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.

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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. …More

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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DNA Detectives

DNA: it's the genetic information that makes plants and animals what we are. Most of the time when you hear about it in the context of food, it's to do with breeding. But in this short episode, we bring you two DNA detective stories that show how genetic analysis can rewrite the history of agriculture and fight food fraud—at least some of the time.

Listen now to hear how preserved DNA from an underwater site off the coast of Britain is helping paint a picture of how hunter gatherers in Northern Europe might first have experienced the wonders of agriculture, by trading kernels of exotic, domesticated Near Eastern wheat over long distances. We'll also explore DNA's role in some controversial accusations of food fraud and introduce you to the mysterious publication that defines the official standards of identity for food ingredients. And, finally, we squeeze in a short trip to Dublin's Science Gallery, to talk to chef Clare Anne O'Keefe about a dish that was entirely inspired by Gastropod!

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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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