Podcast

Gastropod

Food with a side of science and history. Every other week, co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley serve up a brand new episode exploring the hidden history and surprising science behind a different food- or farming-related topic, from aquaculture to ancient feasts, from cutlery to chile peppers, and from microbes to Malbec. We interview experts, visit labs, fields, and archaeological digs, and generally have lots of fun while discovering new ways to think about and understand the world throu...more

Episodes

  • Why Thai?

    Mar 02 2021

    It’s hard to imagine the American restaurant landscape without Thai food: Tom yum and pad see ew are practically household names, and pad thai is the ultimate quarantine comfort food. (It's apparently zombie apocalypse comfort food, too, as shown on the Walking Dead.) According to the Thai Embassy, more than 50 percent of all Thai restaurants abroad are located in the United States and Canada. So why did the U.S.—and Los Angeles in particular—become the epicenter of Thai f...more

  • Hot Tips

    Feb 16 2021

    If you live in the United States, you’re familiar with a curious mathematical ritual that takes place at the end of every restaurant meal—it’s time to tip, with all the stress the process entails. How much should you leave? Who's getting that money? Is it enough? (And will you look like an idiot if you start counting on your fingers?) Unlike many other countries, where people tip by rounding up to the nearest ringgit or krona—or don’t even tip at all—it’...more

  • TV Dinners

    Feb 03 2021

    Cue the dramatic music, it’s quiz time: Can you identify the people behind these catchphrases? “Yum-O!” “Pukka!” “Bam!” “Peace, love, and taco grease!” The answers are below—but if you’ve already caught on, then you’re well aware of how entrenched TV chefs are in mainstream pop culture. But how did a medium where you can’t actually smell or taste the food get so popular? What was the very first food TV show, and how ha...more

  • The Brightest Bulb

    Dec 22 2020

    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 ou...more

  • Like Water in the Desert

    Dec 08 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...more

  • The Magic Cube

    Nov 24 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 ...more

  • The Big Apple Episode

    Nov 10 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...more

  • The Hangover: Part Gastropod

    Oct 27 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.

  • Snack Attack!

    Oct 13 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 wo...more

  • This Spud's For You

    Sep 29 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 explos...more

  • Moo-Dunnit: How Beef Replaced Bison on the American Plains—and Plate

    Sep 15 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.

  • What the Shell? Cracking the Lobster's Mysteries

    Aug 31 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...more

  • Guest Episode: Rocky Road with Science Diction

    Aug 25 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 Gastrop...more

  • Shatter-Proof: How Glass Took Over the Kitchen—and Ended Child Labor

    Aug 17 2020

    Cheers! The lively clink of glass on glass is a must for any festive gathering, whether you’re sipping champagne in a flute or lemonade in a tumbler. We rely on glass in the kitchen—for baking perfectly browned pies, preserving jams and pickles, and so much more. But glass wasn’t always so cheap and ubiquitous: to ancient Egyptians and Romans, this was precious stuff—it was high fashion to own a clear wine goblet in ancient Rome. Later, Venetians so prized their glass kno...more

  • The Most Dangerous Fruit in America

    Aug 03 2020

    It's the epitome of summertime: there’s nothing like a cold, juicy slice of red watermelon on a swelteringly hot day. But, once upon a time, watermelons were neither red nor sweet—the wild watermelon has white flesh and a bitter taste. This episode, we scour Egyptian tombs, decaying DNA, and ancient literature in search of watermelon's origins. The quest for tasty watermelon continues into modern times, with the rediscovery of a lost (and legendarily sweet) varietal in South Carolina...more

  • Dig for Victory

    Jun 16 2020

    You’ve seen the news: vegetable seeds are selling out. All that quarantine ennui has combined with anxiety about the gaps on supermarket shelves to create a whole new population of city farmers in backyards and windowsills across America. And everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Forbes to CBS has dubbed these brand new beds of beets and broccoli "COVID-19 Victory Gardens." But what war is your pot of basil fighting? This episode, historian Anastasia Day helps us explore the history ...more

  • Shared Plates: How Eating Together Makes Us Human

    Jun 03 2020

    We love eating dinner together with friends and extended family, and we miss it! But why does sharing a meal mean so much—and can we ever recreate that on Zoom? As we wait for the dinner parties, cookouts, and potlucks of our post-pandemic future, join us as we explore the science and history of communal dining. Scientist Ayelet Fishbach shares how and why eating together makes us better able to work together, and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar and archaeologist Brian Hayden demons...more

  • Pizza Pizza!

    May 19 2020

    At last, an episode on pizza! But that raises a tricky question: what exactly is pizza? As it turns out, the original pizzas from eighteenth-century Naples looked nothing like a standard slice—they were more like a focaccia, topped with oil, herbs, anchovies, or whatever else was on hand. Even after these first pizzas met the tomato, the dish was a local peculiarity—most Italians thought pizza was gross and weird until just a few decades ago. So how did we get from Neapolitan subsist...more

  • Eating the Wild: Bushmeat, Game, and the Fuzzy Line Between Them

    May 05 2020

    It's a safe bet that your recent media diet has included the words "wet market," "zoonotic disease," and "pangolin," as experts take a pause from discussing COVID-19's spread and impact to speculate on the virus's origins. This episode, we're digging into the larger story behind those words, that of our relationship to eating wild animals: how and why have our attitudes to wild meat shifted over time? Why is it that deer shot by a hunter in the U.S. is game, but monkey caught in the Democratic R...more

  • Eating the Rainbow: Or, the Mystery of the Orange Oranges, the Red M&Ms, and the Blue Raspberry

    Apr 21 2020

    From stripy fuchsia beets to unicorn doughnuts, the foods available today on grocery store shelves and in cafe displays are more brightly colored than ever. But this hasn't always been the case. This episode of Gastropod, we offer three stories that explore the colors of our cuisine: How did a food fight between Florida and California turn oranges (the fruit) that perfect bright orange (the color)? Why did US consumers freak out about the food dye Red #2, and what was the impact on our M&Ms?...more

  • A Tale To Warm The Cockles Of Your Heart

    Apr 07 2020

    You might have heard of Molly Malone, selling cockles from a wheelbarrow in Dublin, or of Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, with her cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row—but the chances are most Gastropod listeners have never actually tasted a cockle. And, apparently, you're missing out! For the Native American tribes in the Puget Sound, where cockles used to be abundant, they're a treasured treat: meatier, sweeter, and richer-tasting than other shellfish. But they're also disappearing, a...more

  • White vs. Wheat: The Food Fight of the Centuries

    Mar 24 2020

    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 debate became 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 an...more

  • Licorice: A Dark and Salty Stranger

    Mar 10 2020

    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 bot...more

  • To Fight Climate Change, Bank on Soil

    Feb 25 2020

    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 reinvent...more

  • Move Over Gin, We’ve Got Tonic Fever

    Feb 11 2020

    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 ...more

  • The United States of McDonald’s

    Jan 28 2020

    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—bu...more

  • Dinner Plate Invasion: Lionfish, Tiger Shrimp, and Feral Pigs, Oh My!

    Jan 13 2020

    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 ...more

  • Meet the Queen of Kiwi: the 96-Year-Old Woman Who Transformed America’s Produce Aisle

    Dec 17 2019

    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? Th...more

  • Are Insect Guts the Secret to the Most Delicious Kimchi?

    Dec 03 2019

    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 exp...more

  • Menu Mind Control

    Nov 18 2019

    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 outsma...more

  • Of Ghost Foods and Culinary Extinction

    Nov 05 2019

    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 g...more

  • Tiki Time!

    Oct 22 2019

    Tiki bars are hot these days: you can enjoy a fruity tropical drink while surrounded by faux-Polynesian décor in most major cities around the U.S. and elsewhere, with new tiki spots opening every month. The trend is a revival of a nearly century-old American tradition—but the knowledge of how to make these classic tiki cocktails had been all but lost over the intervening decades. It took an amateur sleuth who went on a deep dive into cocktail archaeology and recipe cryptography to b...more

  • What’s CRISPR Doing in our Food?

    Oct 08 2019

    You’ve probably heard the hype: CRISPR will revolutionize biotech, cure disease, resurrect extinct species, and even create new-and-(not-so)-improved humans. But what is CRISPR—and what’s it doing in our food? The first generation of genetically modified crops, or GMOs, were labelled “Frankenfoods” by critics and are banned in the European Union. Can CRISPR succeed where fish-tomatoes failed? And what’s yoghurt got to do with it? Listen in this episode for the...more

  • Happy Birthday to Us: Gastropod Turns Five

    Sep 24 2019

    We launched Gastropod in September 2014, which means we’re turning five this month, and that’s approximately 100 in podcast years. We’re celebrating our birthday with a special episode featuring highlights from the past five years’ worth of episodes, as chosen by you, our listeners—served up alongside a generous slice of cake science and history. Join the party and listen in now as we revisit fan favorites and behind-the-scenes highlights from our first half-decade,...more

  • Celebrate Mexico’s True National Holiday with the Mysteries of Mole

    Sep 10 2019

    In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is an excuse for margarita-fueled partying. But in Mexico, that date—the anniversary of a military triumph over Napoleon on May 5, 1862—is marked by a parade and not much else. The real celebrations happen on September 16, which is Mexican Independence Day. At Gastropod, we’re always down to party, so here’s to Mexico’s true national holiday—and its true national dish: mole! But what is mole? Listen in this episode as we trace mole’s co...more

  • Running on Fumes: Strawberry’s Dirty Secret

    Aug 27 2019

    This episode, we tell an age-old tale: an innocent young berry heads west to make its fame and fortune—but sells its soul in the process. In order for our hero, the strawberry, to defeat its nemesis, a fungus called wilt, the aromatic red fruit makes a deal with the devil—and duly becomes America’s favorite berry. But its success relies on fumigants, toxic gases injected into the soil that kill everything in their path. So what are fumigants; what’s their effect on farm w...more

  • Omega 1-2-3

    Aug 13 2019

    Based on all the hype, you’d be forgiven for believing that the fish oils known as omega-3s are solution to every problem. Heart disease, dementia, depression, even obesity—the list of ailments that experts claim a daily dose of omega-3 can help prevent seems endless. And with more than ten percent of Americans taking a capsule of fish oil daily, omega-3s are one of the most profitable supplements in the world, too. Listen in this episode, as author Paul Greenberg and scientist JoAnn...more

  • Meet Sharbat, the Ancestor of Sorbet, Syrup, Shrub, Sherbet, and Pretty Much Everything Else Cool

    Aug 06 2019

    Many of you won’t have heard of sharbat, the delightfully tangy, refreshingly icy Persian drink. But most of you will have tasted at least one of its many descendants: sorbet, sherbet, syrup, shrub, and even the julep. So, what is sharbat? How did it inspire so many variations on cooling deliciousness? And how did Persians manage to make ice in the middle of the desert—thousands of years before the invention of mechanical refrigeration? Find out while keeping cool in this special epi...more

  • Super Fry: The Fight for the Golden Frite

    Jun 19 2019

    Shoestring, waffle, curly, or thick-cut: however you slice it, nearly everyone loves a deep-fried, golden brown piece of potato. But that’s where the agreement ends and the battles begin. While Americans call their fries “French,” Belgians claim that they, not the French, invented the perfect fry. Who’s right? This episode, we take you right into the heart of the battle that continues to be waged over who owns the fry—who invented it, who perfected it, who loves it ...more

  • Eat This, Not That: The Surprising Science of Personalized Nutrition

    Jun 10 2019

    This episode, we’ve got the exclusive on the preliminary results of the world’s largest personalized nutrition experiment. Genetic epidemiologist Tim Spector launched the study, called PREDICT, to answer a simple but important question: do we each respond to different foods differently? And, if so, why? How much of that difference is genetic, how much is due to gut microbes, and how much is due to any one of the dozens of other factors that scientists think affect our metabolic proce...more

  • Guts and Glory

    May 21 2019

    What does it mean when your stomach rumbles? How do our bodies extract nutrients and vitamins from food? Does what you eat affect your mood? Digestion is an invisible, effortless, unconscious process—and one that, until recently, we knew almost nothing about. On this episode of Gastropod, we follow our food on its journey to becoming fuel, from the filtered blood that helps slide food into the stomach, to the velvet walls and rippling choreography of the small intestine, to the microbial m...more

  • BONUS: Introducing Science Rules! with Bill Nye

    May 16 2019

    We interrupt our regular programming to bring you news of a new podcast you might like. Bill Nye is on a mission to change the world—one phone call at a time. On his new podcast, Science Rules!, he tackles your questions on just about anything in the universe. Perhaps you’ve wondered: Should I stop eating cheeseburgers to combat climate change? How often should I really be washing my pillowcase? Can I harvest energy from all those static-electricity shocks I get in the winter? Science Rules! is ...more

  • The Great Gastropod Pudding Off

    May 06 2019

    Four bakers, one evening, and one challenge: Who can steam the best spotted dick? On this week’s action-packed episode, Tom Gilliford, Selasi Gbormittah, and Yan Tsou of Great British Bake-Off fame, along with honorary Gastropod member (and Cynthia’s partner) Tim Buntel, compete to see who can master this most classic of British puddings for the first-ever Great Gastropod Pudding Off! But what in the world is spotted dick? “It’s got nostalgia, mystery, horror, and comedy&...more

  • Potatoes in Space!

    Apr 23 2019

    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...more

  • The Curry Chronicles

    Apr 09 2019

    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 com...more

  • The Bagelization of America

    Mar 26 2019

    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...more

  • Can Diet Stop Alzheimer’s?

    Mar 11 2019

    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 r...more

  • Seeds of Immortality

    Mar 04 2019

    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...more

  • Pick A Pawpaw: America’s Forgotten Fruit

    Feb 26 2019

    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.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

  • Eating to Win: Gatorade, Muscle Milk, and… Chicken Nuggets?

    Feb 12 2019

    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...more

  • The Secret History of the Slave Behind Jack Daniel’s Whiskey

    Jan 28 2019

    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 re...more

  • Sweet and Low (Calorie): The Story of Artificial Sweeteners

    Jan 15 2019

    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 su...more

  • Dirty Tricks and Data: The Great Soda Wars, Part 2

    Dec 18 2018

    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...more

  • Souring on Sweet: The Great Soda Wars, Part 1

    Dec 04 2018

    Public health researchers agree: the evidence is clear that Americans consume way too much sugar, that sugar contributes to weight gain, and that rising rates of obesity in the U.S. will lead to significant health problems in the future. What’s much less clear is what to do about it. In this special, first-ever two-part episode of Gastropod, we tell the story of how sugary beverages—soda, in particular—became Public Health Enemy #1. Why are politicians and scientists targeting ...more

  • The Truth is in the Tooth: Braces, Cavities, and the Paleo Diet

    Nov 19 2018

    Brush, floss, and forget: chances are, you only think about your teeth when they cause you trouble. But teeth have tales to tell, such as how old we are, how fast we grew, and how far we’ve traveled… But, most intriguingly, teeth can tell us both what we evolved to eat and what we actually have been eating. Paleo diet fans insist that our modern teeth troubles—all those pesky cavities—come from eating the wrong diet. If we only ate what our ancestors ate—meat,...more

  • Who Invented Mac and Cheese?

    Nov 13 2018

    The warm, gooey dish, a childhood staple across North America, is many things to many people: a mainstay of African-American Sunday dinners, according to soul food expert Adrian Miller; a comforting yet celebratory meal that can be jazzed up in dozens of ways, according to chef and former mac and cheese restaurant owner Allison Arevalo; and Canada’s de facto national dish, according to journalist Sasha Chapman. So what do the Swiss Alps have to do with macaroni and cheese? Listen to t...more

  • How the Carrot Became Orange, and Other Stories

    Nov 06 2018

    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-inc...more

  • The Incredible Egg

    Oct 23 2018

    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!See omnys...more

  • Espresso and Whisky: The Place of Time in Food

    Oct 09 2018

    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...more

  • Why These Animals?

    Sep 25 2018

    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&rs...more

  • Mango Mania: How the American Mango Lost its Flavor—and How it Might Just Get it Back

    Sep 11 2018

    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 episo...more

  • Keeping it Fresh: Preservatives and The Poison Squad

    Aug 28 2018

    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 the...more

  • Watch It Wiggle: The Jell-O Story

    Aug 14 2018

    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...more

  • Out of the Fire, Into the Frying Pan

    Jun 19 2018

    From rainbow-hued enameled stew pots to lightweight nonstick frying pans, the metal and ceramic vessels we use to heat our food are such an everyday aspect of the kitchen that they’re easy to take for granted. But make no mistake: the invention of the pot was, after fire, one of the most important innovations in cooking. You’ll want to hug your favorite skillet after coming along with us on this journey, which ranges from some of the earliest clay pots ever found in what’s now ...more

  • Hotbox: The Oven From Turnspit Dogs to Microwaves

    Jun 05 2018

    Humans are the only animals that cook their food, an innovation that changed the course of our evolution and the trajectory of the planet. But how did we tame those early cooking fires and put them in a box—and what can subsequent leaps forward in heating technology tell us about cuisines and culture? This episode, we’re taking you on a whirlwind tour through oven history and science, from the legendary roast beef of Old England—and the special dogs bred to turn the spits on wh...more

  • Feed the World: How the U.S. Became the World’s Biggest Food Aid Donor—And Why That Might Not be Such a Great Thing

    May 22 2018

    The United States is, by far, the world’s largest international food aid donor. Almost every year since the 1950s, it has been responsible for more than 50 percent of the billions of tons of food shipped from the parts of the world with a surplus to the parts of the world that are hungry. This episode, we ask: how did this situation come about, given that America spent its first 150 years of nationhood arguing against feeding people overseas? And, more importantly, is shipping sacks of cor...more

  • Ripe for Global Domination: The Story of the Avocado

    May 08 2018

    Avocados are on a roll. More precisely, they’re on toast—a lot of toast. Last summer, British Vogue reported that more than three million new photos of avocado toast are uploaded to Instagram every day. But how did this humble fruit, originally named after testicles, get from its Mexican forest home to a tattoo on Miley Cyrus’s upper arm? This episode, we unravel the avocado’s amazing journey, a story that involves not only conquistadors and cartel violence, but also a So...more

  • Meet the Man Who Found, Finagled, and Ferried Home the Foods We Eat Today

    Apr 24 2018

    You’ve probably never heard of David Fairchild. But if you’ve savored kale, mango, peaches, dates, grapes, a Meyer lemon, or a glass of craft beer lately, you’ve tasted the fruits of his globe-trotting travels in search of the world’s best crops—and his struggles to get them back home to the United States. This episode, we talk to Daniel Stone, author of The Food Explorer, a new book all about Fairchild’s adventures. Listen in now for tales of pirates and biop...more

  • Who Faked My Cheese?

    Apr 10 2018

    Cheeeeese: that one word alone causes our stomachs to rumble and mouths to water. The sheer variety of flavors and textures created by only a few ingredients—milk, salt, enzymes, and microbes—is astounding: hard and soft, creamy and crumbly, richly umami and sweetly savory. For thousands of years, humans have been transforming animal milk into one of the most diverse and delicious substances in the world. But what is it about milk that makes it so uniquely suited to this particular m...more

  • Marching on our Stomachs: The Science and History of Feeding the Troops

    Mar 27 2018

    For most of us, eggs are perfect packets of portable protein, and pizza is the lazy option for dinner. For the research team at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, pizza and eggs are two of the most nightmarish food-science challenges of the last fifty years—but the struggle to perfect such dishes for the military has shaped civilian meals, too. Join us this episode as we venture into the Willy Wonka-style labs where the U.S. Army is developing the rations of the future, and then ...more

  • Cooking the Books with Yotam and Nigella

    Mar 13 2018

    Who first started collecting recipes into cookbooks? Do cookbooks have a future in a world full of online recipes? And can cookbooks tell us anything about what people are actually eating, or are they simply aspirational food porn? This episode, we explore the past, present, and future of cookbooks, from cuneiform tablets to Hail Marys, with the help of two of our favorite cookbooks authors—and Gastropod fans—Nigella Lawson and Yotam Ottolenghi.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy...more

  • Cutting the Mustard

    Feb 27 2018

    For some Americans, a trip to the ballpark isn’t complete without the bright yellow squiggle of French’s atop a hotdog. For the French, the slow burn of Dijon is a must-have complement to charcuterie. In the U.K., Sunday’s roast beef is nothing without the punch of Colman’s. Yet few realize that this condiment has been equally essential—maybe more so—for the past 6,000 years. In fact, the first spice that we know prehistoric humans used to pep up their dinners...more

  • Remembrance of Things Pasta: A Saucy Tale

    Feb 13 2018

    It’s one of food’s most beautiful relationships: pasta and sauce. But which came first—and how on Earth are you supposed to figure out which of those hundreds of shapes to serve with your pesto? With Valentine’s Day round the corner, we bring you the saucy—and occasionally scientific—history of an Italian staple. Listen in now as we take you from the very first mention of “a food of flour and water,” served “in the form of strings,” to ...more

  • We’ve Lost It: The Diet Episode

    Jan 30 2018

    Diet dreams are splashed across magazine covers and blare from the T.V., offering tips and tricks, that will, readers and viewers are promised, make weight loss easy and fast. Diet books making similar claims can be found at the top of the best-seller list without fail, every January. But where does this obsession with losing weight to reach some kind of idealized body type come from? How long have gurus and doctors alike made millions from the West’s preoccupation with the “d”...more

  • Meet Saffron, the World’s Most Expensive Spice

    Jan 16 2018

    It’s the poshest spice of all, often worth its weight in gold. But saffron also has a hidden history as a dye, a luxury self-tanner, and even a serotonin stimulant. That’s right, this episode we’re all about those fragile red threads plucked from the center of a purple crocus flower. Listen in as we visit a secret saffron field to discover why it’s so expensive, talk to a clinical psychologist to explore the science behind saffron’s reputation as the medieval Prozac...more

  • Secrets of Sourdough

    Dec 18 2017

    Today, you can find a huge variety of breads on supermarket shelves, only a few of which are called “sourdough.” For most of human history, though, any bread that wasn’t flat was sourdough—that is, it was leavened with a wild community of microbes. And yet we know surprisingly little about the microbes responsible for raising sourdough bread, not to mention making it more nutritious and delicious than bread made with commercial yeast. For starters, where do the fungi and ...more

  • Green Gold: Our Love Affair with Olive Oil

    Dec 05 2017

    Olive oil is not what you think it is. According to Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, an olive is a stone fruit like a plum or cherry—meaning that the green-gold liquid we extract from it “is, quite literally, fruit juice.” And, while we’re blowing your minds, have you ever stopped to wonder what “Extra Virgin” means? “It’s like extra dead or semi-pregnant,” Mueller said. “I mean, it ...more

  • Women, Food, Power … and Books!

    Nov 21 2017

    From “The Flintstones” to Focus on the Family, the stereotype has long been that men hunt and provide, while women just stir the pot. Thankfully, today many women—and men—reject both that biological essentialism and the resulting division of labor. But what can science tell us about the role our earliest female ancestors played in providing food for themselves and their communities? Meanwhile, given the fact that women have been confined to the kitchen for much of recent ...more

  • Crantastic: The Story of America’s Berry

    Nov 07 2017

    It’s nearly Thanksgiving, which, for most Americans, marks the one time a year their dinner table is adorned with jewel-like cranberries, simmered into a delicious sauce. But hundreds of years ago, cranberry sauce was a mainstay of daily meals, all around the U.S. How did this acidic, tannic berry, so hard to love in its raw form, become one of the most popular fruits in America, and how did it fall so deeply out of fashion? Meanwhile, as cranberry sauce was relegated to Thanksgiving, cran...more

  • Cannibalism: From Calories to Kuru

    Oct 24 2017

    For most of us, it’s unthinkable: human is never what’s for dinner. Sorry to burst any bubbles, but this episode, we discover that not only is cannibalism widespread throughout the natural world, but it’s also much more common among our own kind than we like to think. Spiders and sharks do it; so have both ancient and modern humans. So why does it sometimes make sense to snack on your own species—and what are the downsides? From Hannibal Lecter to the Donner party, cannib...more

  • Eataly World and the Future of Food Shopping

    Oct 10 2017

    In just over a month, the world’s first theme park devoted entirely to Italian food will open its doors—and Gastropod has the scoop! Among Eataly World‘s delights will be hunt-your-own truffles, baby lambs, beach volleyball, and custom Bianchi shopping bike-carts. But there’s a bigger story, and it’s that Oscar Farinetti, the founder of the Eataly empire, has somehow managed to make money by merging two businesses—grocery stores and restaurants—that are ...more

  • What the Fluff is Marshmallow Creme?

    Sep 26 2017

    If you’re not from New England, you may never have heard of Fluff, or its legendary sandwich-based incarnation, the Fluffernutter. The sticky sweet marshmallow creme was invented exactly one hundred years ago in Somerville, Massachusetts—at the time, the Silicon Valley of candy innovation. To celebrate, we’re diving into the history of the disruptive technologies that led to Fluff’s rise, as well as the secret behind its soft yet sturdy consistency. It’s a story tha...more

  • Lunch Gets Schooled

    Sep 11 2017

    Across the United States, school lunch is being transformed, as counties and cities partner with local farms to access fresh vegetables, as well as hire chefs to introduce tastier and more adventurous meals. This is a much-needed correction after decades of processed meals that contained little in the way of nutrition and flavor. But how did we get to trays of spongy pizza and freezer-burned tater tots in the first place? While it seems as if such culinary delights were always part of a child&rs...more

  • Sour Grapes: The History and Science of Vinegar

    Aug 29 2017

    It’s found in almost every home, whether it’s destined to dress salads or clean surfaces and kill fruit flies. But, effective as it is at those tasks, most of us struggle to get excited about vinegar. Today, however, a handful of enthusiasts and entrepreneurs are trying to launch a vinegar renaissance—one in which we appreciate vinegar (nearly) as much as the alcohol from which it’s made. This episode, we visit vinegar attics in Italy, conduct an epic tasting in a backyar...more

  • The Birds and The Bugs

    Aug 15 2017

    Chicken is such a mainstay of the contemporary American dinner table that it seems hard to imagine that, just a century ago, it was rare and expensive. But over the course of the 20th century, both chickens and the chicken industry exploded in size. Much of that growth can be attributed to the miraculous properties of antibiotics, which were developed to fight human diseases but quickly began to be fed to farm animals in vast quantities. Journalist and author Maryn McKenna weaves these two inter...more

  • It’s Tea Time: Pirates, Polyphenols, and a Proper Cuppa

    Aug 01 2017

    This week, Gastropod tells the story of two countries and their shared obsession with a plant: Camellia sinensis, otherwise known as the tea bush. The Chinese domesticated tea over thousands of years, but they lost their near monopoly on international trade when a Scottish botanist, disguised as a Chinese nobleman, smuggled it out of China in the 1800s, in order to secure Britain’s favorite beverage and prop up its empire for another century. The story involves pirates, ponytails, and...more

  • Peanuts: Peril and Promise

    Jun 20 2017

    Despite their diminutive scale, peanuts play an outsized role in American culture. Peanut butter has long been a mainstay of the American lunchbox, with its sticky, slightly sweet nuttiness flavoring the memories of generation after generation of kids. And it’s hard to imagine ballgames without, as the song goes, peanuts and Cracker Jacks (which, of course, also contain peanuts). But today, peanuts are the source of both hope and fear: while there’s been a surprisingly...more

  • Fake Food

    Jun 06 2017

    Hamburgers that turn out to be horse, not beef. Honey sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. Old, grey olives dipped in copper sulfate solution to make them look fresh and green. Fraudulent foods such as these make up as much as five to ten percent of the offerings on supermarket shelves, according to experts—but which food is most likely to be faked, and what does that tell us about our food system? Join us this episode as we put on our detective hats to investigate food fraud&rsqu...more

  • Here’s Why You Should Care About Southern Food

    May 22 2017

    The food of the South is one of the most complicated, complex, contradictory cuisines in the U.S. This is the region where a monumental mixing of crops and culinary traditions gave way to one of the most punishing, damaging monocultures in the country; where food born in violence and slavery led to delicious, nutritious dishes. It’s also the region that laid the tablecloth for seasonal, farm-to-table dining, as well as drive-through fast food. In this episode, authors Michael Twitty a...more

  • Better Believe It’s Butter

    May 09 2017

    Butter is beautiful: solid golden bars add the perfect flakiness to pastry, give cake a delightfully tender springiness, and melt mouth-wateringly onto toast. But unlike its cousin, cheese—another concentrated, solidified form of milk—we don’t tend to think of butter as something that’s available in hundreds of varieties, each with a different flavor, color, and texture. Nor do we necessarily consider a dairymaid costume to be a uniform of women’s empowerment. But w...more

  • Meet Koji, Your New Favorite Fungus

    Apr 25 2017

    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 ...more

  • V is for Vitamin

    Apr 10 2017

    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.See omnystudio.com/listener for...more

  • Hacking Taste

    Mar 14 2017

    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...more

  • Cork Dork: Inside the Weird World of Wine Appreciation

    Feb 28 2017

    “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 h...more

  • To Eat or Not to Eat Meat

    Feb 14 2017

    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. Li...more

  • We Heart Chocolate

    Jan 31 2017

    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...more

  • Inventing the Restaurant: From Bone Broth to Michelin

    Jan 17 2017

    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, ...more

  • Gettin’ Fizzy With It

    Dec 13 2016

    ‘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 ...more

  • The Spice Curve: From Pepper to Sriracha with Sarah Lohman

    Nov 29 2016

    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 ...more

  • The Buzz on Honey

    Nov 15 2016

    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 blosso...more

  • What is Native American Cuisine?

    Nov 01 2016

    Pasta, sushi, tacos, samosas, and pad thai: In the U.S., enthusiastic eaters will likely be able to name traditional dishes from a wide variety of cuisines around the world. But most of us couldn’t name a single Native American dish from any one the vast network of tribes, cultures, and cuisines that spread across the U.S. before Europeans arrived. Today, farmers, activists, and chefs are trying to change that. They’re bringing back Native foods—not just to teach all Ameri...more

  • Oysters: History and Science on the Half Shell

    Oct 18 2016

    We’re living in a golden age for oysters. Just two decades ago, an ostreophile would have thought him or herself lucky to choose among a handful of options; today, in the U.S. alone, hundreds of varieties with exotic names like Moon Shoal, Hama Hama, and Kusshi tempt oyster lovers. What creates all those different flavors and textures—and what’s the story behind today’s oyster revolution?See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

  • Counting Fish

    Oct 04 2016

    This week, we are taking on one of the universe’s great mysteries: how many fish are in the sea? If you stop to think about it, it seems almost impossible to figure out how many fish there are—after all, they’re basically invisible, not to mention constantly moving. But how else are we to know how many we should take out to eat? Join us as we set sail to figure out how we count fish—and why it matters.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

  • Seaweed Special

    Sep 13 2016

    Seaweed farming is booming: the global harvest has doubled in the past decade, according to a new report from the United Nations University, and it’s now worth more than all the world’s lemons and limes. Most of that seaweed ends up in our food, though there is a growing market in seaweed-based cosmetics and drugs. So what does a seaweed farm look like? How does it help restore the ocean? And what can you do with kelp in the kitchen, other than wrap sushi? Join us for a conversation ...more

  • The Salt Wars

    Aug 23 2016

    Salt is a magical substance. It reduces bitterness, enhances sweetness, boosts flavor, and preserves perishable foods. Without it, we would die: the human body can’t make sodium, but our nerves and muscles don’t work without it. It was considered rare until quite recently, so it’s hardly surprising that, throughout history, salt has been the engine behind empires and revolutions. Today, there’s a new battle in the salt wars, between those who think that we eat too much of...more

  • Kombucha Culture

    Aug 08 2016

    If you haven’t tasted kombucha yet, you probably will soon. The sour-sweet, fizzy, fermented tea is becoming ubiquitous in trendy cafes, workplaces, and health food stores across America. Where did it come from, and how did it get so popular? And what in the world is the slimy, beige blob that produces it? From German POWs to Lindsey Lohan to a kombucha zoo at Tufts University, this episode explores the history and science of summer’s hottest drink....more

  • Keeping Kosher: When Jewish Law Met Processed Food

    Jul 26 2016

    Roughly two percent of Americans are Jewish, and only a small fraction of them keep kosher. Yet between a third and a half of all packaged food in an American supermarket has a kosher label on it. How did kosher law become big business? Join us this episode as we find out how ancient Jewish dietary laws have shaped and been shaped by the science of processed food, from Coca-Cola to Jell-O and beyond.  See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

  • Poultry Power: The Fried Chicken Chronicles

    Jul 12 2016

    Juicy, crispy, crunchy…fried chicken is undoubtedly delicious. But it’s also complicated, in ways that go far deeper than the science behind that perfect crust. From slavery to entrepreneurship and from yard fowl to Gospel bird, the story of fried chicken is filled with challenging contradictions. Grab a drumstick and listen in.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

  • Outside the Box: The Story of Food Packaging

    Jun 28 2016

    The invention of food packaging is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. It may seem hard to imagine today, but the first clay pots made the great civilizations of the ancient world possible, while paper’s first use, long before it became a surface for writing, was to wrap food. But packaging’s proliferation, combined with the invention of plastics, has become one of our biggest environmental headaches. In this episode, we explore the surprising history of how our food got d...more

  • Who Invented the Cherry Tomato?

    Jun 14 2016

    In the 1960s, cherry tomatoes were nearly impossible to find in the grocery store. By the 1990s, it was hard to get a salad without them. Somehow, within a couple of decades, the tiny tomatoes had taken over. Where did they come from? And who lay behind their sudden rise to glory?  See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

  • Everything Old is Brew Again

    May 31 2016

    Pull up a bar stool and prepare to open both your mind and your palate: it’s time to meet beer before it settled down into the fizzy brown brew we know and love today. The ales in this episode of Gastropod represent the future of flavor, but take their inspiration from the pre-industrial pint. Join us as we meet brewers who are making beer with local herbs, roast chicken, and yeasts scraped off the skin of wild blueberries—and then taste the surprisingly delicious results.  See...more

  • Museums and the Mafia: The Secret History of Citrus

    Apr 19 2016

    A slice of lime in your cocktail, a lunchbox clementine, or a glass of OJ at breakfast: citrus is so common today that most of us have at least one lurking on the kitchen counter or in the back of the fridge. But don’t be fooled: not only were these fruits so precious that they inspired both museums and the Mafia, they are also under attack by an incurable immune disease that is decimating citrus harvests around the world. Join us on a historical and scientific adventure, starting with a v...more

  • Grand Theft Food

    Apr 05 2016

    It’s easy to assume that burglars and thieves are always after conventional valuables: cash, jewels, or high-end electronics. But some of the most memorable heists actually involve food. Inspired by Geoff Manaugh’s new book, A Burglar’s Guide to the City, we dive into the ancient history and detective science behind food crime.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

  • Caffeine: The World’s Most Popular Drug

    Mar 21 2016

    A tablespoon of it will kill you, but most of us feel like death without it: we’re talking about caffeine this episode. Inspired by a listener question — does green tea have more or less caffeine than black? and what about yerba mate? — Cynthia and Nicky explore the history and science of the world’s most popular drug. Listen in as we discover the curious effect of birth control pills on how our bodies process it, calculate how much of an edge it gives athletes, and ...more

  • The Maple Boom

    Mar 08 2016

    Many people only think of maple syrup at the breakfast table, when they’re facing down a stack of hot, fluffy pancakes or some French toast. They’re missing out. Maple is undergoing a major boom, newly ascendant in beverage aisles, Asian kitchens, and even biomedical research laboratories. In this episode, we visit sugar shacks and talk to the experts to find out why tree sap is so hot right now—and whether it can live up to the hype.  See omnystudio.com/listener for priv...more

  • First Foods: Learning to Eat

    Feb 23 2016

    How do we learn to eat? It may seem like an obvious question, but it’s actually quite a complicated process. Who decided that mushed-up vegetables were the perfect first food—and has that always been the case? What makes us like some foods and hate others—and can we change? Join us to discover the back story behind the invention of baby food, as well as the latest science on flavor preferences and tips for how to transform dislikes into likes.  See omnystudio.co...more

  • The Food of Love

    Feb 09 2016

    Throughout history, humans have attributed aphrodisiac powers to certain foods, from legendary lover Casanova’s diet of fifty oysters for breakfast to chocolate, the default Valentine’s Day gift for the uninspired. But how did such varying vegetables as asparagus, potatoes, and Peruvian maca acquire this reputation—and do any of them actually deserve it? Join us to find out the history and science behind edible aphrodisiacs in this NSFW episode of Gastropod.See omnystudio.com/l...more

  • The End of the Calorie

    Jan 26 2016

    For most of us, the calorie is just a number on the back of the packet or on the display at the gym. But what is it, exactly? And how did we end up with this one unit with which to measure our food? Is a calorie the same no matter what type of food it comes from? And is one calorie for you exactly the same as one calorie for me? To find out, we visit the special rooms scientists use to measure how many calories we burn, and the labs where researchers are discovering that the calorie is broken. A...more

  • The Mushroom Underground

    Nov 17 2015

    They’re a kingdom unto themselves, neither animal, vegetable, nor mineral. They count among their number both the world’s largest organism and millions of microscopic, single-celled creatures. And yet not only have they been an important—and delicious—food source for thousands of years, but they also seem to have powerful medicinal properties. What are these mysterious creatures? Fungi!See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

  • Peak Booze

    Nov 03 2015

    Are you part of Generation Peak Booze? In this episode, we dive into the factors behind the ups and downs in alcohol consumption in the U.K. and the U.S. over the course of the twentieth century, we explore the long-term health effects of peak booze, and we get a sneak peek at the synthetic alcohol of the future. Cheers!  See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

  • Mezcal: Everything but the Worm

    Oct 20 2015

    It’s nearly the Day of the Dead in Mexico, which gives us the perfect excuse to get familiar with the country’s national spirit: tequila. Or wait, should that be mezcal? And what’s the difference, anyway? In this episode of Gastropod, Cynthia and Nicky travel to Mexico to explore the history and science of distilled agave, and get tangled up in a complex story of controversies, clones, and culture.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

  • The Good, The Bad, The Cilantro

    Oct 06 2015

    On the surface, it’s just a leafy green herb. Its feathery fronds add a decorative note and a distinctive flavor to dishes across Latin America and Asia, from guacamole to phở. And yet cilantro is the most divisive herb in the kitchen, inspiring both deep dislike and equally deep devotion. What’s the history and science behind these strong reactions—and can cilantro disgust ever be overcome?  See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

  • The Bitter Truth

    Sep 22 2015

    It’s one of the five basic tastes, along with salty, sweet, sour, and umami. It’s also the least popular and the most mysterious. “That tastes bitter” is not usually a compliment, and yet scientists are increasingly concerned that by banishing bitter from our diets, we’re affecting our health in ways we don’t fully understand. In this episode, we get to know bitter a little better, finding good reasons and new ways to appreciate its complex charms.  See ...more

  • The United States of Chinese Food

    Aug 25 2015

    Wander into any town in the U.S., no matter how small and remote, and you’re likely to find at least one Chinese restaurant. In fact, there are more Chinese restaurants in America than McDonalds, KFC, and Burger King combined. And the food they serve is completely unlike anything you’ll find in China. In this episode of Gastropod, we ask one crucial question: why? From the Gold Rush to MSG, via the scandalous story of gender-bending Chinese restaurants in 1920s New York City, this e...more

  • The Whole Hog

    Aug 11 2015

    Bacon, bratwurst, bangers, barbecue: these are just a few of the many ways people around the world enjoy feasting on pigs. Of all the domesticated animals humans consume, Sus scrofa domesticus is the most fascinating, the most divisive, and, arguably, the most delicious. In this in-depth conversation with author and historian Mark Essig, author of the book Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig, Gastropod discovers the evolutionary source of the pigs’ intelligence (...more

  • The Scoop on Ice Cream

    Jul 28 2015

    It’s one of the most complex food products you’ll ever consume: a thermodynamic miracle that contains all three states of matter—solid, liquid, and gas—at the same time. And yet no birthday party, beach trip, or Fourth of July celebration is complete without a scoop or two. That’s right—in this episode of Gastropod, we serve up a big bowl of delicious ice cream, topped with the hot fudge sauce of history and a sprinkling of science. Grab your spoons and ...more

  • Crunch, Crackle, and Pop

    Jul 14 2015

    “Sound is the forgotten flavor sense,” says experimental psychologist Charles Spence. In this episode, we discover how manipulating sound can transform our experience of food and drink, making stale potato chips taste fresh, adding the sensation of cream to black coffee, or boosting the savory, peaty notes in whiskey. Composers have written music to go with feasts and banquets since antiquity—indeed, in at a particularly spectacular dinner hosted by Duke Philip of Burgundy in ...more

  • Field Recordings

    Jun 30 2015

    Plants that can hear themselves being eaten. Microphone-equipped drones that eavesdrop on sick chickens. Lasers that detect an insect’s wing-beats from dozens of feet away. In this James Bond-inspired episode of Gastropod, we listen to the soundtrack of farming, decode the meaning hidden in each squawk, moo, and buzz, and learn how we can use that information to improve our food in the future. Tune in now for this special broadcast of the barnyard orchestra!See omnystudio.com/listener for...more

  • The Cocktail Hour

    May 26 2015

    Whether you sip it with friends, chug it before hitting the dance floor, or take it as a post-work pick-me-up, there’s clearly nothing like a cocktail for bracing the spirit. In addition to its peculiar history as a medicinal tonic, plenty of hard science lies behind the perfect cocktail, from the relationship between taste perception and temperature to the all-important decision of whether to shake or stir. What’s more, according to historian David Wondrich, mixology is “the ...more

  • Gastropod on Gastropods

    May 04 2015

    Finally, Gastropod is tackling gastropods! In this episode, Cynthia visits one of America’s first and only snail farms. Though Gastropod is, as regular listeners know, a podcast about the science and history of all things gastronomical, we do share a name with Gastropoda, the taxonomic class that includes slugs and snails. And, as it turns out, the history and science of heliciculture, or snail farming, is completely fascinating. Join Cynthia on a trip to rural Washington State to learn h...more

  • Savor Flavor

    Apr 21 2015

    Why does grape candy taste so fake? What on earth is blue raspberry, anyway? And what is the difference between natural and artificial, at least when it comes to flavor? Join us as we taste the rainbow on this episode of Gastropod, from artificial flavoring’s public debut at the 1851 Crystal Palace exhibition, to the vanilla-burping yeasts of the future. We’ll experiment with Skittles, discover how invented flavors first appeared in our daily diets, and visit a synthetic biology lab...more

  • Say Cheese!

    Mar 23 2015

    Cheese is the chameleon of the food world, as well as one of its greatest delights. Fresh and light or funky and earthy, creamy and melty or crystalline and crumbly—no other food offers such a variety of flavors and textures. But cheese is not just a treat for the palate: its discovery changed the course of Western civilization, and, today, cheese rinds are helping scientists conduct cutting-edge research into microbial ecology. In this episode of Gastropod, we investigate cheese in all s...more

  • No Scrubs: Breeding a Better Bull

    Feb 17 2015

    In 1900, the average dairy cow in America produced 424 gallons of milk each year. By 2000, that figure had more than quadrupled, to 2,116 gallons. In this episode of Gastropod, we explore the incredible science that transformed the American cow into a milk machine—but we also uncover the disturbing history of prejudice and animal cruelty that accompanied it. Along the way, we’ll introduce you to the insane logic of the Lifetime Cheese Merit algorithm and the surreal bull trials of t...more

  • Breakfast of Champions

    Jan 20 2015

    Breakfast: the most important meal of the day. Or is it? In this episode of Gastropod, we explore the science and history behind the most intentionally designed, the most industrialized, and the most argued about meal of all. Armed with a healthy dose of caffeine chronopharmacology, we embark on a global breakfast tour that exposes the worldwide dominance of Nutella, as well as the toddler kimchi acclimatization process. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., we trace the American breakfast’s evolu...more

  • Kale of the Sea

    Dec 09 2014

    Call off the search for the new kale: we’ve found it, and it’s called kelp! In this episode of Gastropod, we explore the science behind the new wave of seaweed farms springing up off the New England coast, and discover seaweed’s starring role in the peopling of the Americas. The story of seaweed will take us from a medicine hut in southern Chile to a high-tech seaweed nursery in Stamford, Connecticut, and from biofuels to beer, as we discover the surprising history and bright ...more

  • The Microbe Revolution

    Nov 11 2014

    Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard about the human microbiome. Research into the composition, function, and importance of the galaxy of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that, when we’re healthy, live in symbiotic balance in and on us has become one of the fastest moving and most intriguing fields of scientific study. But it turns out that plants have a microbiome too—and it’s just as important and exciting as ours...more

  • Dan Barber’s Quest for Flavor

    Oct 14 2014

    In this latest episode of Gastropod, chef and author Dan Barber takes listeners on a journey around the world in search of great flavor and the ecosystems that support it, from Spain to the deep South. You’ll hear how a carefully tended landscape of cork trees makes for delicious ham, and about a squash so cutting edge it doesn’t yet have a name, in this deep dive into the intertwined history and science of soil, cuisine, and flavor. It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a ...more

  • Episode 1: The Golden Spoon

    Sep 06 2014

    Chances are, you’ve spent more time thinking about the specs on your smartphone than about the gadgets that you use to put food in your mouth. But the shape and material properties of forks, spoons, and knives turn out to matter—a lot. Changes in the design of cutlery have not only affected how and what we eat, but also what our food tastes like. There’s even evidence that the adoption of the table knife transformed the shape of European faces. To explore the hidden history a...more