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.
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.
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!
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? …More →
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.
Jane Shen-Miller is a botanist at the University of California-Los Angeles. You can read more about her successful germination of centuries-old lotus seeds here, as well as her work to sequence the lotus seed genome, here.
Lotus flower seed heads and raw, un-puffed lotus seeds.
You can read more about the nanostructural magic of lotus leaf here, and learn how NASA is using it here.
McCormick Flavor Forecast
Thanks so much to McCormick and Company, the sponsor of this special episode. Their Flavor Forecast identifies top trends and ingredients to discover the tastes of tomorrow. Created by a global team of McCormick experts, including chefs, culinary professionals, trend trackers and food technologists, the Flavor Forecast inspires culinary exploration and innovation around the world.
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.
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.
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.
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. …More →
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!