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. …More

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? …More

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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