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. …More

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. …More

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. …More

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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