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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.

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Gastropod

The Birth of Cool: How Refrigeration Changed Everything

For as long as we’ve been making Gastropod, co-host Nicky has also been working on another project: writing a book all about refrigeration. Well, time to pop the champagne you’ve had stashed in the icebox, because that book comes out June 25—and we’re giving Gastropod listeners an exclusive preview! This episode, Cynthia and Nicky talk about how a high school dropout's get-rich-quick scheme, some deadly explosions, and lots and lots of beer brought us the humming boxes of cold now ubiquitous in the modern kitchen—and how the proliferation of this portable, on-demand winter has transformed our food (not always for the better) while heating up our planet. It's almost impossible to imagine living without a fridge, but Nicky’s book totally changed the way we look at preserving food. Is there a better way? Listen to find out, and for the rest of the story, be sure to pre-order Frostbite: How Refrigeration Changed Our Food, Our Planet, and Ourselves!

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Omega 1-2-3 (encore)

Based on all the hype, you'd be forgiven for believing that the fish oils known as omega-3s are the 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. (Encore presentation)

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Sugar's Dark Shadow

Your pantry's sweetest ingredient has an extremely bitter history. The sap-producing grass known as sugarcane has been grown and enjoyed by humans for at least 10,000 years, but it was only relatively recently that it went from a luxury to an everyday ingredient—a change that also triggered genocide, slavery, and the invention of modern racism. In this episode, how the Crusades got Europeans addicted to the sweet stuff, and how that appetite deforested southern Europe and kicked off the trade in enslaved Africans, before decimating indigenous populations in the New World and codifying racism into law. It's a dark story that involves Christopher Columbus' mistress, the early human rights advocate whose campaign to save indigenous people encouraged the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, and a trip to southern Louisiana, where we met Black sugarcane farmers to explore sugar's troubling legacy there. No sugar coating here: join us for the fascinating and horrifying history of this household staple.

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(Guest) Are Fast Food Jingles Pop Music?

From our friends at Switched on Pop: Where were you when you learned that the McDonald's jingle "I'm lovin' it" was originally part of a full-fledged pop song by Justin Timberlake and Pharrell that flopped on the charts but found staying power as a slogan? For us, it was recording our live episode about sponsored content in pop back in March 2024, and we have not been the same since. Shaken by this revelation, we found ourselves asking, "What else don't we know about fast food jingles?"

Turns out, it's a lot. From Taco Bell to Popeye's to Chili's, the music of fast food represent some of the most familiar melodies in society, across state lines and generations. But the stories behind those songs, and the way that fast food production and pop music production often move in parallel, was something we never saw coming.

Since we are music experts but amateur foodies, we invited the brilliant hosts of Gastropod, Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley, to help serve up the history of fast food and its changing role in culture. Tune in and pig out with us as we listen and debate the artistic and ethical implications of the sounds of fast food.

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Why Are Restaurants So Loud? Plus the Science Behind the Perfect Playlist

When you go out for a meal, it’s not just what's on your plate that matters, it's what's in your eardrums, too. From dining rooms so loud you have to shout to be heard, to playlists that sound like a generic Millennial Spotify account, it's not surprising that sound is the single most complained about aspect of restaurants. This episode, Gastropod explores the science behind the sonic experience of eating. Are restaurants really getting louder, and, if so, why? What does it take to create the perfect acoustic environment for dining? Can restaurateurs design their playlists to make customers order more or eat faster? Listen in now for the secrets to culinary acoustic bliss!

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The Food Explorer (encore)

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 his struggles to get them back home to the United States. This episode, we talk to Daniel Stone, author of The Food Explorer, a new book all about Fairchild's adventures. Listen in now for tales of pirates and biopiracy, eccentric patrons and painful betrayals, as well as the successes and failures that shaped not only the way we eat, but America's place in the world. ENCORE

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Meet the Most Famous American You’ve Never Heard Of: His Legacy is Excellent French Fries and Monsanto

In his day, Luther Burbank was a horticultural rock star: everyone from opera singers to movie stars and European royalty to an Indian guru traveled to Santa Rosa, California, to meet him. Dubbed the "plant wizard," Burbank invented the plumcot and the stoneless plum, the white blackberry, and the potato variety used in every French fry you've ever eaten—as well as some 800 more new-and-improved plants, from walnuts to rhubarb. His fame as a plant inventor put him in the same league as Thomas Edison—but, while Edison patented his light bulb and phonograph, Burbank had no legal way to protect his crop creations. Listen now for the story of Luther Burbank, the most famous American you've never heard of, and how his struggles shaped what's on our supermarket shelves today, but also led to a world in which big companies like Monsanto can patent life. It's a wild ride that involves the death spiral of the Red Delicious and the rise of the Cosmic Crisp apple, as well as coded notebooks, detective agencies, rogue farmers, and a resistance movement led by former New York City mayor (and subsequent airport namesake) Fiorello La Guardia.

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All You Can Eat: The True Story Behind America's Most Popular Seafood

Americans eat more shrimp than any other seafood: on average, each person in the US gobbles up close to six pounds of the cheap crustaceans every year. We can eat so many of these bug-like shellfish because they’re incredibly inexpensive, making them the stars of all-you-can-eat shrimp buffets and single-digit seafood deals. But we've got bad news: this is one bargain that's too good to be true. More than 90 percent of the shrimp we eat comes from overseas, where looser regulations lead to horrific labor abuses, environmental destruction, and the use of banned chemicals and antibiotics—all while American shrimpers struggle to survive. This episode, we’re exploring the history of how shrimp went from a fancy delicacy to buffet bargain (yes, Forrest Gump is involved), plus what to do if you want to enjoy everybody's favorite seafood with a clear conscience. Hold the cocktail sauce: this episode will change how you look at your favorite appetizer forever.

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The World Is Your Oyster: How Our Favorite Shellfish Could Save Coastlines Worldwide

If we at Gastropod were asked to name a perfect food, the oyster would be at the top of our list. Oysters are pretty much always our answer to the question of what we'd like to eat this evening—but are they also the answer to the slow-motion disaster of disappearing coastlines worldwide? Join us this episode as we discover how this magical mollusk contains a pearl of hope in the fight to counter rising sea-levels, prevent erosion, and buffer storm surges everywhere from hurricane-hit New Orleans to New York City's flood-prone fringes. But be prepared: you just might join the ranks of the oyster obsessed.

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

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! (Encore episode)

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Bam! How Did Cajun Flavor Take Over the World?

If "Cajun-style" only makes you think of spicy chicken sandwiches and popcorn shrimp, you need to join us in the Big Easy this episode, to meet the real Cajun flavor. Cajun cuisine and its close cousin, Creole, were born out of the unique landscape of the Mississippi River delta, whose bounty was sufficient to support large, complex Indigenous societies, without the need for farming or even social hierarchies, for thousands of years. Europeans were slow to appreciate the wealth of this waterlogged country, but, as waves of French, Spanish, and American colonists and enslaved Africans arrived in Louisiana and the port of New Orleans, they all shaped the food that makes it famous today. But it would take a formerly enslaved woman turned international celebrity chef, a legendary restaurant that's hosted Freedom Riders, U.S. presidents, and Queen B, and a blackened redfish craze to turn Louisiana's flavorsome food into a global trend. Come on down to the bayou this episode, as we catch crawfish and cook up a storm to tell the story of how Cajun and Creole flavors ended up on home-cooking shows, in Disney movies, and at drive-throughs nationwide.

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Anything's Pastable (Guest Episode)

After Dan’s pasta shape, cascatelli, was launched, people everywhere were cooking with it and sending him photos of what they were making. As exciting as that was, he was disappointed that most folks were only making a handful of well-worn dishes with this new shape. So Dan decided to write a cookbook to show the world that there’s so much more you can and should be putting on all your pasta shapes, cascatelli and beyond! There’s only one problem: he’s never written a recipe in his life. In this four-part series, Dan shares the inside story of creating his first cookbook, Anything’s Pastable — from the highs and lows of recipe testing, to a research trip across Italy, to the agonizing decisions over the design of the cover. Listen to this special guest episode of The Sporkful now.

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Can You Patent a Pizza?

Close your eyes and imagine this: a world without stuffed crust pizza. We know!—but that was the dismal state of the Italian flatbread scene before 1985, when Anthony Mongiello, aka The Big Cheese, came up with an innovation that loaded even more cheese onto pizza, while saving crusts nationwide from the trashcan. It was a multi-million dollar idea, Mongiello was sure—if only he could figure out how to protect his intellectual property and license it. But can you copyright the recipe for stuffing the crust? Could that puffy, cheese-filled rim be trademarked, or the technique for making it qualify as a trade secret? Can you patent a pizza? And did Pizza Hut, which unveiled their own stuffed crust pie in 1995, steal his idea—or does the concept of a cheesy crust belong to humanity as a whole? This episode, we're diving deep into the weird and wonderful world of food IP, via the legendary legal battles to defend Pepperidge Farm's Goldfish, Smucker's Uncrustables, and that futuristic mall treat of the 90s, Dippin' Dots ice cream. Listen in now for the true story of stuffed crust pizza—a story in which creativity, commerce, and lots and lots of cheese collide.

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Super Fry: The Fight for the Golden Frite (encore)

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! (Encore episode)

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Dining at the (Other) Top of the World: Hunger, Fruitcake, and the Race to Reach the South Pole

In contrast to the abundance of the Arctic, in Antarctica, "once you leave the coast, you're basically heading to the moon." Jason Anthony, who spent several summers on the seventh continent, told us that in this desert of ice and stone (where the largest terrestrial animal is a tiny wingless midge), food isn't just important—it's everything. This episode is packed full of stories of survival at Earth's southernmost points, from Heroic Era expedition chefs whipping up croissants on the ice, to desperate Dorito auctions when supplies run low today. Plus, listen in now for the scoop on how food fueled the race to the South Pole—and determined the ultimate winner and loser.

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Dining at the Top of the World: Arctic Adaptation, Abundance, and...Ice Cream

You may feel like it's cold where you live, but in the Arctic, the average temperature is well below freezing all year round. In winter, it's also pitch black for weeks on end—not an ideal environment for growing food. Still, for thousands of years, people in the Arctic have thrived in a landscape that most outsiders would find fatally inhospitable. This episode, we point our compasses north on a journey to discover how traditional knowledge, ingenuity, and a lot of hard work—combined with genetics and microbes—have allowed the indigenous populations of the far North to not only successfully feed themselves, but also develop a distinctive and remarkable cuisine. Tune in now for the secrets of a dish that feels like Fourth of July fireworks in your mouth, the story of Iceland's second-most famous celebrity (after Björk), and the science behind how to avoid scurvy on an almost vegetable-free diet. Just don't forget your long underwear!

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Cork Dork: Inside the Weird World of Wine Appreciation (encore)

“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 this kind of language, prices seemingly rising in step with the number of bizarre adjectives. It's tempting to dismiss the whole thing as B.S., but listen in: this episode, author Bianca Bosker takes us along on her journey into the history and science behind blind tasting, wine flavor wheels, and the craft of the sommelier. You'll never feel lost in front of a wine list again. (encore)

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It's Tea Time: Pirates, Polyphenols, and a Proper Cuppa (encore)

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 international trade when a Scottish botanist, disguised as a Chinese nobleman, smuggled it out of China in the 1800s, in order to secure Britain's favorite beverage and prop up its empire for another century. The story involves pirates, ponytails, and hard drugs—and, to help tell the tale, Cynthia and Nicky visit Britain's one and only commercial tea plantation, tucked away in a secret garden on an aristocratic estate on the Cornish coast. While harvesting and processing tea leaves, we learn the difference between green and black tea, as well as which is better for your health. Put the kettle on, and settle in for the science and history of tea! (encore edition)

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The Case of the Confusing Bitter Beverages: Vermouth, Amaro, Aperitivos, and Other Botanical Schnapps

When it comes to booze, it’s fun to be bitter: an Aperol spritz has been the drink of summer for about five years, vermouth and soda was apparentlythe "hot girl" drink of 2023, and amaro is having "a major moment." Bitter botanical beverages are everywhere, but that doesn’t mean we understand what on earth they are. Could you explain the difference between vermouth and amaro, or whether either is an aperitif or a digestif? Where do Aperol, Campari, and Chartreuse fit in, and what’s the difference between drinks called bitters and the bitters your bartender dashes into a Manhattan? This episode, Gastropod is on the case of the confusing bitter beverages, starting with their origins in alchemy. (That pre-dinner spritz is pretty magical!) Listen in now to find out why Napoleon chugged cologne, how a shopkeeper’s assistant created the preferred drink of kings and influencers, and how you should enjoy these trendy new botanical beverages.

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Rice, Rice Baby

Though rice might not feature in a hit 1990s Vanilla Ice rap, this grain tops the charts in other ways: it's the staple food for more than half the global population, and it's grown by more farmers than any other crop on Earth, from Japan to West Africa to Italy's Po River valley. Rice is so central that it's been used as currency, embedded itself in language, and formed the basis of beloved dishes, from sushi to jollof to risotto. But this adaptable grass has two features that have molded rice cultures and directed the grain's destiny: it can grow in an aquatic environment, but it requires cooperation to cultivate. In this episode, we explore how rice's relationship to water and community have shaped stories all over the world, from Japanese-American rice growers in California's drought-prone San Joaquin valley to Bangladeshi farmers facing flooding from climate change. Plus: could taking rice out of water not only build a better future for African-American rice farmers in the American South, but save the planet in the process?

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Ask Gastropod: White Chocolate, Jimmies, Chile vs. Mustard Burns, and Asparagus Pee

Is white chocolate really chocolate? What causes asparagus pee? Sprinkles or jimmies—which do you call them, and is the term ‘jimmies’ racist? Why is the heat of mustard and wasabi so different from a chile burn? This episode, Gastropod is getting to the bottom of your most pressing questions—which also means diving into some of the internet’s most controversial food debates. Listen in now as we call in historians and scientists to bust myths, solve mysteries, and find out why some people turn asparagus into the devil’s own brew!

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Pumpkin Spice Hero: The Thrilling But Tragic True Story of Nutmeg

No pumpkin spice latte, cookie, candle, or seasonal can of Spam (yes, really) would be the same without one of its key flavors: nutmeg, a warm, woody spice grated from the seed of a tropical fruit. But back in the 1600s, nutmeg wasn’t so common that you could put it in everything from coffee to soap. In fact, nutmeg once grew only in one place in the entire world: the Banda Islands, a Pacific archipelago too tiny to even appear on regular maps. To get their precious nutmeg, European sailors had to brave a three-year journey filled with the possibility of shipwreck, storms, scurvy, dysentery, starvation, and death—so it's not surprising that the spice was so valuable that the crew weren't allowed to have pockets in their clothing, in case they smuggled some ashore for themselves! But how did one heroic Brit, Nathaniel Courthope, end up changing the course of nutmeg history—and, with it, the fate of not just pumpkin spice lattes, but also the city of New York? Listen now for the spicy, swashbuckling tale behind the season's favorite flavor.

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Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit

Botanically, bean pods are indeed fruits, and, honestly, they are also pretty magical. And we’re clearly not the only ones to think that: beans are the unsung hero of history. The fact that they were domesticated an astonishing seven different times in different places around the world shows how essential beans were to early humans, wherever they lived; in Europe, Italian author and polymath Umberto Eco credits the bean with saving civilization itself. Lately, however, the humble bean has found its fan base declining. In Northern Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States, most people barely eat beans at all. This episode—our love song to beans—we're exploring the story of the bean's fall from grace, as well as the heirloom varieties and exclusive club that are making beans cool again. Plus, we visit with the Ugandan breeder working on Beans 2.0, which will take a third less time to cook. But can anybody do anything about one of beans' most notorious side-effects? Yes, we're talking farts: we're on the case to discover whether scientists can develop a gas-free bean. Listen in as we spill the beans on one of our favorite foods.

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Raised and Glazed: Don’t Doubt the Doughnut

Doughnuts are ubiquitous in the United States: whether you're at party, a coffee shop, or the break room at work, you’re likely to find a box of iced rings covered with sprinkles. But some kind of deep-fried dough blob is a treat found in cultures around the world—so why have doughnuts become uniquely American? And what’s with the name, when there’s rarely a nut found in this dough? This episode, we're taking a roll around the story of these sweet circles, from their debut in Dutch New Amsterdam to the momentous origins of the doughnut hole. Listen in now, as we meet the Salvation Army volunteers who cemented the doughnut's popularity on the battlefields of both world wars, the Massachusetts middle-school dropout who created a doughnut empire, and the Cambodian-American Donut King of California.

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We'd Like to Teach The World to Slurp: The Weird and Wonderful Story of Ramen's Rise to Glory

Savory, chewy, and, above all, slurp-able, a delicious bowl of ramen is one of the triumphs of Japanese cuisine. That's also a bit odd, because, for most of Japanese history, heavy, meaty, wheaty noodle soup would have had no place in the archipelago's otherwise bland and mostly pescatarian cuisine. This episode, we bust ramen myths and reveal ramen secrets, with the story of how Chinese influencers, U.S. food aid, and an economic boom built the quintessential Japanese soup—and how ramen was transformed from a quick street-food bite for workers to both the three-minute staple of students everywhere in its instant form and the craft ramen that has people standing in lines for hours. Plus: how ramen noodles helped prevent a prison riot, and Cynthia and Nicky go head-to-head in an epic (failure of a) slurp-off.

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First Foods: Learning to Eat (encore)

How do we learn to eat? It may seem like an obvious question, but it's actually quite a complicated process. Who decided that mushed-up vegetables were the perfect first food—and has that always been the case? What makes us like some foods and hate others—and can we change? Join us to discover the back story behind the invention of baby food, as well as the latest science on flavor preferences and tips for how to transform dislikes into likes. (encore)

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All Aboard the Tuna Rollercoaster! Join the King of Fish for a Wild Ride that Involves Ernest Hemingway and (of course) Jane Fonda

A bluefin tuna can grow to the size of a car, weigh twice as much as a grand piano, swim as fast as a running lion, and keep its muscles at human body temperature even in the ocean's coldest depths. It's also wildly delicious, with a sweet, briny, but meaty taste and a melt-in-your mouth texture that has made it the most expensive fish in the world, with a single bluefin selling for a record-breaking $3 million in 2019. Not bad for a fish that, until recently, New England fishermen used to have to pay to dispose of. This episode, we've got the story of how the king of fish went from the coin of the realm in ancient Byzantium to cat food before bouncing back, in a tale that involves Alexander the Great, Ernest Hemingway, and a couple of Canadian coffin-makers. But popularity has proven a double-edged sword for the bluefin: in the past few decades, it's been fished almost to extinction, while also becoming the poster child for saving the oceans. These days there's big news in tuna world, and, for the first time in years, environmentalists and scientists have hope for the bluefin's future. So is it time to start ordering maguro again at the sushi bar?

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The Keto Paradox: Fad Diet *and* Life-Saving Medical Treatment

What do some epilepsy patients have in common with tech bros, bodybuilders, and Joe Rogan? The high-fat, carb-shunning diet known as keto, whose history dates back much further than its 2010s rise to fame. In this episode, Gastropod traces how a medical treatment pioneered more than 2,500 years ago was refined in the 1920s to treat seizures. We trace its wild ride in and out of fashion, with cameos from Robert Atkins, the 80s exercise craze, and Meryl Streep. And, of course, we've got the myth-busting science on what ketosis and ketones really are, the dangers of eating this way to lose weight, and the reason this diet can be life-saving—for people with a very specific medical condition. Bust out the butter (but please don't put it in coffee) and join us down the keto rabbit hole.

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Secrets of Sourdough (encore)

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. (encore presentation)

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Watch It Wiggle: The Jell-O Story (encore)

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't guessed, this episode, we're talking about Jell-O! Or, to be more precise, jelly—not the seedless kind you spread on toast, but the kind that shimmers on your plate, wiggles and jiggles on your spoon, and melts in your mouth. Jelly's story is as old as cooking itself—it is one that involves spectacular riches and dazzling displays, as well as California's poet laureate and some very curious chemistry. (encore presentation)

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Where's the Beef? Lab-Grown Meat is Finally on the Menu

Can we really have our burger, eat it—and never need to kill a cow? Growing meat outside of animals—in a lab or, these days, in shiny steel bioreactors—promises to deliver a future in which we can enjoy sausages and sushi without guilt, and maybe even without sending our planet up in smoke. For years, it's seemed like science fiction, but it's finally a reality: this month, Americans will get their first chance to buy cultivated meat in a restaurant. But how exactly do you get chicken nuggets, BLTs, and bluefin sashimi from a bunch of cells growing in large metal vats? Does this new cultivated meat taste any good? Can enough be grown to replace industrial meat? And, if so, is this new technology actually an improvement on industrial animal agriculture and fishing? Gastropod is on the case! Join us this episode as we sink our teeth into a whole lot of lab-grown lunches, uncover the science behind the sci-fi, and investigate whether the companies making cultivated meat can actually fulfill the lofty promises they make.

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The Incredible Egg (encore)

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 variety of colors, shapes, and sizes? Why are we stuck mostly eating chicken eggs, when our ancestors feasted on emu, ostrich, and guillemot eggs? This episode, we explore the science and history of eggs, from dinosaurs to double-yolkers! (encore episode)

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Good Shit: How Humanure Could Save Agriculture—and the Planet

For most of us, when we sit on the porcelain throne to drop the deuce, priority number one is flushing and never having to think about it again. But it might be time to rethink our stink: all around the world, people are talking about using human waste for good, applying it as fertilizer to grow our food instead of just washing it down the miles of pipes that undergird urban sewage systems. "Ew" is a common response, along with "yuck!" Is using poop to grow food a good idea—or even safe? We’re getting our shit together to find out! On this episode of Gastropod, how human waste went from being so valuable you could go to jail for stealing it, to causing such a stench it shut down Parliament in Victorian London and led to the invention of the modern sewage system—and why figuring out how to start saving our poop (and pee!) once again could give us cleaner energy, healthier waterways, and lots of delicious food. Listen in now: if you like to eat, it's time to start giving a crap about your crap.

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Gettin' Fizzy With It (Encore)

'Tis the season for a refreshing glass of bubbly—but this episode we're not talking wine, we're talking seltzer. America is in the throes of a serious seltzer craze, with consumption of the bubbly stuff doubling in only a decade, from 2004 to 2014. But where does seltzer come from, and why is it called "seltzer," rather than simply "sparkling water"? Is there any truth to the rumors that seltzer can combat indigestion—or that it will rot our teeth? Why are all the hipsters crushing cans of LaCroix, and what's the story behind Polar's ephemeral sensation, Unicorn Kisses? (Encore presentation)

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Who's Eating Who: Pineapples and You

What was the hottest accessory for late 1600s European dining rooms? The pineapple! Explorers had recently brought this spiky tropical fruit over from the Americas, and in short order it became the Gucci purse of its day—so exciting and desirable that it not only commanded big bucks, but led to a sort of gardening arms race to figure out how they might be grown in chilly northern Europe. In this episode, we get to the core of how this "king of fruit" inspired obsession and invention—plus, we head back to Hawai'i to learn how it transformed the islands, and, in the process, was itself transformed from an exotic rarity to a pantry-staple topping for pizza and cottage cheese. If you like piña coladas and fruits that can dissolve your skin, join us for all of the juicy details!

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You've Lost That Hungry Feeling

Whether it's via TikTok or the morning news, you’ve probably heard the recent hype (and hand-wringing) about new prescription weight-loss medications with names like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro. These drugs were originally developed to treat diabetes, but, in some patients, they've had a surprising side effect: they seem to silence feelings of hunger, leading to significant weight loss. This episode, Gastropod goes behind the headlines to ask: What is hunger, anyway? And what do we know about how to switch it on or off? Join us for a story that involves lizard saliva, synthesizer shopping, and a disorder that can lead people to eat until their stomachs burst, as we explore these universal feelings—hunger and fullness—that shape our lives, and bookend every meal.

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Fish & Chips: Uncovering the Forgotten Jewish and Belgian Origins of the Iconic British Dish

Fish & chips: a golden hunk of battered cod, accompanied by thick-cut French fries, lightly sprinkled with malt vinegar, and wrapped up in a newspaper.... It's as British as cricket, cream teas, the class system, and colonialism, but it's actually the relatively recent marriage of a Jewish fish-frying tradition and a Franco-Belgian potato snack. What's more, in something of a twist, the fish itself—cod, a burly bottom-feeder with tender, flaky white flesh—ended up helping fuel U.S. independence. This episode, we're telling the peculiar story of how two non-British foods became such a quintessentially British dish—and how our appetites transformed international relations, as well as an entire ocean ecosystem.

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What Connects Bones, Bird Poop, and Toxic Green Slime? Hint: Without It, Half of Us Wouldn't Be Alive Today

It’s the 13th element on the periodic table, it glows in the dark, and it spontaneously combusts if it gets any hotter than 80 degrees Fahrenheit; little surprise, then, that phosphorus is known as “the devil’s element.” But this satanic substance is also essential to all life on earth, which is why it's a key ingredient in fertilizer—without which, researchers estimate, we could only grow enough food for half as many humans as are alive today. The incredible crop-growing powers of phosphorus have led humans to do some pretty extreme things to get it—from seizing Pacific islands to scavenging bones from Europe’s most famous battlefields—but they’ve also created a devilish paradox. The world is running out of phosphorus, and yet there’s way too much of it running off farm fields into rivers, lakes, and oceans, where it fuels toxic algae blooms. This episode, we've got the story behind the phosphorus paradox, as we ask: is there any way to fertilize the planet without sending it to hell?

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All the Feels: How Texture Makes Taste

The squish of bananas, the squeak of mushrooms, the pop of a grape: for some people, these textures are a delight—but for others, they’re a total nightmare. Texture plays a huge role in how we experience food, and yet it’s kind of a scientific conundrum. Why do people—and entire cultures—experience the feeling of food differently, and what’s going on in our mouths when we do? To find out, we talk to scientists who've experimented with tooth-mounted microphones, tongue twists modeled after pro swimmers, and all-you-can-eat buffets. Plus, we go on a New York City Q adventure (mochi doughnuts and boba tea!), and hear from lots of you listeners about the feelings that make you squirm and swoon. Join us this episode and get up in your mouthfeels.

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The Fruit that Could Save the World

Can bread really grow on trees? This episode, meet the all-star, super productive, low-maintenance, gluten-free carbohydrate of the future. Did we mention it's also delicious? How can one fruit—that's also a vegetable and a staple starch—become chips, crackers, and cheesecake, while also serving as the perfect platform for sour cream and cheese when baked like a potato? And, if it's so great, why in the world did the mutineers on HMS Bounty throw its seedlings overboard? Today, believers say this one tree could be a potential solution to climate change, deforestation, food insecurity, and world hunger. Join us as we taste this wonder fruit for ourselves, and find out whether the hype is real. Can breadfruit really help save the world?

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Meet Taro, the Poke Bowl's Missing Secret Ingredient

When Polynesians first arrived in Hawai'i some 1,500 years ago, they found islands that were lush, beautiful...and nearly devoid of anything to eat. Luckily, those sailors had packed a very special snack for their 2,500-mile voyage: a starchy, carbohydrate-rich root called taro, which ended up becoming as essential to the isolated Pacific archipelago as rice or wheat elsewhere. It was the original partner to cubed fish in Hawai'i's traditional poke bowl—which today has become super popular (minus the taro) around the world. Join us on a tropical adventure as we discover why this revered plant nearly died out on Hawai'i, even as it popped up in chip form at Whole Foods, and what it might take to bring it back.

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Always Coca-Cola: Coca, Kola, and the *Real* Secret Formula

Coca-Cola's red and white logo is so iconic that supposedly nine out of every ten people on Earth know it on sight. Nearly two billion servings of Coke are sold a day, enough for one out of every four people on the planet. Yet while a glimpse of a billboard or bottle might start you humming one of their catchy jingles, this legendary brand was actually created by a morphine-addicted, down-on-his-luck pharmacist desperate for a big break. In fact, the first Coca-Cola product was actually a knockoff of the Pope's favorite drink, a concoction featuring red wine and cocaine. So how did Coke transcend its dubious origins to become one of the world’s biggest companies, not to mention a globally recognized symbol of all things American? It’s a story that involves Sigmund Freud, US military assistance, international drug treaty loopholes, and a New Jersey facility that extracts and burns piles of cocaine (yes, really, cocaine!) just miles from Manhattan. Gastropod’s here with Coca-Cola’s real secret formula for success, and we didn’t even need to break into their vault to get it.

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Here Comes Truffle

This episode, join us on a hunt for buried treasure at a super-secret location in North Carolina. We follow a million-dollar dog wearing adorable slippers, and then get down on our knees, butts in the air and noses in the dirt, on the trail of a fungus that drives both pigs and people wild. The smell's been described many different ways—cheesy, earthy, garlicky, even sweaty—but there’s only one thing in nature that can make it: truffles. So, how did this knobbly, brown, potato-shaped fungus come to be one of the world's most expensive foods—and is there any science behind its reputation as an aphrodisiac? Listen in this episode as we get down and dirty hunting truffles, exposing truffle fraud, and getting the scoop on one of the world's oldest and most equal partnerships. Just what you wanted for Valentine’s Day!

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Museums and the Mafia: The Secret History of Citrus (encore)

A slice of lime in your cocktail, a lunchbox clementine, or a glass of OJ at breakfast: citrus is so common today that most of us have at least one lurking on the kitchen counter or in the back of the fridge. But don't be fooled: not only were these fruits so precious that they inspired both museums and the Mafia, they are also under attack by an incurable immune disease that is decimating citrus harvests around the world. Join us on a historical and scientific adventure, starting with a visit to the ark of citrus—a magical grove in California that contains hundreds of varieties you've never heard of, from the rose-scented yellow goo of a bael fruit to the Pop Rocks-sensation of a caviar lime. You'll see that lemon you're about to squeeze in a whole new light. (This is an encore presentation.)


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The End of the Calorie (encore)

For most of us, the calorie is just a number on the back of the packet or on the display at the gym. But what is it, exactly? And how did we end up with this one unit with which to measure our food? Is a calorie the same no matter what type of food it comes from? And is one calorie for you exactly the same as one calorie for me? To find out, we visit the special rooms scientists use to measure how many calories we burn, and the labs where researchers are discovering that the calorie is broken. And we pose the question: If not the calorie, then what? (This is an encore presentation.)

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Champagne Wishes: The Tastes of Celebration

We pop it at weddings and pour it for the holidays, gift it to congratulate and sip it to celebrate—but, if we're being honest, Gastropod will seize any occasion to drink champagne. In the second episode of our two-part miniseries on the tastes of celebration, we tell the story of how this sparkling wine went from an unwelcome accident—winemakers considered fizz a flaw!—to a global brand associated with quality, luxury, celebrity, and, above all, fun. Along the way, we explore the science behind the bubbles, get to the bottom of the difference between prosecco, pét-nat, and Perrier-Jouët, and tell the stories of the original Dom Perignon and Veuve Cliquot. Join us now for all that, plus the answer to the question we all secretly wonder: Is champagne really worth the big bucks? Cheers!

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Caviar Dreams: The Tastes of Celebration

Yachts, private jets, caviar, champagne—all standard ingredients in the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But, every so often, at parties and special occasions, we mere mortals get to live large and enjoy fancy fish eggs and fizz, too. In this first episode of our two-part miniseries on the foods of celebration, Gastropod explores how something that Russian peasants ate as a form of religious penance became one of the world's most expensive foods. Join us this holiday season as we get up close and personal with the source of caviar by giving a sturgeon an ultrasound, and tell the story of the long-lost town of Caviar, New Jersey. Get out your mother-of-pearl spoon and dive in!

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What Is Native American Cuisine? (Encore)

Pasta, sushi, tacos, samosas, and pad thai: In the U.S., enthusiastic eaters will likely be able to name traditional dishes from a wide variety of cuisines around the world. But most of us couldn't name a single Native American dish from any one the vast network of tribes, cultures, and cuisines that spread across the U.S. before Europeans arrived. Today, farmers, activists, and chefs are trying to change that. They're bringing back Native foods—not just to teach all Americans about the indigenous foods of their country, but to improve the lives of Native Americans themselves, who suffer from some of the highest levels of debilitating and often deadly diet-related diseases. Can a return to a Native diet help?

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That Old Chestnut: A Nutty Tale, of Love, Loss, and Reconnection

Just a little over a hundred years ago, eastern forests were studded with what was called "America's perfect tree": 100-foot giants with straight-grained, rot-resistant wood, which filled the woods every fall with delicious, nutritious nuts. This nut—the American chestnut—was a staple in the diet and culture of Indigenous peoples, local wildlife, and colonial Americans. Then, in the early 1900s, disaster struck: a deadly and seemingly unstoppable disease moved in and made the species functionally extinct. But Americans haven’t given up on the chestnut; there’s a movement today to bring back this iconic tree using a variety of ingenious approaches. So what will it take to return the “redwood of the East” to our forests—and its sweet, buttery nut to our plates? Join us this episode as we take a frolic through the chestnut’s forgotten history and the science underpinning its potential return, as well as visit a farm growing hybrid American chestnuts to taste for ourselves why they once drove Americans wild—and might soon do so again.

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Prescription Dinner: Can Meals Be Medicine?

We've all heard that what you eat affects your health—but doctors prescribing dinner? It's real: Medically tailored meals are specifically designed to treat conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, and heart disease, as well nourish people going through chemotherapy and radiation. Today, in a handful of places around the US, eligible patients can receive them for free, prescribed by their medical provider and reimbursed by their health insurance. There's even legislation in Congress that would roll this program out nationwide. This episode, Gastropod investigates: how do medically tailored meals work? From the science of how nutritionally designed dinners can affect disease progression, to the economics behind why it makes sense for taxpayers and insurers to invest in food, to the tricky logistics of bringing prescription meals to the masses, listen in now for the scoop on one of the biggest stories in healthcare.

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Trouble in Paradise: Coconut War Waters and Coconut Oil Controversies

Whether enrobed with chocolate in a candy bar or sucked up through a straw on the beach, coconut has become shorthand for the good life: clear blue waters, white sand beaches, and an ocean breeze. But it’s not just a tropical treat. All around the world, people who live alongside the coconut palm refer to it as the “tree of life,” thanks to its ability to provide food, oil, fresh water, and the sturdy raw materials to build homes, clothes, and even musical instruments—all from one plant. But can this delicious, Swiss Army-knife of a nut (that's not technically a nut) also prevent heart disease, clean your teeth, and even stave off Alzheimer's? This episode, Gastropod cracks open what makes coconuts so great, including their role as everything from a Presidential lifesaver to the missing ingredient in nuclear fusion. We've also got the backstabbing battle that made coconut water popular, and the science on all of that Paleo coconut oil hype. Plus, we take on our toughest field assignment yet: traveling to a tropical island to taste the fruit of the tree of life ourselves—if we can just figure out how to get it open...

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Does the Western Megadrought Mean the End of Cheap Cheese and Ice Cream?

Imagine a summer's day without the jingle of the ice-cream truck, a pizza without its bubbling layer of melted cheesy goodness, or even a bowl of cereal without milk. It’s a shocking prospect, for sure, but the threat to these delights is perhaps even more surprising: The fact that Americans enjoy more than three times their body-weight in dairy products each year is, in no small part, due to a water-hungry plant that’s frequently, if counterintuitively, grown in the desert. That plant is alfalfa, and it makes up at least half of the diet of dairy cows all over the world. So why are we growing alfalfa in the arid American Southwest, and watering it from the Colorado River—both of which, as you may have heard on the news, are becoming drier with every passing day? To find out, Gastropod went on a good old-fashioned road trip for some field reporting (literally, in an alfalfa field) and talked to farmers, economists, plant experts, journalists, and exporters about where this surprisingly important plant fits in to a warming world—and how we can prevent a future lacking in lactose without also drying up the West.

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Lunch Gets Schooled (encore)

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 decades of processed meals that contained little in the way of nutrition and flavor. But how did we get to trays of spongy pizza and freezer-burned tater tots in the first place? While it seems as if such culinary delights were always part of a child's day, the school lunch is barely a century old—and there are plenty of countries in the world, like Canada and Norway, where school lunch doesn't even exist. This episode, we dive into the history of how we got to today's school lunch situation, as well as what it tells us about our economic and gender priorities. Listen in now for all that, plus the science on whether school lunch even matters. (encore)

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What Do Aliens Eat? Food in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Whether you’re an adorable, candy-loving alien, a lost hobbit, a Federation starship captain, or the King in the North, you still need to eat. This episode, Gastropod is exploring the weird and wonderful world of food in science fiction and fantasy, from well-loved standards like Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings, to modern favorites like The Expanse, and all of the esoteric cult classics (parasitic frozen desserts, anyone?) in between. We talk to some of our favorite writers about how food helps them build worlds both foreign and familiar, chat with a legendary Hollywood food stylist to see how she brings stomach-turning Klingon meals and peacock-laden fantasy feasts to life on screen, and catch up with some of our listeners about the imagined tastes they’ll never forget. Fire up the replicator, pour yourself a glass of blue milk, and enjoy a bite of Lembas bread as you join us at this buffet of imaginary foods.

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Guest Episode: The Umami Mama by Unexplainable

Gastropod is excited to present this guest episode of Unexplainable. For thousands of years, there have been four basic tastes recognized across cultures. But thanks to Kumiko Ninomiya (a.k.a. the Umami Mama), scientists finally accepted a fifth. So could there be even more?

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Gut Feeling

Do you get butterflies in your stomach when you’re excited? Feel nauseated when you’re nervous? Get a knot in your gut when you're worried something bad is going to happen? Then you’ve experienced what’s called the gut-brain axis: a powerful connection between your brain and your stomach. And, if you’ve been on wellness social media over the last few years, you’ve probably heard that you can hijack this connection to help heal a whole host of mental illnesses, from taking probiotics for PTSD to treating depression with diet. But how much of this is science, and how much is modern-day snake oil? With the help of gastroenterologists, psychologists, and yes, the U.S. military, Gastropod is here to investigate! The answer involves prescription kefir, a trip to an Army base to play video games, and the trials and tribulations of some very melancholy mice—not to mention lots and LOTS of microbes. Listen in for the scoop on how tweaking your gut microbes can change your mind. (But, for your own health, please don’t drink every time we mention our favorite topic during this episode!)

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Green Gold: Our Love Affair With Olive Oil (encore)

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. (Encore presentation)

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How Ketchup Got Thick

Ketchup is the crowd-pleaser of condiments—a ubiquitous accessory on dinner tables throughout the United States, and, increasingly, the world. But this kid-friendly classic actually has its roots in a much funkier food: fermented fish sauce! So how did the salty, pungent, amber-colored seasoning that gives Southeast Asian cuisine its characteristic flavor turn into a thick, red sauce typically found atop hamburgers and French fries? It's a saga that involves the fall of the Roman empire, eighteenth-century fish sauce knock-offs made from green walnuts and vinegar, and the marketing genius of one Henry J. Heinz. Listen in now for that story, plus the 1981 ketchup scandal that shook the Reagan White House, in our love song to ketchup's weird backstory and underrated culinary sophistication.

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Delivery Wars

Big tech is changing every aspect of our world. But how? And at what cost? Gastropod is excited to share the first episode of a special four-part Land of the Giants series, in which Recode teams up with Eater to unbox the evolving world of food delivery. Find out how the rise of investor-backed third-party delivery apps has dramatically changed consumer behavior, helped create a modern gig workforce, disrupted small businesses, and potentially changed our relationship with food forever. 

We need your help! We’re conducting an audience survey to hear from you. The information you share is important to help us keep making the podcast and, we hope, keep making it better! Head to Gastropod.com/survey to participate. We really appreciate it. 

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The Milk of Life

No matter what your diet’s like today, we all likely started life eating the same thing: breast milk, formula milk, or a bit of both. But both of these products aren’t always easy to come by. Breastfeeding can be difficult or impossible for some parents, and formula milk isn’t always safe, affordable, or even available — as we’re seeing in the US, where formula milk is currently 70 percent out-of-stock. This episode, we tell the story of how we got here, and we explore what we should we do to make feeding babies easier in the future. Along the way, we find out what makes human milk—or "white blood," as it perhaps should be known—so unique, as well as why Parisian attitudes to feeding infants in the 1800s made it known as a city with no children. We've also got the story of when formula was first invented, the dirty tricks used to market it, and the competing pressures and changing advice that have swung the pendulum from "breast is best" to formula and back again. Listen in for the story behind the news, the tale of our first and most essential food.


We need your help! We’re conducting an audience survey to hear from you. The information you share is important to help us keep making the podcast and, we hope, keep making it better! Head to Gastropod.com/survey to participate. We really appreciate it. 

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Poultry Power: The Fried Chicken Chronicles (encore)

Juicy, crispy, crunchy...fried chicken is undoubtedly delicious. But it's also complicated, in ways that go far deeper than the science behind that perfect crust. From slavery to entrepreneurship and from yard fowl to Gospel bird, the story of fried chicken is filled with challenging contradictions. Grab a drumstick and listen in. (Encore presentation.)


We need your help! We’re conducting an audience survey to hear from you. The information you share is important to help us keep making the podcast and, we hope, keep making it better! Head to Gastropod.com/survey to participate. We really appreciate it. 

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Guest episode: Montréal by Not Lost

Gastropod is excited to present this guest episode of Not Lost, called Montréal: Voyage Voyage. When both his popular culture podcast and long-term relationship come to an end, journalist Brendan Francis Newnam finds he has the time — and freedom — to pursue his dream: a travel podcast where he goes places and learns about them by getting invited to a stranger’s house for dinner. Not Lost is both a delightful travel escape and an insightful look at people — locals and visitors alike — trying to make sense of a constantly changing world. This episode, Brendan and his friend Danielle seek out the je ne sais quoi of the Québécois. Along the way, they learn about the Quiet Revolution, French-Canadian celebrity mags, and local pastries known as “nun’s farts.”

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Reinventing the Eel

Aristotle thought they were born out of mud. A young Sigmund Freud dedicated himself to finding their testicles (spoiler alert, he failed). And a legendary Danish marine biologist spent 18 years and his wife's fortune sailing around the Atlantic Ocean to find their birthplace. The creature that tormented all of these great thinkers? It was the eel, perhaps the most mysterious fish in the world—and one of the most expensive per pound. So why are tiny, transparent, worm-like baby eels worth so much? Why have eels remained so mysterious, despite scientists' best efforts? And how has one pioneering farmer in Maine started raising eels sustainably, despite the species' endangered status? All that this episode, plus a nighttime fishing trip, suitcases full of cash, and a compelling argument that when it comes to the American Thanksgiving dinner plate, we should consider ditching the turkey—and replacing it with eel.

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Monsanto or MonSatan? How—and Why—a St. Louis Startup Became a Hated Herbicide Giant

A chemical that kills the plants you don’t want—weeds—and keeps the plants you do—food!—seems kind of like magic. After all, weeds are the bane of farmers' lives, causing tens of billions of dollars in lost yield every year. So why is the world's largest herbicide company, Monsanto, so unpopular that it's been referred to as MonSatan? How harmful are today's herbicides for us humans, and for the environments they're seeping into? And do we need weedkillers to feed the world? In part two of our three-part series on weeds, we take on the big questions around this “bad seed” of the farming world—and the fascinating story behind the scrappy St. Louis startup that hooked the world on herbicides.

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The Way the Cookie Crumbles

If you’ve baked up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, enjoyed a nice cup of tea and biscuits, or somehow scarfed a sleeve of Oreos, you will know that cookies—or biscuits, as they were known for most of their existence, and still are in much of the Anglophone world—are one of humanity's greatest inventions. But you probably won't know that they started their illustrious career, more than four thousand years ago, as a kind of beer bouillon cube! This episode, we explore how this food of soldiers and sailors was transformed as it spread all over the world, fueling trade and empire, becoming the world's first industrial food, and shaping culture and language along the way. Featuring cookies as preventative medicine, the biscuit feud that followed the Oreo, and the true story of where the chocolate chip cookie really came from—you'll want to pour yourself a nice tall glass of milk for this one! Or, you know, put on the kettle for a cuppa...

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Black Gold: The Future of Food...We Throw Away

For a few weeks in 1987, trash was temporarily headline news: a barge filled with waste that would no longer fit in New York City's overflowing landfills spent months wandering up and down the East Coast with nowhere to dump its smelly, rotting cargo. The trash barge's travels triggered a long overdue public rethink of the wisdom of sending all of our waste to landfills—including food. But fast forward more than thirty years, and food still takes up more space in American landfills than anything else. About 30 to 40 percent of food produced in the US gets thrown away, rather than eaten. What's more, putting all that rotting food inside landfills produces a lot of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Our ancestors knew exactly what to do with food waste; the earliest descriptions of composting were written on clay tablets more than 4,000 years ago. So why didn't the GarBarge kick off a composting craze? And why is it so hard for us to keep food waste out of landfills? This episode, Gastropod visits the future of food waste: the high-tech facilities as well as the innovative policies that promise to keep our discarded food out of landfills, keep methane from escaping into the atmosphere, *and* turn those food scraps into something useful. Can a state the size of California really keep 75 percent of its food waste out of landfills, as it has pledged to do by 2025—and what will happen if it does? Listen in for compost blow-dryers, fruit-sticker bingo, and a lot of microbes!

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Gum's the Word: A Sticky Story

It’s sticky, it’s breath-freshening, and, according to the FDA, it’s technically food—this episode, we’re chewing on the science and history of gum! As it turns out, humans have been harvesting rubbery things to chew just for the chomp of it for thousands of years. But why? We're joined by anthropologists, archaeologists, gum scientists, and etiquette experts on our journey from the ancient birch tar-chewers of Scandinavia to the invention of modern-day, many-flavored bubblegum. How did an exiled Mexican president, a desperate Staten Island inventor, and a soap-selling runaway help gum go from something the Aztecs thought was only fit for children, the elderly, and prostitutes to a multi-billion dollar industry? Why did one country decide to ban gum altogether? And, with its popularity waning, is the gum-chewing bubble about to burst?


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Déjà-Brew: How Coffee Got Bad, Then Worse, and, Finally, Good Again

If you hopped in a time machine for a cup of coffee from a 17th-century London coffeehouse, you would probably be a bit disappointed by their stale, bitter brews. We told you the story of how coffee jumped from its native soil in Africa to achieve near-world domination in Grounds for Revolution, the first episode in our two-part series. This episode, tune in for the story behind how new technologies, over-the-top advertising, and a forgotten female coffee visionary helped coffee go from bad, to a little better, to downright terrible, before reaching today’s Nirvana of coffee choice and quality. After all, why is a recipe with just two ingredients so hard to get just right? For the answer, we explore the science of coffee brewing, roasting, and flavor, and meet the people who shaped humanity’s pursuit of the perfect cup. All that plus Frank Sinatra, unicorn Frappuccinos, and a whole latte more in our fresh-brewed episode.

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Grounds for Revolution: the Stimulating Story of How Coffee Shaped the World

About 400 years ago, a dark and mysterious stranger arrived in Europe and sent the jitters—really, shock waves—through society. That newcomer was the coffee bean, and it's hard to overstate its effects on the world. From its early days as a religious aid to its pivotal role in the founding of the London Stock Exchange, the first scientific society, and even one of the earliest forms of social media, this bitter brown beverage has democratized culture and sparked innovation, all while fueling capitalism and inequality. With the help of Gastropod's own founding godfather, Michael Pollan, as well as a crew of all-star historians, coffee growers, botanists, and coffee scientists, this episode we're telling the story of how coffee has changed everything it touched, from the humble workday to the fate of nations. This is the first of a two-part series on coffee, sponsored by Nespresso: listen now, and then come back in two weeks for the scientific secrets behind the perfect cup.

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The Fortune Cookie Quest

No dish of General Tso's, chow mein, or beef and broccoli is complete without a fortune cookie at the end. In fact, factories churn out an estimated *three billion* of these folded confections every year, mostly for the U.S. market. So how did fortune cookies become not just a quintessential part of Chinese takeout, but also an American cultural icon? This episode, we crack open the history of the fortune cookie to get at the conflicted origins—or, at the very least, the winning lottery numbers—hidden within. With the help of author Jennifer 8 Lee, we trace the origin of this oracular cookie back in time: from a court case pitting one set of cookie pioneers in San Francisco against their Angeleno rivals, all the way to the tiny town that may have started it all...a town that's (gasp!) not even in China! Your fortune today: listen carefully, and all will be revealed

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Guest Episode: Graveyard Cookies and Dollhouse Crimes

Gastropod is excited to present this guest episode—actually, two episodes—from the podcast Atlas Oscura: one all about the Spritz Cookie Gravestone and the other on the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths. Atlas Obscura is a daily celebration of the world’s most wondrous, unexpected, even strange places, from the largest organism on the planet to the world’s only museum dedicated entirely to microbes. Listen in now for a deliciously unexpected combination of recipes and graves, as well as to hear how a set of exquisite dollhouses in Baltimore, Md. shaped the field of criminal forensics.

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

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 expats will even pay hundreds of dollars for a single, air-freighted box of their favorite variety. But while the average red-skinned mango in the American grocery store is certainly pretty, they're disappointingly bland and crunchy. This episode, we embark on a mango quest to discover how a mango should taste, why the American mango lost its flavor, and how it might just get it back. This is a story that involves a dentist from New Jersey, George W. Bush, and some Harley Davidsons, as well as a full-on mango orgy—so listen in!

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Guest Episode: Scents and Sensibility

Gastropod is excited to present this guest episode of Outside/In called Scents and Sensibility. Once upon a time, potpourri was a popular way to freshen up a space. Now, for some, it feels a bit like the lava lamp of fragrance: an outdated fad from a bygone decade. Why was potpourri so popular in the 1980’s, and what happened to it? Did the trend dry up, or just evolve? In this episode, Outside/In explores the transformation of potpourri, from the fermented mush of the Victorian era to the perfumed and colorful bag of pine cones of the eighties, and talks to a few of the people still making potpourri today.

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Your Mystery Date

Allow us to indulge our inner aunties: We’ve set you up on a really hot date this episode—with one of nature’s sweetest fruits, the date! Adored by pleasure-seekers and paleo dieters alike, dates are a Christmas baking standby, and the first bite when breaking fast during Ramadan. These fudgy, caramelly, brown-buttery fruits are so important in their Arab homelands that they're known as the "bread of the desert" and thought to be the tree of life in the Garden of Eden story. We reveal why this episode, plus we've also got the story of how a Native American couple in Nevada may have saved the Medjool date for the world, as well as how California built an Orientalist fantasy around its burgeoning date industry, complete with Wild East shows, hoochie-coochie dances, and camel races. All that, as well as the squidgy, soft, and oh-so-sweet dates you've been missing out on—and why you might want to play the field a little in future, at least when it comes to dates.

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The Most Interesting Oil in the World

Here’s a little riddle for you: What’s all around you, but can’t be seen, smelled, or tasted? Hint: It’s in your Oreos, Nutella, instant noodles, dish soap, shampoo, lipstick, potato chips, pizza dough, packaged bread, chocolate bars, ice-cream, and biodiesel. The answer is ... palm oil, the hidden ingredient on just about every aisle of the grocery store. It's the most ubiquitous, most important, most interesting oil that most of us don't really know. But palm oil wasn’t always so big, or so anonymous—in its West African homeland, it’s a fragrant red oil traditionally used in cooking and ceremonies. So how did palm oil go global? What does it have to do with the European colonization of Africa, soap for grimy factory workers, Girl Scout cookies, and Alfred Nobel of Nobel Prize-fame? How has growing demand for all things palm oil driven deforestation and peat fires in Southeast Asia—and what can we do if we want to rethink our destructive palm oil addiction?

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Are Plant- and Fungus-Based Meats Really Better than the Real Thing?

Move over, beef: there’s a new burger in town. Plant-based meats are sizzling hot right now; in 2020 alone, the alternative meat industry saw a record $3.1 billion in investment, with 112 new plant-based brands launching in supermarkets. These juicy, savory, chewy fake burgers are a far cry from the dry, weird-tasting veggie patties of the past. This episode, we visit the Impossible Foods labs to swig some of the animal-free molecule that makes their meatless meat bleed, try fungal food start-up Meati's prototype "chicken" cutlet, and speak to the scientists and historians who can help us compare these new fake meats to their predecessors—and to real meat! Can a plant-based sausage roll be considered kosher or halal? Are plant-based meats actually better for you and for the environment? And how might a mysterious protein-powerhouse fungus named Rosita help feed the world?

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Guest Episode: The Doorbell by Nice Try!

This week we're bringing you an episode from Nice Try! Nice Try’s second season, Interior, is all about the lifestyle products that have been sold to us over and over, and the promises of self improvement they have made, kept, and broken. Their foray into the private utopia of the home starts with the doorbell.

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Balls *and* Brains: The Science and History of Offal

It’s pretty rare to find organ meat on the dinner table in most American households today, but 90 years ago, the earliest editions of The Joy of Cooking contained dozens of recipes for liver, sweetbreads, and even testicles. For much of history, offal (as organ meat is called) was considered the best part of the animal—so what happened? Why are brains banned in the UK and lungs illegal to sell in the US, and why are Scottish haggis-makers up in arms about it? And the question we’re sure you’ve all been pondering: What do testicles taste like?


With the help of Jonathan Reisman, author of the new book The Unseen Body: A Doctor's Journey Through the Hidden Wonders of the Human Anatomy, we explore how the vital functions of various animal organs affect their flavor and taste. Jon’s wife, Anna Wexler, also an academic and a writer, joins us to impart the wisdom she’s gained from years as a judge at the World Testicle Cooking Championship (aka Test Fest). We learn about the culinary history of offal from cookbook author Jennifer McLagan, and butcher Sam Garwin comes over to help us prepare up a massive organ meat feast: a Norwegian heart and lung pate (yes, we scored some lung!); a Georgian testicle stew; rabbit, chicken, and beef liver and onions; and breaded, fried lamb brains. Listen to find out which one we liked best, and which ones were just plain offal! (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)

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Trick or Treat: Soul Cakes, Candy Corn, and Sugar Skulls Galore!

If you live in the U.S., chances are, your first hint of fall isn’t a russet-colored leaf landing on the sidewalk—it’s the orange-wrappered candies taking over the aisles of your local grocery and convenience stores. Forget decorative gourds: it’s officially Halloween candy season! But how did a 2,000-year-old Celtic festival marking the sun's death and the beginning of winter morph into a family-friendly sugar-fest? With the help of Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman, historians and hosts of the Vox Media Podcast Network show Now & Then, we explore the surprisingly recent introduction of trick-or-treating, and the all-American invention of Halloween as the ultimate candy-permissive, religion-free Frankenholiday. Plus, why do so many cultures around the world celebrate deathy things at this time of year—and why do so many of them involve sugar? All this, plus a rigorous candy corn tasting bravely undertaken by your indefatigable hosts!

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Buried Treasure: Weeds, Seeds, and Zombies

If you’ve ever engaged in mortal combat with a patch of ragweed, dandelion, or crabgrass in your garden, you might understand the twin emotions of rage and begrudging admiration when it comes to weeds: They. Just. Won’t. Die. When it comes to commercial agriculture, weeds pose a more existential threat—globally, the proportion of our harvest that is lost to weed infiltration is enough to feed millions, and, even with advanced herbicides, weeds cost farmers in North America an estimated $33 billion in lost yield each year. No matter what we throw at them, weeds just seem to get stronger. This episode, we follow a group of scientists along on a 149-year-old quest to see just how long weeds can survive—and, along the way, figure out what we can learn from weeds, what we really ought to thank them for, and what is a weed, anyhow? Listen in now for zombie seeds, a midnight treasure hunt, and the wild ways that weeds have outwitted us for millennia.

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The Barrel That Could Save A Forest

Bourbon has to be aged in barrels, by law; whiskey usually spends years in barrels, by custom; and between 20-30 percent of wine spends some time in one. And almost all of those wooden vessels are made from just two kinds of tree: American white oak and French oak. This episode, we tell the story—and try the whiskey—of the distiller and the barrel-maker who, together, are figuring out how to use the huge, elegant, native oak of the Pacific Northwest to create new flavor, and, in the process, restore an ecosystem that has nearly vanished. Along the way, we figure out the science behind how a barrel affects the taste of what you sip, and we trace the trajectory of barrels from their pinnacle, as the go-to container for everything from fish to petroleum, to their current niche status. Finally, we explore why oak became the default wood for barrel-making—and meet the coopers experimenting with different woods, and an entirely new flavor universe for booze.

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Tofu for You: Meet the Cult Leader, the Spy, and the Pioneering Woman Chinese Doctor Who Brought Tofu to the West

For a lot of Americans, tofu conjures up images of bland, squishy cubes: a sorry alternative to meat. Even in Asia, where tofu was born, the soybean was initially seen as unappetizing, not to mention flatulence inducing. This episode, we tell the story of how people in what's now northeastern China figured out how to turn this legume of last resort into an array of nutritious, delicious foods, from slippery beancurd skins to silken puddings, and chewy soy crumbles to funky, fermented hairy tofu. Then we introduce the parade of unlikely figures—including Ben Franklin and a 1970s acid casualty who believed he could communicate telepathically with animals—who finally brought this "soybean cheese" to the Western masses. And, finally, we meet the twenty-first century immigrant entrepreneur trying to rebrand tofu from virtuous but boring into something much more delicious and desirable. Listen in now for all that plus Camembert tofu, anarchist zines, and the curious origins of that Thanksgiving favorite, Tofurkey.

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The Great Gastropod Pudding Off (encore)

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.” 

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It's All Going to Pot: the Science and Economics of Edibles

If you thought it was high time for us to get into the weeds with cannabis science and economics, then you’re in the right place: Welcome back to part two of our miniseries on cannabis edibles! This episode, we meet with leading cannabis researcher Adie Rae to figure out the biology behind the difference between inhaling and eating weed, as well as what we do and don't know about the potential health benefits and harms of cannabis. Can THC help you sleep? Is all this trendy CBD-infused everything on supermarket shelves actually doing anything? All that, plus we get into the surprising challenges facing a business that is still federally illegal, and talk to the entrepreneurs, farmers, and lawyers who are helping craft policy to make sure this new green gold rush benefits the communities most harmed by cannabis prohibition. And, of course, there's the biggest question of all: Will Cynthia get high for the first time ever? Listen in to find out!

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Baked: How Pot Brownies and Pate de Fruits Fueled an Edible Cannabis Revolution

Edible cannabis products are hot right now: Snoop's got some, Willie Nelson's got some—even Martha Stewart's making fancy French-style gummies. In states where it’s legal, you can buy everything from marshmallows to macarons, all laden with THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. This commercial boom may be recent, but the history of edibles goes way, way back to the origins of the plant thousands of years ago in the Himalayas—in fact, people were eating (and drinking) cannabis long before they were inhaling it. So when did cannabis start being smoked instead—and how did it find itself not only banned, but classified as more dangerous than both opium and meth? With the help of the woman whose family ran America's first edibles empire, we also discover why the pot brownie is America’s quintessential edible, and how this humble, slightly mulchy baked good helped make weed legal again. Plus: How today's cannabis chefs are upping the ante and taking weed recipes to new—ahem—highs (please allow us just this one pun).

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The Bottle vs. Tap Battle Finale: Alkaline H2O, Lead Pipes, and, Yes, Water Sommeliers

As promised, it's time for the final splashdown in the battle of bottled vs. tap water. When we left off last episode, bottled water had staged a miraculous comeback thanks to Nike, yuppies, and Orson Welles. Today, it's America's favorite liquid refreshment: we buy more bottled water by volume than any other packaged beverage, even though you can get its less glamorous cousin, tap, delivered directly to your home for mere pennies. So, is bottled water somehow better than tap? Is it safer, or even just nicer tasting? This episode, we dive into the science behind the taste of water (spoiler: it has to do with spit) and explore the fine art of bottled water appreciation, before sharing the secret to making your own DIY Pellegrino. Meanwhile, we've all heard the water horror story unfolding in Flint, Michigan: should we be worried about lead or other chemicals in our tap water—or in the bottles on grocery store shelves? All that, plus our very own water taste test, as we declare the ultimate victor in this war of the waters.

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Bottled Vs. Tap: The Battle to Quench Our Thirst

Today, bottled water is ubiquitous and cheap: every single second of every single day, more than a thousand people buy and drink a plastic bottle of water in the U.S.. But it wasn’t always so. In this episode, we trace a centuries-old power struggle as bottled water went from hip to lame to hot again. Why did doctors prescribe the waters from specific springs for everything from hemorrhoids to hypochondria, and how did whaling ships and a golf course help kick off the first bottled water frenzy in America? How did a swimming pool chemical help tap water fight back, and what did Nike, yuppies, and Orson Welles have to do with bottled water's reincarnation from the dead? And what's up with all these oxygen- or electrolyte-enhanced, alkaline, and even magical waters on supermarket shelves today? Listen in now for the first in our two-part deep dive into this battle of the ages: bottled vs. tap. We'll be back in a week with part two, including the science behind the taste of water, the specialist sommeliers who pair water and food, and the secret to making DIY Pellegrino at home.

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Chocpocalypse Now! Quarantine and the Future of Food

We’ve dropped hints and left clues—and now, at long last, Gastropod’s very own Nicola Twilley has published her first book! Co-written with her husband Geoff Manaugh, Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine is a captivating chronicle of quarantine across time, space, and species (and yes, they started writing the book long before 2020). Just for you, dear Gastropod listeners, we have a special episode in which, for the first time ever, your intrepid hosts sit on opposite sides of the (virtual) table, as Cynthia interviews Nicky and Geoff about the quarantines that protect our food. Why do 75 billion bees get stopped in the dusty California desert every spring, and why does every single cacao plant that gets shipped around the world have to pass through one town in England? What are sentinel plots, and how are they protecting our wheat supply? And why on earth did Nicky and Geoff get naked, put on Crocs and Tyvek suits, and burn their notes on a reporting trip? All this, plus a video game for quarantine inspectors, in your feeds now! Quarantine: boring to live through, fascinating to listen to—and read about!

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Guest Episode: Immune Boosting, Is It a Bust? | Science Vs

Internet influencers have been pushing “immune boosters” during the pandemic — claiming they’ve got just the pill, berry, or brew to rev up our body’s defenses. But is there really a way to boost our immune system? Science Vs is finding out whether these vitamins and supplements truly work as a shield against colds and viruses. Science Vs takes on fads, trends, and the opinionated mob to find out what's fact, what's not, and what's somewhere in between. 

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Guest Episode: How Much Water Do You Actually Need a Day?

Guest Episode: Body Stuff with Dr. Jen Gunter. Think you know how your body works? Think again! Dr. Jen Gunter is here to shake up everything you thought you knew — from how much water you need to drink to how often you need to poop and everything in between. Join us weekly for this TED original series that will tell you the truth about what's *really* going on inside you. This episode: You know the old rule that you need to drink eight glasses of water every day? It's simply a myth, says Dr. Gunter. She explains the amazing way your kidneys keep your system in balance — and how you can really tell if you're dehydrated. Want to hear more from Dr. Gunter? Check out her podcast Body Stuff, from the TED Audio Collective.

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First Class Fare

Like most people around the world, you probably didn’t do much flying this past year. Maybe you miss the bustle of airports and the joy of seeing friends in far-off places—but chances are, you probably don’t miss the food handed out on planes: those sad little tinfoil-covered trays of rubbery chicken breasts, tired lettuce, and frozen cherry tomatoes. They’re a far cry from airline meals decades ago, in the golden age of flying, when lobster thermidor and rack of lamb were served on real china. So what happened? How did a zany Henry VIII look-alike revolutionize airline food, and why were stewardesses serving flaming cherries jubilee onboard? What does the tradition of serving nuts on a flight have to do with NASA? How does sitting in the pressurized cabin of a plane roaring 36,000 feet above sea level affect our taste buds, and how are airlines trying to use sensory science to make food taste better? Plus: A grisly tale to explain why both pilots can never eat the same meal! Buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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Guest Episode: How To Save a Planet

Guest Episode: Does climate change freak you out? Want to know what we, collectively, can do about it? Us too. How to Save a Planet is a podcast that asks the big questions: what do we need to do to solve the climate crisis, and how do we get it done? Join us, journalist Alex Blumberg and scientist and policy nerd Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, as we scour the Earth for solutions, talk to people who are making a difference, ask hard questions, crack dumb jokes and — episode by episode — figure out how to build the future we want.

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You're Wrong About Prohibition

For most of us, Prohibition seems like a peculiar American experiment—a doomed attempt by straight-laced religious conservatives to ban alcohol, and, with it, fun. But as it turns out, we've got it all wrong: Prohibition was actually a progressive struggle that united powerless and oppressed people around the world—Leo Tolstoy, Frederick Douglass, Mahatma Gandhi, and Chief Little Turtle, among others—against a system designed to exploit them. Listen in now as historian Mark Schrad reveals the real reasons that Prohibition became "the most popular, most influential, and longest-lived international social-reform movement in the history of the world"—and historian Lisa Lindquist-Dorr tells us about the rum-runners, Cuban entrepreneurs, and corrupt judges who kept booze flowing during those dry years.

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So Hot Right Now: Why We Love the Chile Pepper

Perhaps no other plant is as entwined with pain and pleasure as the chile pepper. But why does it burn—and why on earth do we crave that uncomfortable sensation? How did capsaicin's fungus-fighting, digestion-enhancing, and adrenaline-triggering powers convince early hunter gatherers in South America to fall in love with the chile's tiny berry ancestors, and then European colonists to spread chiles around the world? Plus, new insights into the rise of the “superhots,” chilehead competitions, and a murder-by-Carolina-Reaper attempt right here on team Gastropod. Who survived to tell the tale? Listen in to find out!

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Easy A: The SuperRad Story of Home Economics

If you grew up in the U.S., you might remember home economics class as the source of deflated muffins and horrifically distorted sewing projects. You might, like Jonah Hill’s character in Superbad, have thought of home ec as “a joke” that everyone takes “to get an A.” But it wasn’t always so—and, in fact, the field of home economics began as a surprisingly radical endeavor. This episode, we talk with Danielle Dreilinger, author of the new book The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live. How did women a century ago use home economics as a backdoor to build careers as scientists? How did home ec trailblazers electrify rural towns, design the modern kitchen, and create the first nutritional guidelines? And what does Sputnik have to do with the field's decline? Can today's home ec once again meet the lofty goals set by its founders?

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Where There's Smoke, There's ... Whiskey, Fish, and Barbecue!

As anyone who’s spent time by a crackling campfire or a barbecue pit can attest, the scent of smoke is unmistakable—and surprisingly mysterious. Smoke clings to clothing but vanishes in the breeze. You see it, but you can’t hold it. It’s fantastic in whiskey and terrible in toast. So what exactly is smoke—and what does it do to our food and drinks? What’s the difference between cold and hot smoked salmon—and what's a red herring? Is Liquid Smoke made from real smoke? And how did barbecue— smoked meat, cooked low and slow—become a uniquely American tradition?

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Phage Against the Machine

If you thought food poisoning was just a matter of the occasional stomach upset from a dodgy shrimp or two, the CDC has some unsettling numbers for you: foodborne bacteria is responsible for at least 48 million cases of illness, more than 130,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths a year in the U.S. alone. And those numbers aren't going down. But wait: a new fighter has entered the ring! Say hello to the bacteriophage, a small-but-mighty bacteria-busting virus that can wipe out entire colonies of harmful pathogens—and that is starting to be sprayed on packages of cold cuts near you. While most Americans haven’t heard of phages (as they’re commonly called), they’ve been saving lives in the former Soviet Union for decades now. So why has it taken so long for the U.S. to get on board? How do these teeny-tiny bacteria fighters work, and what’s their connection to Elizabeth Taylor and chlorinated chicken? Should we—and could we—get our food systems on the phage train?

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Guest Episode: Mission: ImPASTAble from The Sporkful

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Why Thai?

It’s hard to imagine the American restaurant landscape without Thai food: Tom yum and pad see ew are practically household names, and pad thai is the ultimate quarantine comfort food. (It's apparently zombie apocalypse comfort food, too, as shown on the Walking Dead.) According to the Thai Embassy, more than 50 percent of all Thai restaurants abroad are located in the United States and Canada. So why did the U.S.—and Los Angeles in particular—become the epicenter of Thai food’s global rise? How did Cold War politics and a shortage of ingredients lead to the creation of shrimp curry recipes made with anchovy paste and sour cream—as well as the jackfruit industry in Mexico? What does this all have to do with one street kid from Bangkok? Listen in now for these stories and more: it's a vacation for your tastebuds!

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Hot Tips

If you live in the United States, you’re familiar with a curious mathematical ritual that takes place at the end of every restaurant meal—it’s time to tip, with all the stress the process entails. How much should you leave? Who's getting that money? Is it enough? (And will you look like an idiot if you start counting on your fingers?) Unlike many other countries, where people tip by rounding up to the nearest ringgit or krona—or don’t even tip at all—it’s become standard in the U.S. to leave an extra 20 percent of the bill's total for your server. But how did we get here? How did tipping, a practice with roots in feudal Europe, become so ubiquitous in the United States while nearly disappearing from its home continent? And what does the abolition of slavery in the U.S.—and Herman Cain—have to do with the sub-minimum tipped wage of $2.13 today? Is tipping fair—and is there anything we can do about it?

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TV Dinners

Cue the dramatic music, it’s quiz time: Can you identify the people behind these catchphrases? “Yum-O!” “Pukka!” “Bam!” “Peace, love, and taco grease!” The answers are below—but if you’ve already caught on, then you’re well aware of how entrenched TV chefs are in mainstream pop culture. But how did a medium where you can’t actually smell or taste the food get so popular? What was the very first food TV show, and how has food TV changed—and changed us?

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The Brightest Bulb

Imagine, for a moment, a world without garlic: garlic-free garlic bread, tzatziki sans Allium sativum, a chili crisp defanged. If this sounds like the makings of a horror story to you, you’re not alone. Garlic consumption in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1980, and people around the world have been enjoying the stuff for thousands of years. But alliums smell like sulfur, and sulfur is something humans are born *not* liking—so why did we start adding garlic, onions, and their kin to our food? This episode, we join microbiologist Rob Dunn and food safety specialist Ben Chapman to follow along as they conduct the world's first experiment designed to figure out whether alliums started out as a food safety additive designed to keep our lamb stew safe for longer, and only later turned into a flavor we crave. Plus, why did the British government send garlic to the trenches in WWI? What do fetal sniffing, Egyptian fertility tests, Korean mythology, and the world’s first-recorded labor strike have to do with the stinking rose? Listen in now for all this and more!

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Like Water in the Desert

Over the past century, we've transformed the arid lands of the American west into year-round, well-irrigated agricultural powerhouses. Today, fruits, nuts, and nearly all of our leafy greens are grown in the desert, using water diverted, stored, and supplied at taxpayer expense. This intense irrigation is having an impact: Reservoir levels are dropping, rivers are drying up, and the state of Arizona is literally sinking. With the help of agroecologist Gary Nabhan, farmers Ramona and Terry Button, and others in the region, we ask the big questions: Should we be farming in the desert? What would a water-saving system even look like? And does a tiny bean that smells like desert rain hold the secret to survival in a hotter, drier world?

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The Magic Cube

You could call it the Swiss Army knife of the kitchen: bouillon is a handy ingredient, whether it comes as bottled brown gloop, or a cube wrapped up in shiny foil like a tiny present. Today, cooks around the world rely on this secret ingredient to add depth, flavor, and umami to their cooking. It wasn’t always so; like many of today’s packaged shortcuts, condensed bouillon got its start in the 1800s, when nutrition science was just taking off. How did the (mistaken) discoveries of a German chemist pave the way for these umami bombs—and what is umami anyway? How did bouillon brands like Maggi and Knorr become part of national dishes as far afield as Nigeria, India, and Mexico? And how did the invention of these early "essences of meat" lead to the creation of the love-it-or-hate-it spreads Marmite and Vegemite? Listen in now for all that, plus a matriarchal subterranean master race with electrical superpowers!

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The Big Apple Episode

There’s nothing more American than apple pie—or is there? We might prescribe an apple a day and call our largest city the Big Apple, but this legendary fruit originally hails from the mountains of Kazakhstan. This episode, Michael Pollan (something of a legend himself) tells us how apples become so important on the American frontier, and what cider (the alcoholic kind) had to do with it. We talk to apple fan Amy Traverso and apple detective Dan Bussey to figure out how many thousands of apple varieties used to grow in America, and why are there only a handful—including the notorious Red Delicious, which, while red, is far from delicious—in supermarkets today? All that, plus we get out in the orchard with Soham Bhatt to learn about the cider renaissance that's sweeping the nation.

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The Hangover: Part Gastropod

Morning fog. Gallon-distemper. Busthead. These are all names for alcohol's age-old after-party: the hangover. But, aside from being a physical (and painful) manifestation of regret, what exactly is a hangover? What's happening in our bodies—and specifically in our livers—and can science do anything about it?

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Snack Attack!

To snack or not to snack? And what counts as a snack, anyhow? Plus the great meal vs. snack smackdown: is grazing good, or does eating between meals lead to waistline expansion? We’re asking deep questions about not-so-substantial foods in this crispy, crunchy, and highly craveable episode. Along the way, we uncover snacking’s early connections to pirate’s booty, reveal which of your favorite snacks started their lives as cattle feed, and tell the shocking, true story of the woman who never snacks.

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This Spud's For You

Fried, roasted, mashed, steamed: it's hard to imagine life without the crispy, fluffy comfort blanket of potatoes. But until the late 1500s, no one outside the Americas had ever encountered this terrific tuber, and initially Europeans, particularly peasant farmers, didn't trust it at all. Or did they? This episode, we tell the story of the potato's rise to global dominance once it set sail from its native Andean home—and the stories behind that story! From tax evasion and population explosions to soup kitchens and potato bling, listen in now as Rebecca Earle, author of the new book, Feeding the People, helps us uncover the delightful myths and even more incredible true history of the spud.

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Moo-Dunnit: How Beef Replaced Bison on the American Plains—and Plate

Saddle up, folks: Today’s episode involves the cowboys' lullabies and meat riots that helped make beef an American birthright. With the help of Joshua Specht, author of Red Meat Republic, we tell the story of how and why the 30 million bison that roamed the Plains were replaced with 30 million cows. You'll never look at a Porterhouse steak—the first cut of beef invented in America—the same way again.

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What the Shell? Cracking the Lobster's Mysteries

Consider the lobster roll: tender chunks of lobster bathed in butter or mayo, sandwiched between two slices of a squishy bread roll… Have we caught your attention yet? Lobster is a summertime staple in New England, a fixture on casino and cruise ship buffets, and a steady partner for steak in the classic surf 'n' turf. Today, the American lobster industry is the single most valuable fishery in the country—but it wasn’t always so. This episode, we're cracking the lobster's many mysteries, including how it went from prison fare to fancy food. There's also the question of what lobster eyes have to do with both the International Space Station and the belief in Intelligent Design, plus the rollicking tale of why it took scientists so long to locate the lobster penis—and what makes lobster sex so, well, steamy? Listen in now for the lobster lore you never knew you needed to know!

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Guest Episode: Rocky Road with Science Diction

This episode, Gastropod is bringing you a guest: Science Diction, a bite-sized podcast about words, and the science stories behind them. They answer questions like: what does the word “meme” have to do with evolutionary biology? And why do we call it the Spanish flu when it wasn’t from Spain? Science Diction is doing a series on food words, and this episode is all about Rocky Road. Grab a spoon and enjoy! We’ll be back in just one week with our regularly scheduled Gastropod episode.

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Shatter-Proof: How Glass Took Over the Kitchen—and Ended Child Labor

Cheers! The lively clink of glass on glass is a must for any festive gathering, whether you’re sipping champagne in a flute or lemonade in a tumbler. We rely on glass in the kitchen—for baking perfectly browned pies, preserving jams and pickles, and so much more. But glass wasn’t always so cheap and ubiquitous: to ancient Egyptians and Romans, this was precious stuff—it was high fashion to own a clear wine goblet in ancient Rome. Later, Venetians so prized their glass know-how that they imprisoned their glassmakers on an island. So how did glass go from fragile and precious tabletop ornament to an oven-ready kitchen workhorse? How did the inventions of a glassmaker in Toledo, Ohio, transform the peanut butter and ketchup industries, as well as put an end to child labor? And are we running out of sand to make glass?

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The Most Dangerous Fruit in America

It's the epitome of summertime: there’s nothing like a cold, juicy slice of red watermelon on a swelteringly hot day. But, once upon a time, watermelons were neither red nor sweet—the wild watermelon has white flesh and a bitter taste. This episode, we scour Egyptian tombs, decaying DNA, and ancient literature in search of watermelon's origins. The quest for tasty watermelon continues into modern times, with the rediscovery of a lost (and legendarily sweet) varietal in South Carolina—and the Nigerian musical secret that might help you pick a ripe one. But the fruit's history has often been the opposite of sweet: watermelons have featured in some of the most ubiquitous anti-Black imagery in U.S. history. So how did the watermelon become the most dangerous—and racist—fruit in America?

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Dig for Victory

You’ve seen the news: vegetable seeds are selling out. All that quarantine ennui has combined with anxiety about the gaps on supermarket shelves to create a whole new population of city farmers in backyards and windowsills across America. And everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Forbes to CBS has dubbed these brand new beds of beets and broccoli "COVID-19 Victory Gardens." But what war is your pot of basil fighting? This episode, historian Anastasia Day helps us explore the history of urban gardening movements—and shatter some of the nostalgic myths about those original World War II-era Victory Gardens. One thing is true: in 1943, more than 43 percent of the fresh produce eaten by all Americans came from Victory Gardens. So, can a combination of vegetable patches, community gardens, and urban farms help feed cities today? Or is growing food in the city just a feel-good distraction from the bigger problems in our food system? And does the hype about high-tech vertical farms live up to environmental and economic reality? Listen in as farmers and activists Leah Penniman and Tepfirah Rushdan, food writer Tamar Haspel, and researchers Neil Mattson and Raychel Santo help us dig in to the science on urban agriculture, and harvest some answers—as well as a tomato or two.

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Shared Plates: How Eating Together Makes Us Human

We love eating dinner together with friends and extended family, and we miss it! But why does sharing a meal mean so much—and can we ever recreate that on Zoom? As we wait for the dinner parties, cookouts, and potlucks of our post-pandemic future, join us as we explore the science and history of communal dining. Scientist Ayelet Fishbach shares how and why eating together makes us better able to work together, and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar and archaeologist Brian Hayden demonstrate how it actually made us human—and led to everything from the common cow to the pyramids. Plus we join food writers Nichola Fletcher and Samin Nosrat for the largest in-person banquet of all time, with Parisian waiters on bicycles, as well as the world’s biggest online lasagna party.

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Pizza Pizza!

At last, an episode on pizza! But that raises a tricky question: what exactly is pizza? As it turns out, the original pizzas from eighteenth-century Naples looked nothing like a standard slice—they were more like a focaccia, topped with oil, herbs, anchovies, or whatever else was on hand. Even after these first pizzas met the tomato, the dish was a local peculiarity—most Italians thought pizza was gross and weird until just a few decades ago. So how did we get from Neapolitan subsistence snack to today's delivery staple? Listen in this episode as we travel with historian Carol Helstosky, author of Pizza: A Global History, and Francisco Migoya, head chef at Modernist Cuisine, from Italy to New York to Brazil and beyond, to tell the story of how pizza conquered the world. All that, plus the tough questions: is Chicago deep dish really pizza? How about bananas on top? What about (gasp) a donut pizza?

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Eating the Wild: Bushmeat, Game, and the Fuzzy Line Between Them

It's a safe bet that your recent media diet has included the words "wet market," "zoonotic disease," and "pangolin," as experts take a pause from discussing COVID-19's spread and impact to speculate on the virus's origins. This episode, we're digging into the larger story behind those words, that of our relationship to eating wild animals: how and why have our attitudes to wild meat shifted over time? Why is it that deer shot by a hunter in the U.S. is game, but monkey caught in the Democratic Republic of Congo is bushmeat? With the help of Gina Rae La Cerva, author of the new book, Feasting Wild, we explore what we gain and lose by eating wild, from the lost primeval forests of Europe to Robin Hood, and from smoked monkey to bird spit.

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Eating the Rainbow: Or, the Mystery of the Orange Oranges, the Red M&Ms, and the Blue Raspberry

From stripy fuchsia beets to unicorn doughnuts, the foods available today on grocery store shelves and in cafe displays are more brightly colored than ever. But this hasn't always been the case. This episode of Gastropod, we offer three stories that explore the colors of our cuisine: How did a food fight between Florida and California turn oranges (the fruit) that perfect bright orange (the color)? Why did US consumers freak out about the food dye Red #2, and what was the impact on our M&Ms? And finally, who invented the blue raspberry? All that, plus one very sexy indigo-hued blossom.

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A Tale To Warm The Cockles Of Your Heart

You might have heard of Molly Malone, selling cockles from a wheelbarrow in Dublin, or of Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, with her cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row—but the chances are most Gastropod listeners have never actually tasted a cockle. And, apparently, you're missing out! For the Native American tribes in the Puget Sound, where cockles used to be abundant, they're a treasured treat: meatier, sweeter, and richer-tasting than other shellfish. But they're also disappearing, and no one knows why—or how to save them. This episode, we join the team of intrepid marine biologists and tribal leaders on a mission to restore the cockle, on a journey that involves cockle viagra, a cockle vampire, and some carefully choreographed simultaneous spawning. Listen in now for a story of shellfish science and cultural history that will warm the cockles of your heart—and perhaps inspire the revival of other indigenous foods.

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White vs. Wheat: The Food Fight of the Centuries

White or whole wheat: while today the question is most frequently asked at the sandwich counter, the debate over the correct answer goes back literally thousands of years. In the past century, though, as white flour and thus white bread became more accessible, the debate became increasingly heated: "Science finds that white bread develops criminals,” reported newspapers in the 1920s, while anti-white bread activists at the time claimed that eating too many slices would causing blindness and facial deformity. But whole-wheat bashers had their retorts ready: "Whiteness and purity go hand in hand," proclaimed health writer Dr. Woods Hutchinson. "The whitest possible of white bread" is "not only much more appetizing, but ... more nutritious and more wholesome than any black, brown or brindled staff of life." White vs. wholewheat: this episode, we dive into the world's longest-running, highest-stakes food fight. Along the way: the invention of sliced bread, the science behind Wonder Bread's curious bounce, and a light dusting of eugenics. Listen in now as Aaron Bobrow-Strain, author of White Bread: A Social History of the Store-bought Loaf, unpacks the anxieties and values underlying the bread wars, while wheat breeder Steve Jones introduces us to the "approachable" loaf that he hopes will win the battle for once and for all.

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Licorice: A Dark and Salty Stranger

Licorice is a polarizing candy: there are those who pick out the black jelly beans, those who think Twizzlers are better than Red Vines, and those who won't travel without a supply of salty dark lozenges. The dark and chewy treat begins life as a plant root that is more than fifty times as sweet as sugar. This episode, we tell the story of how a traditional remedy become England's first branded candy, and we get to the bottom of a medical mystery (licorice poisoning!) in a tale that involves both Tutankhamun and Henry VIII. 

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To Fight Climate Change, Bank on Soil

Our glaciers are melting, our forests are on fire, our harvests are increasingly decimated by either floods and drought. We are in a climate emergency that threatens our very survival, and it is, frankly, incredibly depressing. But this episode, we’ve got the story of one of the most exciting, seemingly feasible efforts to reduce atmospheric carbon—by storing it in the soil. The solution involves refreshing beer, crusty bread, and sweet, crunchy broccoli—and a complete reinvention of modern agriculture, including domesticating entirely new crops. And the impact could be huge: because a third of Earth’s ice-free surface is farmland, scientists say that banking just a tiny bit more carbon beneath our fields would help remove billions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. Join us this episode on our quest to discover how switching to no-till, regenerative agriculture and breeding brand new perennial crops can help restock soil carbon, produce delicious grains and greens, and—maybe—save the world.

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Move Over Gin, We’ve Got Tonic Fever

Just a few decades ago, gin & tonics were considered rather stodgy and boring, the drink of suburbanites at the golf club. Today, the century-old drink is hot again. In part, that’s due to a boom in craft gin distilling—a ginaissance! But there’s also been a new wave of experimentation with gin’s life partner, tonic water. This episode, we focus on the tonic side of the equation. Which genius came up with the idea of combining quinine, a malaria drug, with soda water and sugar in order to create this refreshing beverage? How did the bark of a South American tree end up in everything from hair-restoring shampoo to cocktails? And is it true that the G&T began life as a pleasant way for the Anglo-Indian elite to take their anti-malarials? This episode, we take a sip of tonic’s history with Kim Walker and Mark Nesbitt, authors of the new book Just the Tonic: A Natural History of Tonic Water. Listen in for all that, plus beef-infused tonic wines, Aperol spritzes, and the gin & tonic’s true origin story. Cheers!

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The United States of McDonald’s

McDonald’s is mind-boggling. According to Adam Chandler, author of the recent book, Drive-Thru Dreams, it sells roughly 75 burgers every second and serves 68 million people every day—equivalent to 1 percent of the entire world’s population. “The golden arches are thought to be, according to an independent survey, more recognizable as a symbol than the Christian cross is around the world,” Chandler told us. This episode, we tell the story of McDonald’s—but more importantly, we explore what it has to say about who we are. To do that, we’re also joined by historian Marcia Chatelain, author of the new book Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, who helps us unpack the troubled but fascinating relationship between McDonald’s and African Americans. Why did taxpayers end up funding the spread of McDonald’s into the inner city “food deserts” it now dominates? Who invented the hamburger and how did it become America’s national cuisine? From a bustling barbecue stand in San Bernardino to Ray Kroc’s location-scouting airplane rides, and from the McNugget to the McJob, this episode we figure out how McDonald’s became so ubiquitous, and what that means for America.

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Dinner Plate Invasion: Lionfish, Tiger Shrimp, and Feral Pigs, Oh My!

Across America, feral pigs are on the rampage, wrecking fields of crops, hunting local wildlife to extinction, and even attacking humans. In the United Kingdom, Japanese knotweed is taking over the landscape: banks deny mortgages to infested properties, and the government regulates its disposal with the same precautions it takes for low-level nuclear waste. Humans are to blame—we introduced invasive species such as these to their new homes. But some conservation biologists and chefs think humans can also be the solution: by eating the invaders. Are we ready for a menu of Asian shore crab and bullfrogs—and can our appetite really make a difference, or might the approach lead to unforeseen consequences? This episode, we forage an invasive menu with chef Bun Lai, and then argue the case with conservation biologists Joe Roman and Sara Kuebbing. Listen in now!

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Meet the Queen of Kiwi: the 96-Year-Old Woman Who Transformed America’s Produce Aisle

The produce section of most American supermarkets in the 1950s was minimal to a fault, with only a few dozen fruits and vegetables to choose from: perhaps one kind of apple, one kind of lettuce, a yellow onion, a pile of bananas. Today, grocery stores routinely offer hundreds of different fruits and vegetables, many of which would be unrecognizable to time travelers from a half century ago. What changed, and how did Americans learn to embrace spaghetti squash, sugar snap peas, and kiwi fruit? This episode, we tell the story of the woman behind this transformation: Frieda Caplan, the Queen of Kiwi.

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Are Insect Guts the Secret to the Most Delicious Kimchi?

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.

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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.

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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.

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Tiki Time!

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.

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What’s CRISPR Doing in our Food?

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.

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Happy Birthday to Us: Gastropod Turns Five

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!

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

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.

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Running on Fumes: Strawberry’s Dirty Secret

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!

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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.

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

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.

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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!

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

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!

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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.

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BONUS: Introducing Science Rules! with Bill Nye

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.

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The Great Gastropod Pudding Off

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.”

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Potatoes in Space!

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.

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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.

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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!

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Can Diet Stop Alzheimer’s?

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?

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Seeds of Immortality

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.

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Pick A Pawpaw: America’s Forgotten Fruit

In 1916, agricultural experts voted the pawpaw the American fruit most likely to succeed, ahead of blueberries and cranberries. But today, most people have never even heard of it, let alone tried it. What is the pawpaw, and how did we forget it? Listen in this episode for a tale that involves mastodons and head-lice, George Washington and Daniel Boone, and a petite but passionate community of pawpaw obsessives.

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

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 success to a pre-game PB&J. Throughout history, athletes have traditionally eaten something special they hope will give them an edge. But is there any science behind these special drinks and diets—and will consuming them help those of us who are not destined for sporting glory, too? Listen in this episode as we reveals the backstory behind such stadium staples as Gatorade and Muscle Milk—and the evidence for their efficacy.

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

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 from a pastor named Dan Call. In reality, he was taught to distill by an enslaved African, Nearest Green, whose contributions had been written out of history. In this episode, listen in as Fawn Weaver, the entrepreneur who has made rediscovering Green’s story her business, and Clay Risen, the whiskey expert whose 2016 article in The New York Times launched Weaver’s quest, tell us the true story of Nearest Green and Jack Daniel—and of American whiskey.

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

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 artificial sweeteners, you can literally have your cake and eat it, too. But are these substances safe? Don’t they give cancer to rats and mess up your metabolism? Listen in now for answers to all these questions, plus the tale of a sugar-free gumball marketing blitz, courtesy of none other than Donald Rumsfeld.

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

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 industry come true instead? Researchers have been crunching the data, and this episode we have the scoop: do soda taxes work? We’ve also got the story of how the soda industry is fighting back, with dirty tricks in Colombia and blackmail in California. Finally, are soda taxes even the best intervention for improving public health? We have brand-new results from a radical, world-first experiment in Chile. Listen in now as we reach the epic finale of the great soda wars!

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Souring on Sweet: The Great Soda Wars, Part 1

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 less clear is what to do about it. In this special, first-ever two-part episode of Gastropod, we tell the story of how sugary beverages—soda, in particular—became Public Health Enemy #1. Why are politicians and scientists targeting soda? Why have most attempts to pass soda taxes failed? And do these taxes even work to reduce consumption and obesity?

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

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 what we evolved to eat and what we actually have been eating. Paleo diet fans insist that our modern teeth troubles—all those pesky cavities—come from eating the wrong diet. If we only ate what our ancestors ate—meat, berries, and no grains—we’d be fine, they claim. But what do our teeth say? Tune in this episode to find out the toothy truth.

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Who Invented Mac and Cheese?

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 dozens of ways, according to chef and former mac and cheese restaurant owner Allison Arevalo; and Canada’s de facto national dish, according to journalist Sasha Chapman. So what do the Swiss Alps have to do with macaroni and cheese? Listen to this special sponsored episode for the story of where mac and cheese really came from and how it ended up in a little blue box. Plus, some tips for making the very best macaroni and cheese from scratch.

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How the Carrot Became Orange, and Other Stories

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 they had an appealing spicy, pine-y, earthy aroma. This was the unpromising ancestor of one of America’s most popular root vegetables (second only to the mighty potato): today, it’s mostly consumed in the form of two-inch orange slugs, marketed under the label “baby carrots.” So how did this white, woody root become orange, as well as purple and yellow and even red? Listen in now to find out—and hear the story of the invention of the baby carrot.

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The Incredible Egg

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 variety of colors, shapes, and sizes? Why are we stuck mostly eating chicken eggs, when our ancestors feasted on emu, ostrich, and guillemot eggs? This episode, we explore the science and history of eggs, from dinosaurs to double-yolkers!

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Espresso and Whisky: The Place of Time in Food

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 manipulate that. To explore these questions, we visit a whisky time machine tucked away in low-slung warehouse in downtown Los Angeles and meet its inventor, Bryan Davis. And we speak with Jenny Linford, food writer and author of a new book, The Missing Ingredient, all about time and food. Listen in now—this one’s well worth your time!

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Why These Animals?

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, at different times in history and in different places around the world, people have enjoyed dining on all sorts of animals, from elephants to flamingos to jellyfish. So how do individuals and cultures decide which animals to eat, and which they don’t? And why is this decision so divisive—why do many Americans look with such horror on those who eat, say, horse or dog? Listen in this episode for a healthy serving of myth-busting—about domestication, disgust, and deliciousness—as we explore this thorny question.

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

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 expats will even pay hundreds of dollars for a single, air-freighted box of their favorite variety. But while the average red-skinned mango in the American grocery store is certainly pretty, they’re disappointingly bland and crunchy. This episode, we embark on a mango quest to discover how a mango should taste, why the American mango lost its flavor, and how it might just get it back. This is a story that involves a dentist from New Jersey, George W. Bush, and some Harley Davidsons, as well as a full-on mango orgy—so listen in!

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Keeping it Fresh: Preservatives and The Poison Squad

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 scientists wondered: could all these preservatives be doing more harm than good? It took a crusading chemist named Harvey Washington Wiley to take this the fight all the way to Washington, D.C., where he recruited a “poison squad” to test their health effects—and, in the process, created the nation’s first law to protect against poisons in our food supply. But did he succeed? Are the preservatives we eat today safe? Listen to this episode to hear Wiley’s story—and learn why some of the chemicals he tested are still in our food today.

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Watch It Wiggle: The Jell-O Story

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’t guessed, this episode, we’re talking about Jell-O! Or, to be more precise, jelly—not the seedless kind you spread on toast, but the kind that shimmers on your plate, wiggles and jiggles on your spoon, and melts in your mouth. Jelly’s story is as old as cooking itself—it is one that involves spectacular riches and dazzling displays, as well as California’s poet laureate and some very curious chemistry.

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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.

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Hotbox: The Oven From Turnspit Dogs to Microwaves

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 heating technology tell us about cuisines and culture? This episode, we’re taking you on a whirlwind tour through oven history and science, from the legendary roast beef of Old England—and the special dogs bred to turn the spits on which it hung—to the curious origins of the microwave in military radar technology. What do we gain and lose when our ovens change—and how might understanding that help with the quest to bring better cookstoves to the developing world?

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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

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 the parts of the world that are hungry. This episode, we ask: how did this situation come about, given that America spent its first 150 years of nationhood arguing against feeding people overseas? And, more importantly, is shipping sacks of corn from American ports really the best way to help people in need around the world? Listen in as we explore the curious story of how the U.S. started giving food—and why it’s so hard to stop.

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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.

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

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 his struggles to get them back home to the United States. This episode, we talk to Daniel Stone, author of The Food Explorer, a new book all about Fairchild’s adventures. Listen in now for tales of pirates and biopiracy, eccentric patrons and painful betrayals, as well as the successes and failures that shaped not only the way we eat, but America’s place in the world.

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Who Faked My Cheese?

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 umami and sweetly savory. For thousands of years, humans have been transforming animal milk into one of the most diverse and delicious substances in the world. But what is it about milk that makes it so uniquely suited to this particular magic trick? And why is it so hard to recreate using non-animal-based substances? This episode: real cheese, vegan cheese, and the real vegan cheese of the future.

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

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 last fifty years—but the struggle to perfect such dishes for the military has shaped civilian meals, too. Join us this episode as we venture into the Willy Wonka-style labs where the U.S. Army is developing the rations of the future, and then take a trip to the supermarket with author Anastacia Marx de Salcedo to see how military R&D has made much of the food on our grocery store shelves longer-lasting, more portable, and convenient—and, yes, more highly processed too.

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Cooking the Books with Yotam and Nigella

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 explore the past, present, and future of cookbooks, from cuneiform tablets to Hail Marys, with the help of two of our favorite cookbooks authors—and Gastropod fans—Nigella Lawson and Yotam Ottolenghi.

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Cutting the Mustard

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 without the punch of Colman’s. Yet few realize that this condiment has been equally essential—maybe more so—for the past 6,000 years. In fact, the first spice that we know prehistoric humans used to pep up their dinners is none other than mustard. But why is the sale of mustard oil for consumption banned in the U.S., Europe, and Canada, despite the fact it’s used by millions of people around the world nearly every day? Listen in now for the answer to that mustard mystery and dozens more, including how mustard got its heat, and why we have caterpillars to thank for its particular taste profile.

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Remembrance of Things Pasta: A Saucy Tale

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 saucy—and occasionally scientific—history of an Italian staple. Listen in now as we take you from the very first mention of “a food of flour and water,” served “in the form of strings,” to the cutting-edge shape-shifting pasta of tomorrow.

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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?

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Meet Saffron, the World’s Most Expensive Spice

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 center of a purple crocus flower. Listen in as we visit a secret saffron field to discover why it’s so expensive, talk to a clinical psychologist to explore the science behind saffron’s reputation as the medieval Prozac, and explore the spice’s off-menu role as an all-purpose beautifier for elites from Alexander the Great to Henry VIII.

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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.

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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.

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Women, Food, Power … and Books!

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. But what can science tell us about the role our earliest female ancestors played in providing food for themselves and their communities? Meanwhile, given the fact that women have been confined to the kitchen for much of recent Western history, how have they used food as a tool of power and protest, escape, and resistance? Just in time for the holiday season, this episode we dive into two books that take on the science and history of women’s relationship with food. First, science journalist Angela Saini helps us upend conventional wisdom on “women’s work” and biological differences between the sexes; then food historian Laura Shapiro reveals an entirely new side to six well-known women through their culinary biographies. Join us this episode as we hunt, gather, and cook with women throughout history, from feral pigs to Shrimp Wiggle.

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Crantastic: The Story of America’s Berry

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 around the U.S. How did this acidic, tannic berry, so hard to love in its raw form, become one of the most popular fruits in America, and how did it fall so deeply out of fashion? Meanwhile, as cranberry sauce was relegated to Thanksgiving, cranberry juice became a popular drink—and mixer. But why is the juice so widely believed to combat urinary tract infections, and does science support that claim? Join us this episode for all that, plus a tour of the cranberry bog of the future.

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Cannibalism: From Calories to Kuru

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 we like to think. Spiders and sharks do it; so have both ancient and modern humans. So why does it sometimes make sense to snack on your own species—and what are the downsides? From Hannibal Lecter to the Donner party, cannibals are now the subject of morbid fascination and disgust—but how did eating each other become such a taboo? Join us this episode for our Halloween special: the science and history of cannibalism!

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Eataly World and the Future of Food Shopping

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 shopping bike-carts. But there’s a bigger story, and it’s that Oscar Farinetti, the founder of the Eataly empire, has somehow managed to make money by merging two businesses—grocery stores and restaurants—that are both incredibly challenging when it comes to turning a profit. In the process, he’s transforming the way we shop for food. Join us this episode as we tell the story behind the life and death of the great American supermarket—and take a trip to Italy for a sneak peek at its future.

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What the Fluff is Marshmallow Creme?

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, the Silicon Valley of candy innovation. To celebrate, we’re diving into the history of the disruptive technologies that led to Fluff’s rise, as well as the secret behind its soft yet sturdy consistency. It’s a story that involves Howard Stern, Fanny Farmer, and the fabulously named Archibald Query—so listen in and join this festival of fluff!

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Lunch Gets Schooled

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 decades of processed meals that contained little in the way of nutrition and flavor. But how did we get to trays of spongy pizza and freezer-burned tater tots in the first place? While it seems as if such culinary delights were always part of a child’s day, the school lunch is barely a century old—and there are plenty of countries in the world, like Canada and Norway, where school lunch doesn’t even exist. This episode, we dive into the history of how we got to today’s school lunch situation, as well as what it tells us about our economic and gender priorities. Listen in now for all that, plus the science on whether school lunch even matters. 

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Sour Grapes: The History and Science of Vinegar

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 entrepreneurs are trying to launch a vinegar renaissance—one in which we appreciate vinegar (nearly) as much as the alcohol from which it’s made. This episode, we visit vinegar attics in Italy, conduct an epic tasting in a backyard vinegar shed in west London, and chat with our in-house microbiologist, Ben Wolfe of Tufts University, in order to explore vinegar’s long, frequently accidental history, its rumored health benefits, and its culinary potential. Plus: is the balsamic vinegar on your shelf the real thing? Listen now for all this and more!

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The Birds and The Bugs

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. Much of that growth can be attributed to the miraculous properties of antibiotics, which were developed to fight human diseases but quickly began to be fed to farm animals in vast quantities. Journalist and author Maryn McKenna weaves these two intertwined tales together in her new book, Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats. In this episode of Gastropod, she describes the consequences of decades spent feeding chicken antibiotics, in terms of chicken flavor, poultry well-being, and, most significantly, human health.

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

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 international trade when a Scottish botanist, disguised as a Chinese nobleman, smuggled it out of China in the 1800s, in order to secure Britain’s favorite beverage and prop up its empire for another century. The story involves pirates, ponytails, and hard drugs—and, to help tell the tale, Cynthia and Nicky visit Britain’s one and only commercial tea plantation, tucked away in a secret garden on an aristocratic estate on the Cornish coast. While harvesting and processing tea leaves, we learn the difference between green and black tea, as well as which is better for your health. Put the kettle on, and settle in for the science and history of tea!

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Peanuts: Peril and Promise

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 kids. And it’s hard to imagine ballgames without, as the song goes, peanuts and Cracker Jacks (which, of course, also contain peanuts). But today, peanuts are the source of both hope and fear: while there’s been a surprisingly steep rise of peanut allergies in recent decades that can—though rarely—lead to death, peanut butter is also the basis of a medical therapy used to save the lives of millions of children around the world. This episode, we discover how the humble peanut got to be such a big deal.

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Fake Food

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 of the offerings on supermarket shelves, according to experts—but which food is most likely to be faked, and what does that tell us about our food system? Join us this episode as we put on our detective hats to investigate food fraud’s long history and the cutting-edge science behind food forensics today—as well as what you can do to make sure what’s on your plate is what you think it is.

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Here’s Why You Should Care About Southern Food

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 country; where food born in violence and slavery led to delicious, nutritious dishes. It’s also the region that laid the tablecloth for seasonal, farm-to-table dining, as well as drive-through fast food. In this episode, authors Michael Twitty and John T. Edge, two of the nation’s leading voices on Southern food, take listeners on a tour through their shared history.

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Better Believe It’s Butter

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 to think of butter as something that’s available in hundreds of varieties, each with a different flavor, color, and texture. Nor do we necessarily consider a dairymaid costume to be a uniform of women’s empowerment. But we should. This episode, we explore the science behind butter’s subtle variations, as well as its long history as a vehicle for both ritual worship and female entrepreneurship around the world.

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Meet Koji, Your New Favorite Fungus

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 these delicious foods: koji. Today, American chefs are discovering what Asian cooks have known for centuries, that koji is a microbial powerhouse with seemingly magical abilities to completely transform food. But how does a mold from a family of microbes known for their toxicity turn salty, mashed beans into sticky, succulent miso? How did koji make its way from Japan to the U.S.? And how might the weird and wonderful ways chefs in the U.S. are now using koji transform the American dinner table, too?

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V is for Vitamin

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 their discovery make America’s processed food revolution possible? On this episode of Gastropod, author Catherine Price helps us tell the story of vitamins, from Indonesian chickens to Gwyneth Paltrow.

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Hacking Taste

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, immunity, and more. In this episode, we get into the science of how taste works, why we taste what we do, and what makes supertasters unique. And finally, we hack our taste buds—for fun, but, in the future, maybe for health, too.

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Cork Dork: Inside the Weird World of Wine Appreciation

“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 this kind of language, prices seemingly rising in step with the number of bizarre adjectives. It’s tempting to dismiss the whole thing as B.S., but listen in: this episode, author Bianca Bosker takes us along on her journey into the history and science behind blind tasting, wine flavor wheels, and the craft of the sommelier. You’ll never feel lost in front of a wine list again.

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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.

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We Heart Chocolate

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 world. But today, cacao cultivation is facing a series of wicked problems—ones that threaten to drastically shrink the supply of chocolate just as global demand grows. If the threats aren’t taken seriously, might we lose one of our favorite treats? And, if so, will we also lose our next wonder drug?

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Inventing the Restaurant: From Bone Broth to Michelin

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 the average American eats roughly 200 meals a year in one. So who invented the first restaurant, and when and where did it appear? How did it change society—and change along with society? And, in today’s saturated market, is there a scientific way to choose the best?

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Gettin’ Fizzy With It
‘Tis the season for a glass of bubbly—but this episode we’re not talking champagne, we’re talking seltzer. America is in the throes of a serious seltzer craze, with consumption of the bubbly stuff doubling in only a decade, from 2004 to 2014. But where does seltzer come from, and why is it called “seltzer,” rather than simply “sparkling water”? Is there any truth to the rumors that seltzer can combat indigestion—or that it will rot our teeth? Why are all the hipsters crushing cans of LaCroix, and what’s the story behind Polar’s ephemeral sensation, Unicorn Kisses?

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The Spice Curve: From Pepper to Sriracha with Sarah Lohman
American food has a reputation for being bland—but, according to historical gastronomist Sarah Lohman, “It’s nonsense that Americans don’t like spicy food.” Lohman is the author of a new book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, which explores the stories behind the flavors that have come to define American cuisine. In this episode, she takes us on a journey through the history and science of black pepper, the oldest flavor described in her book, to the hot new taste sensation that is sriracha.  

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The Buzz on Honey
Honey seems like a simple, comforting food, slathered on toast, spooned down to soothe sore throats, and beloved of bears, both plush and real. In reality, this sticky combination of bee spit and evaporated nectar is a powerful and ancient ingredient. For much of history, honey was humanity’s main source of sweetness, as well as our first vehicle for getting drunk. Unlike table sugar, honey also comes in an infinite variety of textures and flavors, influenced by the two million blossoms from which each jar is made. And, from ancient Egypt to modern medicine, honey has been valued for its healing powers. Join us this episode as we get stuck in the sweet stuff.  

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What is Native American Cuisine?
Pasta, sushi, tacos, samosas, and pad thai: In the U.S., enthusiastic eaters will likely be able to name traditional dishes from a wide variety of cuisines around the world. But most of us couldn’t name a single Native American dish from any one the vast network of tribes, cultures, and cuisines that spread across the U.S. before Europeans arrived. Today, farmers, activists, and chefs are trying to change that. They’re bringing back Native foods—not just to teach all Americans about the indigenous foods of their country, but to improve the lives of Native Americans themselves, who suffer from some of the highest levels of debilitating and often deadly diet-related diseases. Can a return to a Native diet help?  

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Counting Fish
This week, we are taking on one of the universe’s great mysteries: how many fish are in the sea? If you stop to think about it, it seems almost impossible to figure out how many fish there are—after all, they’re basically invisible, not to mention constantly moving. But how else are we to know how many we should take out to eat? Join us as we set sail to figure out how we count fish—and why it matters.

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Seaweed Special
Seaweed farming is booming: the global harvest has doubled in the past decade, according to a new report from the United Nations University, and it’s now worth more than all the world’s lemons and limes. Most of that seaweed ends up in our food, though there is a growing market in seaweed-based cosmetics and drugs. So what does a seaweed farm look like? How does it help restore the ocean? And what can you do with kelp in the kitchen, other than wrap sushi? Join us for a conversation with Bren Smith, fisherman-turned-seaweed farmer, for the answers to these questions and more.  

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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.  

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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.

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Keeping Kosher: When Jewish Law Met Processed Food
Roughly two percent of Americans are Jewish, and only a small fraction of them keep kosher. Yet between a third and a half of all packaged food in an American supermarket has a kosher label on it. How did kosher law become big business? Join us this episode as we find out how ancient Jewish dietary laws have shaped and been shaped by the science of processed food, from Coca-Cola to Jell-O and beyond.  

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Poultry Power: The Fried Chicken Chronicles
Juicy, crispy, crunchy…fried chicken is undoubtedly delicious. But it’s also complicated, in ways that go far deeper than the science behind that perfect crust. From slavery to entrepreneurship and from yard fowl to Gospel bird, the story of fried chicken is filled with challenging contradictions. Grab a drumstick and listen in.

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Outside the Box: The Story of Food Packaging
The invention of food packaging is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. It may seem hard to imagine today, but the first clay pots made the great civilizations of the ancient world possible, while paper’s first use, long before it became a surface for writing, was to wrap food. But packaging’s proliferation, combined with the invention of plastics, has become one of our biggest environmental headaches. In this episode, we explore the surprising history of how our food got dressed—and why and how we might want to help it get naked again.  

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Who Invented the Cherry Tomato?

In the 1960s, cherry tomatoes were nearly impossible to find in the grocery store. By the 1990s, it was hard to get a salad without them. Somehow, within a couple of decades, the tiny tomatoes had taken over. Where did they come from? And who lay behind their sudden rise to glory? 

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Everything Old is Brew Again
Pull up a bar stool and prepare to open both your mind and your palate: it’s time to meet beer before it settled down into the fizzy brown brew we know and love today. The ales in this episode of Gastropod represent the future of flavor, but take their inspiration from the pre-industrial pint. Join us as we meet brewers who are making beer with local herbs, roast chicken, and yeasts scraped off the skin of wild blueberries—and then taste the surprisingly delicious results.  

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Museums and the Mafia: The Secret History of Citrus
A slice of lime in your cocktail, a lunchbox clementine, or a glass of OJ at breakfast: citrus is so common today that most of us have at least one lurking on the kitchen counter or in the back of the fridge. But don’t be fooled: not only were these fruits so precious that they inspired both museums and the Mafia, they are also under attack by an incurable immune disease that is decimating citrus harvests around the world. Join us on a historical and scientific adventure, starting with a visit to the ark of citrus—a magical grove in California that contains hundreds of varieties you’ve never heard of, from the rose-scented yellow goo of a bael fruit to the Pop Rocks-sensation of a caviar lime. You’ll see that lemon you’re about to squeeze in a whole new light.  

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Grand Theft Food
It’s easy to assume that burglars and thieves are always after conventional valuables: cash, jewels, or high-end electronics. But some of the most memorable heists actually involve food. Inspired by Geoff Manaugh’s new book, A Burglar’s Guide to the City, we dive into the ancient history and detective science behind food crime.

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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.  

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The Maple Boom
Many people only think of maple syrup at the breakfast table, when they’re facing down a stack of hot, fluffy pancakes or some French toast. They’re missing out. Maple is undergoing a major boom, newly ascendant in beverage aisles, Asian kitchens, and even biomedical research laboratories. In this episode, we visit sugar shacks and talk to the experts to find out why tree sap is so hot right now—and whether it can live up to the hype.  

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First Foods: Learning to Eat
How do we learn to eat? It may seem like an obvious question, but it’s actually quite a complicated process. Who decided that mushed-up vegetables were the perfect first food—and has that always been the case? What makes us like some foods and hate others—and can we change? Join us to discover the back story behind the invention of baby food, as well as the latest science on flavor preferences and tips for how to transform dislikes into likes.  

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The Food of Love
Throughout history, humans have attributed aphrodisiac powers to certain foods, from legendary lover Casanova’s diet of fifty oysters for breakfast to chocolate, the default Valentine’s Day gift for the uninspired. But how did such varying vegetables as asparagus, potatoes, and Peruvian maca acquire this reputation—and do any of them actually deserve it? Join us to find out the history and science behind edible aphrodisiacs in this NSFW episode of Gastropod.

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The End of the Calorie
For most of us, the calorie is just a number on the back of the packet or on the display at the gym. But what is it, exactly? And how did we end up with this one unit with which to measure our food? Is a calorie the same no matter what type of food it comes from? And is one calorie for you exactly the same as one calorie for me? To find out, we visit the special rooms scientists use to measure how many calories we burn, and the labs where researchers are discovering that the calorie is broken. And we pose the question: If not the calorie, then what?  

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End-Of-Year Feast

Cheese science, cilantro phobia, and fork usage: we’ve covered it all on Gastropod. And, for our special end-of-year episode, we’re bringing you updates on some our favorite stories. Join us to find out what happened next… Ever wondered what happened to those researchers in Colombia who discovered they could grow five times more food by adding specially-bred microbes to the soil? Or what’s new in cheese microbiology? This is your chance to find out! To celebrate the end of 2015, we’ve created a tasting menu to update past episodes. Listen in for news from the front lines of fork etiquette and for the science behind Camembert’s color change from minty-green to today’s white rind. We’ve also included your stories of successful cilantro conversion techniques as well as your suggestions for state dishes—including plenty that we’d never even heard of, from Benedictine sandwiches to Cincinnati chili. There’s even a mezcal-tasting party featuring Cynthia’s mom. And, as we share a toast and head into 2016, we’d love to hear from you. Do you have a question about some aspect of food history or science? Ever wondered why tonka beans are banned in the United States, despite being a popular spice in much of the rest of the world? Maybe your teeth feel weird after eating spinach, and you want to know why—and whether anyone else has the same reaction? Or perhaps you’re curious about how tomatoes, which don’t seem as if they should store particularly well for long boat-rides, succeeded in making the leap from the Americas to become a staple in European cuisine? Send us an email or a voice memo, or leave us a message at +1 310.876.2427, and we’ll see what we can do! Finally, a huge thanks to you, our listeners, for a great year. We wouldn’t exist without you, and we’re so grateful for your support. If you enjoy listening to Gastropod, please tell your friends and relatives: we need to build our audience in order to thrive in the future. You can also write a review at iTunes, which helps other podcast lovers find us. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and sign up for our email list. And, if you’re feeling particularly generous at the end of the year, please consider making a donation to support future episodes of Gastropod. It’s not tax-deductible, but you’ll be helping to make sure we can serve up another year’s worth of delicious food science and history. Thanks for all you’ve done to help make this show a success, and here’s to 2016!EPISODE NOTESThe Golden Spoon Our very first episode, The Golden Spoon, was a deep dive into the history and science of cutlery: you can listen to it here. For this episode, we spoke to Guardian columnist Tim Dowling about the shocking findings from a new survey on British fork usage.The Microbe Revolution Back in November 2014, we spoke with scientists Ian Sanders and Alia Rodriguez about their successful field trials, in which they found that coating cassava roots in a gel containing specially bred mycorrhizal fungi increased the final harvest by up to five times.

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The Mushroom Underground
They’re a kingdom unto themselves, neither animal, vegetable, nor mineral. They count among their number both the world’s largest organism and millions of microscopic, single-celled creatures. And yet not only have they been an important—and delicious—food source for thousands of years, but they also seem to have powerful medicinal properties. What are these mysterious creatures? Fungi!

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Peak Booze
Are you part of Generation Peak Booze? In this episode, we dive into the factors behind the ups and downs in alcohol consumption in the U.K. and the U.S. over the course of the twentieth century, we explore the long-term health effects of peak booze, and we get a sneak peek at the synthetic alcohol of the future. Cheers!  

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Mezcal: Everything but the Worm
It’s nearly the Day of the Dead in Mexico, which gives us the perfect excuse to get familiar with the country’s national spirit: tequila. Or wait, should that be mezcal? And what’s the difference, anyway? In this episode of Gastropod, Cynthia and Nicky travel to Mexico to explore the history and science of distilled agave, and get tangled up in a complex story of controversies, clones, and culture.

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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?  

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The Bitter Truth
It’s one of the five basic tastes, along with salty, sweet, sour, and umami. It’s also the least popular and the most mysterious. “That tastes bitter” is not usually a compliment, and yet scientists are increasingly concerned that by banishing bitter from our diets, we’re affecting our health in ways we don’t fully understand. In this episode, we get to know bitter a little better, finding good reasons and new ways to appreciate its complex charms.  

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The United States of Chinese Food
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!

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The Whole Hog
Bacon, bratwurst, bangers, barbecue: these are just a few of the many ways people around the world enjoy feasting on pigs. Of all the domesticated animals humans consume, Sus scrofa domesticus is the most fascinating, the most divisive, and, arguably, the most delicious. In this in-depth conversation with author and historian Mark Essig, author of the book Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig, Gastropod discovers the evolutionary source of the pigs’ intelligence (scientists have judged them the cognitive equal of a human three-year-old), and why the animals’ physiology so closely resembles our own. We also uncover the real reason Jews originally eschewed pork, and how pigs were the essential but forgotten weapon, alongside guns and germs, that allowed the Spanish and English to conquer and colonize the Americas. Plus, we read and review Barry Estabrook’s book, Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat, which picks up the porcine tale in the present, where Mark Essig leaves off. From helicopter hunting to manure spraying and more, join us and pig out!

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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.

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Crunch, Crackle, and Pop
“Sound is the forgotten flavor sense,” says experimental psychologist Charles Spence. In this episode, we discover how manipulating sound can transform our experience of food and drink, making stale potato chips taste fresh, adding the sensation of cream to black coffee, or boosting the savory, peaty notes in whiskey. Composers have written music to go with feasts and banquets since antiquity—indeed, in at a particularly spectacular dinner hosted by Duke Philip of Burgundy in 1454, twenty-eight musicians were hidden inside an immense pie, beginning to play as the crust was opened. Today, however, most chefs and restaurants fail to consider the sonic aspects of eating and drinking. That’s a mistake, because, as we reveal in this episode, sound can affect how fast we eat, how much we’re prepared to pay for our meal, and even what it tastes like.

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Field Recordings
Plants that can hear themselves being eaten. Microphone-equipped drones that eavesdrop on sick chickens. Lasers that detect an insect’s wing-beats from dozens of feet away. In this James Bond-inspired episode of Gastropod, we listen to the soundtrack of farming, decode the meaning hidden in each squawk, moo, and buzz, and learn how we can use that information to improve our food in the future. Tune in now for this special broadcast of the barnyard orchestra!

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The Cocktail Hour
Whether you sip it with friends, chug it before hitting the dance floor, or take it as a post-work pick-me-up, there’s clearly nothing like a cocktail for bracing the spirit. In addition to its peculiar history as a medicinal tonic, plenty of hard science lies behind the perfect cocktail, from the relationship between taste perception and temperature to the all-important decision of whether to shake or stir. What’s more, according to historian David Wondrich, mixology is “the first legitimate American culinary art”—and one that has since caught on around the world. Raise a glass, and listen in as we discover the cocktail’s historical origins, its etymological connection to a horse’s butt, and its rocky history, post-Prohibition. We also check out an original copy of the world’s first cocktail recipe book at New York City’s bartending mecca, Cocktail Kingdom; take a private cocktail science class with Jared Sadoian of The Hawthorne in Boston; and talk red-hot pokers with culinary scientist Dave Arnold. Cheers!

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Gastropod on Gastropods
Finally, Gastropod is tackling gastropods! In this episode, Cynthia visits one of America’s first and only snail farms. Though Gastropod is, as regular listeners know, a podcast about the science and history of all things gastronomical, we do share a name with Gastropoda, the taxonomic class that includes slugs and snails. And, as it turns out, the history and science of heliciculture, or snail farming, is completely fascinating. Join Cynthia on a trip to rural Washington State to learn how to raise snails and whether fresh and vacuum-packed taste any less rubbery than canned. Plus, you’ll hear about the earliest evidence for human snail consumption, how the Romans fattened theirs up, and all about the bizarre world of snail sex.

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Savor Flavor
Why does grape candy taste so fake? What on earth is blue raspberry, anyway? And what is the difference between natural and artificial, at least when it comes to flavor? Join us as we taste the rainbow on this episode of Gastropod, from artificial flavoring’s public debut at the 1851 Crystal Palace exhibition, to the vanilla-burping yeasts of the future. We’ll experiment with Skittles, discover how invented flavors first appeared in our daily diets, and visit a synthetic biology lab, all in our quest to understand what artificial flavor is, was, and might be. Along the way, we’ll learn what exactly goes into designing the perfect pineapple from one of America’s top flavorists, investigate beaver butts, and discover the taste of an extinct banana. Listen now!

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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.

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No Scrubs: Breeding a Better Bull
In 1900, the average dairy cow in America produced 424 gallons of milk each year. By 2000, that figure had more than quadrupled, to 2,116 gallons. In this episode of Gastropod, we explore the incredible science that transformed the American cow into a milk machine—but we also uncover the disturbing history of prejudice and animal cruelty that accompanied it. Along the way, we’ll introduce you to the insane logic of the Lifetime Cheese Merit algorithm and the surreal bull trials of the 1920s. This is the untold story behind that most wholesome and quotidian of beverages: milk. Prepare to be horrified and amazed in equal measure.

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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.

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Kale of the Sea
Call off the search for the new kale: we’ve found it, and it’s called kelp! In this episode of Gastropod, we explore the science behind the new wave of seaweed farms springing up off the New England coast, and discover seaweed’s starring role in the peopling of the Americas. The story of seaweed will take us from a medicine hut in southern Chile to a high-tech seaweed nursery in Stamford, Connecticut, and from biofuels to beer, as we discover the surprising history and bright future of marine vegetables. Along the way, we uncover the role kelp can play in supporting U.S. fishermen, cleaning up coastal waters, and even helping make salmon farms more sustainable.

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Bite: Smoked Pigeon and Other Subnatural Delights
In this week’s bite-sized episode, Nicky travels to the campus of Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, for a day of talks and tastings exploring the shifting status of stinky cheese, offal, insects, and other funky foods. At different times and places, these foods have been regarded as “subnatural”—low-class, disgusting, even unhygienic. But what does categorizing these foods as subnatural say about us, and what happens when we decide that they’re desirable, after all? Episode Notes Here are links to the peculiar but fascinating events, ideas, and books we discuss in this bite-sized episode.Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments,David Gissen The term “subnature” was coined by architectural theorist David Gissen in 2009 to describe the less desirable aspects of the built environment: puddles, pollution, and pigeons. His book explores the historical assumptions behind this mostly unquestioned hierarchy in which light, air, and greenery are perceived as “good,” while the equally natural dust, dirt, and weeds are unwelcome. Image from the Brooklyn Pigeon Project, Aranda/Lasch, 2004 It also includes a selection of projects by contemporary architects and preservationists that engage with historical perceptions of subnatural environments and attempt to re-imagine them for the future. For example, Gissen includes both a discussion of anti-pigeon spikes and a description of the Brooklyn Pigeon Project, in which architecture firm Aranda/Lasch developed a set of algorithms and tools to help humans re-visualize the city from the point of view of a flock of pigeons.Subnature and Culinary Culture, Duke University By collaborating with colleagues from a wide range of departments at Duke, as well as chefs, cheese-makers, and foragers from the local community, Tom Parker, a visiting scholar from Vassar, created a campus-wide program of events, talks, installations, and edible experiences exploring what the idea of subnature might mean in terms of food, and why particular foods, texture, and flavors have been marginalized in certain societies. Chef Kim Floresca smokes sturgeon at the Duke University campus smokehouse, with Tom Parker and Josh Evans from the Nordic Food Lab. Photo by Nicola Twilley. Roasting quail in a downtown Durham parking lot. Photo by Nicola Twilley. Highlights included the construction of a smokehouse on the lawn outside the university president’s offices, as well as a dinner in which the chefs from five local restaurants came together to showcase local subnatural ingredients prepared in transformative ways. On the menu: car-park roasted quail, cooked using a set-up that chef Matt Kelly described as “redneck ingenuity,” and sturgeon coated in a crust of corn fungus and its own heart and collagen, smoked in the Duke smokehouse. “Sturgeon: Its Roe, Marrow, Collagen, & Heart. Lacto-Fermented Onions. Our Soured Cream. Saltwort.” As prepared by chefs Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan, [ONE] Restaurant. Photo by Nicola Twilley.“How Wine Became Metropolitan,”Edible Geography This is the post about David Gissen’s new map of France’s wine regions that started the ball rolling by introducing Tom Parker to the idea of subnature. Gissen represents wine appellations as stops on a subway line rather than as geographic territories in an attempt to communicate the relationship between each region, rather than their legal boundaries. The Metro Wine Map of France, David Gissen The post Bite: Smoked Pigeon and Other Subnatural Delights appeared first on Gastropod.

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The Microbe Revolution

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard about the human microbiome. Research into the composition, function, and importance of the galaxy of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that, when we’re healthy, live in symbiotic balance in and on us has become one of the fastest moving and most intriguing fields of scientific study. But it turns out that plants have a microbiome too—and it’s just as important and exciting as ours. In this episode of Gastropod, we look at the brand new science that experts think will lead to a “Microbe Revolution” in agriculture, as well as the history of both probiotics for soils and agricultural revolutions. And we do it all in the context of the crop that Bill Gates has called “the world’s most interesting vegetable”: the cassava.

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Dan Barber’s Quest for Flavor

In this latest episode of Gastropod, chef and author Dan Barber takes listeners on a journey around the world in search of great flavor and the ecosystems that support it, from Spain to the deep South. You’ll hear how a carefully tended landscape of cork trees makes for delicious ham, and about a squash so cutting edge it doesn’t yet have a name, in this deep dive into the intertwined history and science of soil, cuisine, and flavor. It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time before refrigerators, before long-distance trucks and ships. Most people had to survive on food from their immediate surroundings, no matter how poor the soil or challenging the terrain. They couldn’t import apples from New Zealand and potatoes from Peru, or rely on chemical fertilizer to boost their yields. From within these constraints, communities around the world developed a way of eating that Dan Barber calls “ecosystem cuisines.” Barber, the James Beard-award-winning chef of Blue Hill restaurant and author of the new book The Third Plate, spoke to Gastropod about his conviction that this historically-inspired style of cuisine can be reinvented, with the help of plant-breeders, his fellow chefs, and the latest in flavor science, in order to create a truly sustainable way to eat for the twenty-first century.

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Episode 1: The Golden Spoon

Chances are, you’ve spent more time thinking about the specs on your smartphone than about the gadgets that you use to put food in your mouth. But the shape and material properties of forks, spoons, and knives turn out to matter—a lot. Changes in the design of cutlery have not only affected how and what we eat, but also what our food tastes like. There’s even evidence that the adoption of the table knife transformed the shape of European faces. To explore the hidden history and emerging science of cutlery for our brand new podcast, Gastropod spoke to Bee Wilson, food historian and author of Consider the Fork, and Zoe Laughlin, co-founder of the Institute of Making at University College London.

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