How the Carrot Became Orange, and Other Stories

Thousands of years ago, in what's now Afghanistan, people unearthed the tangled, gnarled roots of Queen Anne's Lace—a ubiquitous, hairy-stemmed plant with a spray of tiny white flowers. These fibrous, twisted roots were white and bitter-tasting, but they had an appealing spicy, pine-y, earthy aroma. This was the unpromising ancestor of one of America's most popular root vegetables (second only to the mighty potato): today, it's mostly consumed in the form of two-inch orange slugs, marketed under the label "baby carrots." So how did this white, woody root become orange, as well as purple and yellow and even red? Listen in now to find out—and hear the story of the invention of the baby carrot.

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The Incredible Egg

We love eggs scrambled, fried, or poached; we couldn't enjoy a quiche, meringue, or flan without them. But for scientists and archaeologists, these perfect packages are a source of both wonder and curiosity. Why do eggs come in such a spectacular variety of colors, shapes, and sizes? Why are we stuck mostly eating chicken eggs, when our ancestors feasted on emu, ostrich, and guillemot eggs? This episode, we explore the science and history of eggs, from dinosaurs to double-yolkers!

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Espresso and Whisky: The Place of Time in Food

Why does fish cook so fast? What's the "wasabi window"? And can you really make 20-year-old aged whisky in six days? This episode, we're looking at the role of time in food and flavor: what it does, and how we've tried—and sometimes succeeded—to manipulate that. To explore these questions, we visit a whisky time machine tucked away in low-slung warehouse in downtown Los Angeles and meet its inventor, Bryan Davis. And we speak with Jenny Linford, food writer and author of a new book, The Missing Ingredient, all about time and food. Listen in now—this one's well worth your time!

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Why These Animals?

In the West, when it comes to which meat is for dinner, we nearly always choose beef, pork, or chicken. Yet cows and pigs are only two of more than five thousand of species of mammals, and chicken is one of ten thousand species of birds. Meanwhile, at different times in history and in different places around the world, people have enjoyed dining on all sorts of animals, from elephants to flamingos to jellyfish. So how do individuals and cultures decide which animals to eat, and which they don't? And why is this decision so divisive—why do many Americans look with such horror on those who eat, say, horse or dog? Listen in this episode for a healthy serving of myth-busting—about domestication, disgust, and deliciousness—as we explore this thorny question. …More

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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