Imagine, for a moment, a world without garlic: garlic-free garlic bread, tzatziki sans Allium sativum, a chili crisp defanged. If this sounds like the makings of a horror story to you, you’re not alone. Garlic consumption in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1980, and people around the world have been enjoying the stuff for thousands of years. But alliums smell like sulfur, and sulfur is something humans are born *not* liking—so why did we start adding garlic, onions, and their kin to our food? This episode, we join microbiologist Rob Dunn and food safety specialist Ben Chapman to follow along as they conduct the world's first experiment designed to figure out whether alliums started out as a food safety additive designed to keep our lamb stew safe for longer, and only later turned into a flavor we crave. Plus, why did the British government send garlic to the trenches in WWI? What do fetal sniffing, Egyptian fertility tests, Korean mythology, and the world’s first-recorded labor strike have to do with the stinking rose? Listen in now for all this and more! See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Dec 22, 2020
Over the past century, we've transformed the arid lands of the American west into year-round, well-irrigated agricultural powerhouses. Today, fruits, nuts, and nearly all of our leafy greens are grown in the desert, using water diverted, stored, and supplied at taxpayer expense. This intense irrigation is having an impact: Reservoir levels are dropping, rivers are drying up, and the state of Arizona is literally sinking. With the help of agroecologist Gary Nabhan, farmers Ramona and Terry Button, and others in the region, we ask the big questions: Should we be farming in the desert? What would a water-saving system even look like? And does a tiny bean that smells like desert rain hold the secret to survival in a hotter, drier world? See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Dec 8, 2020
You could call it the Swiss Army knife of the kitchen: bouillon is a handy ingredient, whether it comes as bottled brown gloop, or a cube wrapped up in shiny foil like a tiny present. Today, cooks around the world rely on this secret ingredient to add depth, flavor, and umami to their cooking. It wasn’t always so; like many of today’s packaged shortcuts, condensed bouillon got its start in the 1800s, when nutrition science was just taking off. How did the (mistaken) discoveries of a German chemist pave the way for these umami bombs—and what is umami anyway? How did bouillon brands like Maggi and Knorr become part of national dishes as far afield as Nigeria, India, and Mexico? And how did the invention of these early "essences of meat" lead to the creation of the love-it-or-hate-it spreads Marmite and Vegemite? Listen in now for all that, plus a matriarchal subterranean master race with electrical superpowers! See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Nov 24, 2020
There’s nothing more American than apple pie—or is there? We might prescribe an apple a day and call our largest city the Big Apple, but this legendary fruit originally hails from the mountains of Kazakhstan. This episode, Michael Pollan (something of a legend himself) tells us how apples become so important on the American frontier, and what cider (the alcoholic kind) had to do with it. We talk to apple fan Amy Traverso and apple detective Dan Bussey to figure out how many thousands of apple varieties used to grow in America, and why are there only a handful—including the notorious Red Delicious, which, while red, is far from delicious—in supermarkets today? All that, plus we get out in the orchard with Soham Bhatt to learn about the cider renaissance that's sweeping the nation. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Nov 10, 2020
Morning fog. Gallon-distemper. Busthead. These are all names for alcohol's age-old after-party: the hangover. But, aside from being a physical (and painful) manifestation of regret, what exactly is a hangover? What's happening in our bodies—and specifically in our livers—and can science do anything about it? See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Oct 27, 2020
To snack or not to snack? And what counts as a snack, anyhow? Plus the great meal vs. snack smackdown: is grazing good, or does eating between meals lead to waistline expansion? We’re asking deep questions about not-so-substantial foods in this crispy, crunchy, and highly craveable episode. Along the way, we uncover snacking’s early connections to pirate’s booty, reveal which of your favorite snacks started their lives as cattle feed, and tell the shocking, true story of the woman who never snacks. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Oct 13, 2020
Fried, roasted, mashed, steamed: it's hard to imagine life without the crispy, fluffy comfort blanket of potatoes. But until the late 1500s, no one outside the Americas had ever encountered this terrific tuber, and initially Europeans, particularly peasant farmers, didn't trust it at all. Or did they? This episode, we tell the story of the potato's rise to global dominance once it set sail from its native Andean home—and the stories behind that story! From tax evasion and population explosions to soup kitchens and potato bling, listen in now as Rebecca Earle, author of the new book, Feeding the People, helps us uncover the delightful myths and even more incredible true history of the spud. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Sep 29, 2020
Saddle up, folks: Today’s episode involves the cowboys' lullabies and meat riots that helped make beef an American birthright. With the help of Joshua Specht, author of Red Meat Republic, we tell the story of how and why the 30 million bison that roamed the Plains were replaced with 30 million cows. You'll never look at a Porterhouse steak—the first cut of beef invented in America—the same way again. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Sep 15, 2020
Consider the lobster roll: tender chunks of lobster bathed in butter or mayo, sandwiched between two slices of a squishy bread roll… Have we caught your attention yet? Lobster is a summertime staple in New England, a fixture on casino and cruise ship buffets, and a steady partner for steak in the classic surf 'n' turf. Today, the American lobster industry is the single most valuable fishery in the country—but it wasn’t always so. This episode, we're cracking the lobster's many mysteries, including how it went from prison fare to fancy food. There's also the question of what lobster eyes have to do with both the International Space Station and the belief in Intelligent Design, plus the rollicking tale of why it took scientists so long to locate the lobster penis—and what makes lobster sex so, well, steamy? Listen in now for the lobster lore you never knew you needed to know! See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Aug 31, 2020
This episode, Gastropod is bringing you a guest: Science Diction, a bite-sized podcast about words, and the science stories behind them. They answer questions like: what does the word “meme” have to do with evolutionary biology? And why do we call it the Spanish flu when it wasn’t from Spain? Science Diction is doing a series on food words, and this episode is all about Rocky Road. Grab a spoon and enjoy! We’ll be back in just one week with our regularly scheduled Gastropod episode. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
Aug 25, 2020