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Food with a Side of Science & History

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Sour Grapes: The History and Science of Vinegar

45:50 | Aug 29th, 2017

It’s found in almost every home, whether it’s destined to dress salads or clean surfaces and kill fruit flies. But, effective as it is at those tasks, most of us struggle to get excited about vinegar. Today, however, a handful of enthusiasts and entr...Show More

Peanuts: Peril and Promise

46:46 | Jun 20th, 2017

Despite their diminutive scale, peanuts play an outsized role in American culture. Peanut butter has long been a mainstay of the American lunchbox, with its sticky, slightly sweet nuttiness flavoring the memories of generation after generation of kid...Show More

Eating to Win: Gatorade, Muscle Milk, and… Chicken Nuggets?

0:00 | Feb 12th

Ancient Greek Olympians swore by beans to give them a competitive edge. Japanese sumo wrestlers rely on a protein-rich soup called chankonabe to get into peak condition. And NBA all-stars Kevin Garnett, Carmelo Anthony, and Steph Curry credit their s...Show More

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

0:00 | Jan 28th

Back in 1866, Jack Daniel’s became the first registered distillery in the United States; today, it’s the top-selling American whiskey in the world. For much of the brand’s 150-plus years, the story went that the young Jack Daniel learned his trade fr...Show More

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

0:00 | Jan 15th

For decades, ads for treats sweetened with substances like Sweet’N Low, NutraSweet, and Splenda have promised what seems like a miracle of modern science: that you can enjoy all the dessert you want, calorie-free. No need to deprive yourself—with art...Show More

Dirty Tricks and Data: The Great Soda Wars, Part 2

0:00 | Dec 18th, 2018

Over the past five years, more than forty cities and countries around the world have passed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. These soda taxes are designed to improve public health—but do they? Or have all the doom-and-gloom predictions of the soda...Show More

Souring on Sweet: The Great Soda Wars, Part 1

0:00 | Dec 4th, 2018

Public health researchers agree: the evidence is clear that Americans consume way too much sugar, that sugar contributes to weight gain, and that rising rates of obesity in the U.S. will lead to significant health problems in the future. What’s much ...Show More

Listener Survey

0:00 | Dec 1st, 2018

Please take our 2018 listener survey here. It’s short, your data will be kept anonymous and only shared in aggregate, and the information you share will help us keep making the podcast and, we hope, keep making it better! We really appreciate it. The...Show More

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

0:00 | Nov 19th, 2018

Brush, floss, and forget: chances are, you only think about your teeth when they cause you trouble. But teeth have tales to tell, such as how old we are, how fast we grew, and how far we’ve traveled… But, most intriguingly, teeth can tell us both wha...Show More

Who Invented Mac and Cheese?

0:00 | Nov 13th, 2018

The warm, gooey dish, a childhood staple across North America, is many things to many people: a mainstay of African-American Sunday dinners, according to soul food expert Adrian Miller; a comforting yet celebratory meal that can be jazzed up in dozen...Show More

How the Carrot Became Orange, and Other Stories

0:00 | Nov 6th, 2018

Thousands of years ago, in what’s now Afghanistan, people unearthed the tangled, gnarled roots of Queen Anne’s Lace—a ubiquitous, hairy-stemmed plant with a spray of tiny white flowers. These fibrous, twisted roots were white and bitter-tasting, but ...Show More

The Incredible Egg

0:00 | Oct 23rd, 2018

We love eggs scrambled, fried, or poached; we couldn’t enjoy a quiche, meringue, or flan without them. But for scientists and archaeologists, these perfect packages are a source of both wonder and curiosity. Why do eggs come in such a spectacular var...Show More

Espresso and Whisky: The Place of Time in Food

0:00 | Oct 9th, 2018

Why does fish cook so fast? What’s the “wasabi window”? And can you really make 20-year-old aged whisky in six days? This episode, we’re looking at the role of time in food and flavor: what it does, and how we’ve tried—and sometimes succeeded—to mani...Show More

Why These Animals?

0:00 | Sep 25th, 2018

In the West, when it comes to which meat is for dinner, we nearly always choose beef, pork, or chicken. Yet cows and pigs are only two of more than five thousand of species of mammals, and chicken is one of ten thousand species of birds. Meanwhile, a...Show More

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

0:00 | Sep 11th, 2018

Mangoes inspire passion, particularly in India, which is home to hundreds of varieties of the fruit. They are celebrated in Indian music, poetry, and art; they are mentioned in Hindu and Buddhist religious texts as well as the Kama Sutra; and Indian ...Show More

Keeping it Fresh: Preservatives and The Poison Squad

0:00 | Aug 28th, 2018

More than a century ago, enterprising manufacturers added brand-new chemical preservatives into food to keep it fresh as it traveled from the farm into rapidly growing American cities. Milk no longer went rancid! Meat no longer spoiled! But some scie...Show More

Watch It Wiggle: The Jell-O Story

0:00 | Aug 14th, 2018

It’s been described as the ultimate status symbol for the wealthy, as the perfect solution for dieters and the sick, and, confusingly, as a liquid trapped in a solid that somehow remains fluid. What could this magical substance be? In case you haven’...Show More

Out of the Fire, Into the Frying Pan

49:09 | Jun 19th, 2018

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 th...Show More

Hotbox: The Oven From Turnspit Dogs to Microwaves

55:17 | Jun 5th, 2018

Humans are the only animals that cook their food, an innovation that changed the course of our evolution and the trajectory of the planet. But how did we tame those early cooking fires and put them in a box—and what can subsequent leaps forward in he...Show More

Feed the World: How the U.S. Became the World’s Biggest Food Aid Donor—And Why That Might Not be Such a Great Thing

50:30 | May 22nd, 2018

The United States is, by far, the world’s largest international food aid donor. Almost every year since the 1950s, it has been responsible for more than 50 percent of the billions of tons of food shipped from the parts of the world with a surplus to ...Show More

Ripe for Global Domination: The Story of the Avocado

48:19 | May 8th, 2018

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...Show More

Meet the Man Who Found, Finagled, and Ferried Home the Foods We Eat Today

44:01 | Apr 24th, 2018

You’ve probably never heard of David Fairchild. But if you’ve savored kale, mango, peaches, dates, grapes, a Meyer lemon, or a glass of craft beer lately, you’ve tasted the fruits of his globe-trotting travels in search of the world’s best crops—and ...Show More

Who Faked My Cheese?

55:46 | Apr 10th, 2018

Cheeeeese: that one word alone causes our stomachs to rumble and mouths to water. The sheer variety of flavors and textures created by only a few ingredients—milk, salt, enzymes, and microbes—is astounding: hard and soft, creamy and crumbly, richly u...Show More

Marching on our Stomachs: The Science and History of Feeding the Troops

49:35 | Mar 27th, 2018

For most of us, eggs are perfect packets of portable protein, and pizza is the lazy option for dinner. For the research team at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, pizza and eggs are two of the most nightmarish food-science challenges of the...Show More

Cooking the Books with Yotam and Nigella

48:31 | Mar 13th, 2018

Who first started collecting recipes into cookbooks? Do cookbooks have a future in a world full of online recipes? And can cookbooks tell us anything about what people are actually eating, or are they simply aspirational food porn? This episode, we e...Show More

Cutting the Mustard

47:50 | Feb 27th, 2018

For some Americans, a trip to the ballpark isn’t complete without the bright yellow squiggle of French’s atop a hotdog. For the French, the slow burn of Dijon is a must-have complement to charcuterie. In the U.K., Sunday’s roast beef is nothing witho...Show More

Remembrance of Things Pasta: A Saucy Tale

45:49 | Feb 13th, 2018

It’s one of food’s most beautiful relationships: pasta and sauce. But which came first—and how on Earth are you supposed to figure out which of those hundreds of shapes to serve with your pesto? With Valentine’s Day round the corner, we bring you the...Show More

We’ve Lost It: The Diet Episode

52:31 | Jan 30th, 2018

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-selle...Show More

Meet Saffron, the World’s Most Expensive Spice

43:45 | Jan 16th, 2018

It’s the poshest spice of all, often worth its weight in gold. But saffron also has a hidden history as a dye, a luxury self-tanner, and even a serotonin stimulant. That’s right, this episode we’re all about those fragile red threads plucked from the...Show More

Secrets of Sourdough

50:16 | Dec 18th, 2017

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. A...Show More

Green Gold: Our Love Affair with Olive Oil

52:37 | Dec 5th, 2017

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, quit...Show More

Women, Food, Power … and Books!

43:46 | Nov 21st, 2017

From “The Flintstones” to Focus on the Family, the stereotype has long been that men hunt and provide, while women just stir the pot. Thankfully, today many women—and men—reject both that biological essentialism and the resulting division of labor. B...Show More

Crantastic: The Story of America’s Berry

42:24 | Nov 7th, 2017

It’s nearly Thanksgiving, which, for most Americans, marks the one time a year their dinner table is adorned with jewel-like cranberries, simmered into a delicious sauce. But hundreds of years ago, cranberry sauce was a mainstay of daily meals, all a...Show More

Cannibalism: From Calories to Kuru

47:07 | Oct 24th, 2017

For most of us, it’s unthinkable: human is never what’s for dinner. Sorry to burst any bubbles, but this episode, we discover that not only is cannibalism widespread throughout the natural world, but it’s also much more common among our own kind than...Show More

Eataly World and the Future of Food Shopping

39:17 | Oct 10th, 2017

In just over a month, the world’s first theme park devoted entirely to Italian food will open its doors—and Gastropod has the scoop! Among Eataly World‘s delights will be hunt-your-own truffles, baby lambs, beach volleyball, and custom Bianchi shoppi...Show More

What the Fluff is Marshmallow Creme?

38:51 | Sep 26th, 2017

If you’re not from New England, you may never have heard of Fluff, or its legendary sandwich-based incarnation, the Fluffernutter. The sticky sweet marshmallow creme was invented exactly one hundred years ago in Somerville, Massachusetts—at the time,...Show More

Lunch Gets Schooled

54:22 | Sep 11th, 2017

Across the United States, school lunch is being transformed, as counties and cities partner with local farms to access fresh vegetables, as well as hire chefs to introduce tastier and more adventurous meals. This is a much-needed correction after dec...Show More

The Birds and The Bugs

48:24 | Aug 15th, 2017

Chicken is such a mainstay of the contemporary American dinner table that it seems hard to imagine that, just a century ago, it was rare and expensive. But over the course of the 20th century, both chickens and the chicken industry exploded in size. ...Show More

It’s Tea Time: Pirates, Polyphenols, and a Proper Cuppa

44:27 | Aug 1st, 2017

This week, Gastropod tells the story of two countries and their shared obsession with a plant: Camellia sinensis, otherwise known as the tea bush. The Chinese domesticated tea over thousands of years, but they lost their near monopoly on internationa...Show More

Fake Food

42:17 | Jun 6th, 2017

Hamburgers that turn out to be horse, not beef. Honey sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. Old, grey olives dipped in copper sulfate solution to make them look fresh and green. Fraudulent foods such as these make up as much as five to ten percent...Show More

Here’s Why You Should Care About Southern Food

48:50 | May 22nd, 2017

The food of the South is one of the most complicated, complex, contradictory cuisines in the U.S. This is the region where a monumental mixing of crops and culinary traditions gave way to one of the most punishing, damaging monocultures in the countr...Show More

Better Believe It’s Butter

39:27 | May 9th, 2017

Butter is beautiful: solid golden bars add the perfect flakiness to pastry, give cake a delightfully tender springiness, and melt mouth-wateringly onto toast. But unlike its cousin, cheese—another concentrated, solidified form of milk—we don’t tend t...Show More

Meet Koji, Your New Favorite Fungus

41:36 | Apr 25th, 2017

It’s impossible to imagine Japanese meals without soy sauce, or the umami-rich fermented bean paste called miso, or the rice-based spirit known as sake. Which means that Japanese cuisine depends on the one fungus that enables the fermentation of all ...Show More

V is for Vitamin

49:04 | Apr 10th, 2017

They’re added to breakfast cereal, bread, and even Pop-Tarts, giving the sweetest, most processed treats a halo of health. Most people pop an extra dose for good measure, perhaps washing it down with fortified milk. But what are vitamins—and how did ...Show More

Hacking Taste

48:40 | Mar 14th, 2017

Taste is the oldest of our five senses, and yet perhaps the least understood. It’s far more complicated than salty versus sweet: new research is dramatically expanding our knowledge of taste, showing that it’s intimately connected to obesity, mood, i...Show More

Cork Dork: Inside the Weird World of Wine Appreciation

46:51 | Feb 28th, 2017

“There’s the faintest soupçon of asparagus and just a flutter of Edam cheese,” says Paul Giamatti in the movie Sideways. Believe it or not, he’s describing pinot noir, not quiche. The world of sommeliers, wine lists, and tasting notes is filled with ...Show More

To Eat or Not to Eat Meat

49:31 | Feb 14th, 2017

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 w...Show More

We Heart Chocolate

45:45 | Jan 31st, 2017

In the weeks before Valentine’s Day, U.S. consumers will buy nearly 58 million pounds of chocolate. This love affair is not limited to just one day or one country: chocolate has spread from its native home in Central and South America to conquer the ...Show More

Inventing the Restaurant: From Bone Broth to Michelin

46:21 | Jan 17th, 2017

Early humans may have visited each others’ caves for a shared meal, but they wouldn’t have expected to be served at their own table, or to choose when and what to eat. But today, restaurants are ubiquitous: there are millions of them worldwide, and t...Show More