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Gastropod

Food with a side of science and history. Every other week, co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley serve up a brand new episode exploring the hidden history and surprising science behind a different food- or farming-related topic, from aquaculture to ancient feasts, from cutlery to chile peppers, and from microbes to Malbec. We interview experts, visit labs, fields, and archaeological digs, and generally have lots of fun while discovering new ways to think about and understand the world through food. Find us online at gastropod.com, follow us on Twitter @gastropodcast, and like us on Facebook at facebook.com/gastropodcast.

Popular episodes

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Menu Mind Control

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

52mins

18 Nov 2019

Rank #1

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Of Ghost Foods and Culinary Extinction

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 NotesLenore 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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

53mins

5 Nov 2019

Rank #2

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The Bagelization of America

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! Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

53mins

26 Mar 2019

Rank #3

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Breakfast of Champions

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

45mins

20 Jan 2015

Rank #4

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Say Cheese!

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

57mins

23 Mar 2015

Rank #5

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Caffeine: The World’s Most Popular Drug

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.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

42mins

21 Mar 2016

Rank #6

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To Eat or Not to Eat Meat

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

46mins

14 Feb 2017

Rank #7

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We’ve Lost It: The Diet Episode

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? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

51mins

30 Jan 2018

Rank #8

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Secrets of Sourdough

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

47mins

18 Dec 2017

Rank #9

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The Curry Chronicles

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

43mins

9 Apr 2019

Rank #10

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Super Fry: The Fight for the Golden Frite

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! Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

45mins

19 Jun 2019

Rank #11

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Ripe for Global Domination: The Story of the Avocado

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

48mins

8 May 2018

Rank #12

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Guts and Glory

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

48mins

21 May 2019

Rank #13

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Kombucha Culture

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

41mins

8 Aug 2016

Rank #14

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Omega 1-2-3

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

46mins

13 Aug 2019

Rank #15

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Green Gold: Our Love Affair with Olive Oil

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

49mins

5 Dec 2017

Rank #16

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The Good, The Bad, The Cilantro

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?  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

33mins

6 Oct 2015

Rank #17

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Out of the Fire, Into the Frying Pan

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

43mins

19 Jun 2018

Rank #18

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The Scoop on Ice Cream

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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

47mins

28 Jul 2015

Rank #19

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The Salt Wars

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.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

41mins

23 Aug 2016

Rank #20