, curryhouse classics, thanks to a combination of colonialism, empire, and immigrant entrepreneurialism. Along the way, we pinpoint the rise of curry powder, trace curry’s global diaspora, and spend some time with Mr. Bean. We even get to the bottom of why the Japanese—a nation whose cuisine is defined by its exquisite aesthetic—love their own brown, gloppy version. Listen in now to discover the world of curry.

Episode Notes

Lizzie Collingham’s Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors

Lizzie Collingham is a historian and author of a number of books, including, most recently, The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. Her 2006 book, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, is a deeply enjoyable read, and even contains a few historical recipes, for the adventurous.

Raghavan Iyer‘s 660 Curries: The Gateway to Indian Cooking

Chef and culinary educator Raghavan Iyer is author of several cookbooks, including the epic 660 Curries: The Gateway to Indian Cooking.

Takashi Morieda 

Takashi Morieda is a photojournalist based in Tokyo. He’s written extensively about Japanese curry culture, including this essay, titled “The Unlikely Love Affair with Curry and Rice.”

Vindaloo!

Vindaloo is a song by British prank art collective/band Fat Les, whose members are Blur bassist Alex James, actor Keith Allen, and artist Damien Hirst. It was released in 1998, in the run up to the football World Cup, as a parody of football chants. It has been stuck in Nicky’s head throughout the time we’ve been working on this episode.

Comedy Gold

For your viewing pleasure: curry scenes from Only Fools and Horses, Gavin and Stacey, Peep Show and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. Astonishingly, a British man (Vern Slade from Newcastle) actually had Smithy’s curry takeaway order from Gavin and Stacey tattooed on his arm while on a lad’s holiday. Also for your enjoyment: Rowan Atkinson’s sketch about drunk Englishmen in an Indian restaurant, and the cast of Goodness Gracious Me “going out for an English.”

What’s a Ruby?

Cockney rhyming slang for a curry! Ruby Murray was one of the most popular singers in the British Isles in the 1950s. Murray, of course, rhymes with curry—so, fancy a Ruby?

Correction

In the episode, Nicky says that long pepper is not related to black pepper. This is incorrect: they are both in the Piperaceae family, and are close relatives. We apologize for the mistake!

The post The Curry Chronicles appeared first on Gastropod.

Apr 09 2019

43mins

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The Bagelization of America

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Today, it’s a breakfast staple, but, as recently as 1960, The New York Times had to define it for readers—as “an unsweetened doughnut with rigor mortis.” That’s right, this episode is all about the bagel, that shiny, ring-shaped, surprisingly dense bread that makes the perfect platform for cream cheese and lox. Where did it come from? Can you get a decent bagel outside New York City? And what does it have in common with the folding ping-pong table? Come get your hot, fresh bagel science and history here!

Though the bagel is most closely associated with the American Jewish community, its actual origins in Eastern Europe have become the stuff of myth. Competing tales offer explanations as to how, as early as the 1600s in Poland, Jews came to relish the bagel at childbirth, celebrations, and funerals. But, according to Maria Balinska, author of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, this most Jewish of breads is likely descended from a German communion bread. The original communion bread was a large, ring-shaped bread that was baked in monasteries and shared among the congregation. “And my theory is that basically what you have is a family tree,” she told Gastropod. “One of the ancestors is the communion bread, and, from that, you have a descendant that becomes the pretzel, but you also have a descendant that becomes the bagel.”

Balinska’s theory makes even more sense when you learn that the original bagel was hard, like a pretzel. “You can’t slice it,” said Rabbi Jeff Marx, author of an essay titled “Eating Up: The Origins of Bagels and Lox,” published as a chapter in Tastes of Faith: Jewish Eating in the U.S. “All you can do is break off a piece of the bagel and dip it either in schmaltz—chicken fat—or maybe a little bit of butter.”

So how did the bagel become soft and puffy, and how did it eventually meet its soulmates, cream cheese and lox? For those stories, Balinska and Marx bring us—along with the bagel—to New York City, where the bagel helped transform America, and was itself transformed in the process. Today, bagels are found in supermarkets across the land, but many aficionados swear that a truly great bagel can never be made outside the five boroughs, due to the magical qualities of the city’s municipal water supply. To uncover the truth, we meet Francisco Migoya, head chef at Modernist Cuisine and co-author of Modernist Bread, who shipped NYC tap water to his kitchen in Seattle in order to put that belief to the scientific test. For his results, plus bagel jokes, bagel ballet, and the bagel machine that took bagels mainstream, listen in now!

Episode Notes

Maria Balinska and The Bagel

Maria Balinska is the author of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread,

Rabbi Jeff Marx and “Eating Up”

Rabbi Jeff Marx is the author of an essay titled “Eating Up: The Origins of Bagels and Lox,” published as a chapter in Tastes of Faith: Jewish Eating in the U.S.

Francisco Migoya and Modernist Bread

Francisco Migoya is head chef at Modernist Cuisine and co-author of Modernist Bread.

Mary Ting Hyatt and Bagelsaurus

Mary Ting Hyatt opened Bagelsaurus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2014, after operating a successful pop-in in nearby Brookline—and the lines have wrapped around the block ever since. Insider tip: On the weekends, you can skip the line and walk up to the front to buy a grab-bag dozen bagels, hot from the oven, with any type of packaged cream cheese. Or did you happen to come when the line’s not too long and you can order a sandwich? The Classic Jumbo is Cynthia’s go-to, and she loves it on an olive bagel, particularly with a roasted tomato (as per Nicky’s suggestion when she visited!).

The post The Bagelization of America appeared first on Gastropod.

Mar 26 2019

52mins

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Can Diet Stop Alzheimer’s?

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Every three seconds, someone in the world develops Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a devastating disease: millions of people, as well as their caretakers, spend years dealing with disabling disorientation and memory loss. Today, it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. By 2050, an estimated 15 million people in America will have Alzheimer’s—the combined populations of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. But, after years of failed drug trials, scientists are now realizing that the disease begins with structural changes in the brain decades before sufferers show any symptoms. And some researchers now believe that diet may be the most important factor in determining whether or not those brain changes take place. Listen in now to find out: Can changing what you eat prevent Alzheimer’s?

In 1906, German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer dissected and stained the brain of a deceased patient. Auguste Deter had died in her fifties, after suffering from memory loss and delusions. In his postmortem examination, Alzheimer noticed Deter’s brain was clogged with gunk: agglomerations of proteins had formed pathological structures that are now called amyloid plaques and tau tangles. Though dementia has been recognized for millennia—the ancient Greek physician Galen called dementia “morosis”—Dr. Alzheimer was the first to see the physical effects of the disease’s most common cause on the brain.

Today, more than a century later, and despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent studying it, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and not much in the way of treatment, either. There are a few medications that help manage symptoms, but as Lisa Mosconi, a specialist in neuroscience and nuclear medicine and associate director of the Weill Cornell Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic, told Gastropod, “They work for a few years, for some people they work longer, for some people they don’t work at all. But they can’t stop Alzheimer’s, so they’re not a long-term solution.” In part, this seems to be because drugs designed to cure Alzheimer’s have focused on ridding the brain of amyloid plaques. Some of them even managed to remove the plaques, Mosconi told us. “But cognition did not improve,” she said. “There were an enormous amount of side effects, and some patients actually got worse. Some died. And that really begs the question: What are we doing wrong?”

For Mosconi and her colleague, Richard Isaacson, who founded and directs the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic, the first of its kind in the U.S. and still one of only a few in the world, the answer to that question has involved a shift in approach: from cure to prevention. Over the past decade, observational studies have revealed patterns that seem to link Alzheimer’s with exercise, sleep, cognitive stimulation, and, especially, diet. Based on the patterns in the data, it seems as though such so-called lifestyle factors make up to half a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

But, of course, correlation is not causation. And so Isaacson and Mosconi have set out to see whether they can prove that implementing changes in diet and lifestyle in middle age can actually prevent Alzheimer’s. Working with a cohort of healthy patients with a family history of the disease, Isaacson and Mosconi study whether a rigorous diet and exercise regime can actually prevent Alzheimer’s disease, or at least delay its onset. Meanwhile, Mosconi also puts her patients in a brain scanner to look for early signals of Alzheimer’s—and she’s seeing how what people eat is the biggest factor in changing brain structure.

These findings are brand new, but the emerging evidence for the power of lifestyle changes for Alzheimer’s prevention is now so compelling that the Alzheimer’s Association has just launched a $20 million, two-year clinical trial to study just that in 2,000 volunteers around the U.S. So, what should you eat to protect your brain? Listen in now for Gastropod’s scoop on this exciting new research.

Episode Notes

Lisa Mosconi

Lisa Mosconi is a specialist in neuroscience and nuclear medicine, as well as the associate director of the Weill Cornell Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic. You can find links to her publications here. She’s also the author of Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power.

Richard Isaacson

Richard Isaacson is a neurologist and the founder of the Weill Cornell Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic. His most recent paper based on his work at the clinic can be found here, and he expects to publish full results later this year.

Heather Snyder

Heather Snyder is the senior director of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

FINGER and POINTER

If you’re looking for more information on the FINGER study, the results were published here in 2015. The POINTER study is underway now, you can find more information here. (Together, are they the Pointer Finger? Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)

Illustration by Lauren Cierzan

The special illustration for today’s show was created by artist and Gastropod listener Lauren Cierzan. You can find more of her gorgeous work here. Thank you, Lauren!

Sloan Foundation and Burroughs Wellcome Fund

Speaking of thanks, we’d like to thank the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology, and Economics for supporting our science coverage, as well as the Burroughs Wellcome Fund for supporting our coverage of biomedical research.

The post Can Diet Stop Alzheimer’s? appeared first on Gastropod.

Mar 11 2019

43mins

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Seeds of Immortality

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When seeds first evolved, hundreds of millions of years ago, they not only revolutionized the plant world, but they also eventually sowed the path for human civilization. Today, it’s nearly impossible to eat a meal without consuming a plant embryo—or many. But how did seeds come to play such a critical role in human history? Why might one seed in particular, the lotus seed, hold the secret to immortality? And, perhaps just as importantly, how does this magical seed taste? Find out in this special episode of Gastropod, sponsored by McCormick.

Episode Notes

Thor Hanson

Writer and biologist Thor Hanson is author of  The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History.

Jane Shen-Miller

Jane Shen-Miller is a botanist at the University of California-Los Angeles. You can read more about her successful germination of centuries-old lotus seeds here, as well as her work to sequence the lotus seed genome, here.

Lotus flower seed heads and raw, un-puffed lotus seeds.

Mark Griffiths

Horticulturalist Mark Griffiths is the author of The Lotus Quest: In Search of the Sacred Flower.

Lotus Seed Snacks

You can find Sruti Jilla’s Lotus Pops here, and Amit Bhojraj’s Super Lotus snacks here.

Lotus Leaf Technology

You can read more about the nanostructural magic of lotus leaf here, and learn how NASA is using it here.

McCormick Flavor Forecast

Thanks so much to McCormick and Company, the sponsor of this special episode. Their Flavor Forecast identifies top trends and ingredients to discover the tastes of tomorrow. Created by a global team of McCormick experts, including chefs, culinary professionals, trend trackers and food technologists, the Flavor Forecast inspires culinary exploration and innovation around the world. 

The post Seeds of Immortality appeared first on Gastropod.

Mar 04 2019

27mins

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