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 argument has become 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."

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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.  …More

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.

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