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Gastropod

Author: Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley

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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 through food. Find us online at gastropod.com, follow us on Twitter @gastropodcast, and like us on Facebook at facebook.com/gastropodcast.

235 Episodes
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Sugar's Dark Shadow

Sugar's Dark Shadow

2024-05-2852:54

Your pantry's sweetest ingredient has an extremely bitter history. The sap-producing grass known as sugarcane has been grown and enjoyed by humans for at least 10,000 years, but it was only relatively recently that it went from a luxury to an everyday ingredient—a change that also triggered genocide, slavery, and the invention of modern racism. In this episode, how the Crusades got Europeans addicted to the sweet stuff, and how that appetite deforested southern Europe and kicked off the trade in enslaved Africans, before decimating indigenous populations in the New World and codifying racism into law. It's a dark story that involves Christopher Columbus' mistress, the early human rights advocate whose campaign to save indigenous people encouraged the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, and a trip to southern Louisiana, where we met Black sugarcane farmers to explore sugar's troubling legacy there. No sugar coating here: join us for the fascinating and horrifying history of this household staple. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
From our friends at Switched on Pop: Where were you when you learned that the McDonald's jingle "I'm lovin' it" was originally part of a full-fledged pop song by Justin Timberlake and Pharrell that flopped on the charts but found staying power as a slogan? For us, it was recording our live episode about sponsored content in pop back in March 2024, and we have not been the same since. Shaken by this revelation, we found ourselves asking, "What else don't we know about fast food jingles?" Turns out, it's a lot. From Taco Bell to Popeye's to Chili's, the music of fast food represent some of the most familiar melodies in society, across state lines and generations. But the stories behind those songs, and the way that fast food production and pop music production often move in parallel, was something we never saw coming. Since we are music experts but amateur foodies, we invited the brilliant hosts of Gastropod, Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley, to help serve up the history of fast food and its changing role in culture. Tune in and pig out with us as we listen and debate the artistic and ethical implications of the sounds of fast food. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
When you go out for a meal, it’s not just what's on your plate that matters, it's what's in your eardrums, too. From dining rooms so loud you have to shout to be heard, to playlists that sound like a generic Millennial Spotify account, it's not surprising that sound is the single most complained about aspect of restaurants. This episode, Gastropod explores the science behind the sonic experience of eating. Are restaurants really getting louder, and, if so, why? What does it take to create the perfect acoustic environment for dining? Can restaurateurs design their playlists to make customers order more or eat faster? Listen in now for the secrets to culinary acoustic bliss! Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
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 biopiracy, eccentric patrons and painful betrayals, as well as the successes and failures that shaped not only the way we eat, but America's place in the world. ENCORE Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
In his day, Luther Burbank was a horticultural rock star: everyone from opera singers to movie stars and European royalty to an Indian guru traveled to Santa Rosa, California, to meet him. Dubbed the "plant wizard," Burbank invented the plumcot and the stoneless plum, the white blackberry, and the potato variety used in every French fry you've ever eaten—as well as some 800 more new-and-improved plants, from walnuts to rhubarb. His fame as a plant inventor put him in the same league as Thomas Edison—but, while Edison patented his light bulb and phonograph, Burbank had no legal way to protect his crop creations. Listen now for the story of Luther Burbank, the most famous American you've never heard of, and how his struggles shaped what's on our supermarket shelves today, but also led to a world in which big companies like Monsanto can patent life. It's a wild ride that involves the death spiral of the Red Delicious and the rise of the Cosmic Crisp apple, as well as coded notebooks, detective agencies, rogue farmers, and a resistance movement led by former New York City mayor (and subsequent airport namesake) Fiorello La Guardia. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Americans eat more shrimp than any other seafood: on average, each person in the US gobbles up close to six pounds of the cheap crustaceans every year. We can eat so many of these bug-like shellfish because they’re incredibly inexpensive, making them the stars of all-you-can-eat shrimp buffets and single-digit seafood deals. But we've got bad news: this is one bargain that's too good to be true. More than 90 percent of the shrimp we eat comes from overseas, where looser regulations lead to horrific labor abuses, environmental destruction, and the use of banned chemicals and antibiotics—all while American shrimpers struggle to survive. This episode, we’re exploring the history of how shrimp went from a fancy delicacy to buffet bargain (yes, Forrest Gump is involved), plus what to do if you want to enjoy everybody's favorite seafood with a clear conscience. Hold the cocktail sauce: this episode will change how you look at your favorite appetizer forever. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
If we at Gastropod were asked to name a perfect food, the oyster would be at the top of our list. Oysters are pretty much always our answer to the question of what we'd like to eat this evening—but are they also the answer to the slow-motion disaster of disappearing coastlines worldwide? Join us this episode as we discover how this magical mollusk contains a pearl of hope in the fight to counter rising sea-levels, prevent erosion, and buffer storm surges everywhere from hurricane-hit New Orleans to New York City's flood-prone fringes. But be prepared: you just might join the ranks of the oyster obsessed. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
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 processes? You’ve heard of personalized medicine, will there be such a thing as personalized diets? And should there be? Can teasing out the nuances of how each individual body processes different foods make us all healthier? To find out, we signed ourselves up as study participants, sticking pins in our fingers, weighing our food, and providing fecal samples, all for science—and for you, dear listeners. Listen in now as we take part in this ground-breaking study, discover our own differences, and find out the early results! (Encore episode) Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
If "Cajun-style" only makes you think of spicy chicken sandwiches and popcorn shrimp, you need to join us in the Big Easy this episode, to meet the real Cajun flavor. Cajun cuisine and its close cousin, Creole, were born out of the unique landscape of the Mississippi River delta, whose bounty was sufficient to support large, complex Indigenous societies, without the need for farming or even social hierarchies, for thousands of years. Europeans were slow to appreciate the wealth of this waterlogged country, but, as waves of French, Spanish, and American colonists and enslaved Africans arrived in Louisiana and the port of New Orleans, they all shaped the food that makes it famous today. But it would take a formerly enslaved woman turned international celebrity chef, a legendary restaurant that's hosted Freedom Riders, U.S. presidents, and Queen B, and a blackened redfish craze to turn Louisiana's flavorsome food into a global trend. Come on down to the bayou this episode, as we catch crawfish and cook up a storm to tell the story of how Cajun and Creole flavors ended up on home-cooking shows, in Disney movies, and at drive-throughs nationwide. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
After Dan’s pasta shape, cascatelli, was launched, people everywhere were cooking with it and sending him photos of what they were making. As exciting as that was, he was disappointed that most folks were only making a handful of well-worn dishes with this new shape. So Dan decided to write a cookbook to show the world that there’s so much more you can and should be putting on all your pasta shapes, cascatelli and beyond! There’s only one problem: he’s never written a recipe in his life. In this four-part series, Dan shares the inside story of creating his first cookbook, Anything’s Pastable — from the highs and lows of recipe testing, to a research trip across Italy, to the agonizing decisions over the design of the cover. Listen to this special guest episode of The Sporkful now. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Can You Patent a Pizza?

Can You Patent a Pizza?

2024-03-0552:211

Close your eyes and imagine this: a world without stuffed crust pizza. We know!—but that was the dismal state of the Italian flatbread scene before 1985, when Anthony Mongiello, aka The Big Cheese, came up with an innovation that loaded even more cheese onto pizza, while saving crusts nationwide from the trashcan. It was a multi-million dollar idea, Mongiello was sure—if only he could figure out how to protect his intellectual property and license it. But can you copyright the recipe for stuffing the crust? Could that puffy, cheese-filled rim be trademarked, or the technique for making it qualify as a trade secret? Can you patent a pizza? And did Pizza Hut, which unveiled their own stuffed crust pie in 1995, steal his idea—or does the concept of a cheesy crust belong to humanity as a whole? This episode, we're diving deep into the weird and wonderful world of food IP, via the legendary legal battles to defend Pepperidge Farm's Goldfish, Smucker's Uncrustables, and that futuristic mall treat of the 90s, Dippin' Dots ice cream. Listen in now for the true story of stuffed crust pizza—a story in which creativity, commerce, and lots and lots of cheese collide. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
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 the most? And then we take you behind the scenes into another epic fight: the struggle for the perfect fry. Can food scientists create a fry with the ultimate crispy shell and soft inside, one that can stay that way while your delivery driver is stuck in traffic? Plus, the condiment wars: does mayo really have the edge over ketchup? Listen in now to find out! (Encore episode) Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
In contrast to the abundance of the Arctic, in Antarctica, "once you leave the coast, you're basically heading to the moon." Jason Anthony, who spent several summers on the seventh continent, told us that in this desert of ice and stone (where the largest terrestrial animal is a tiny wingless midge), food isn't just important—it's everything. This episode is packed full of stories of survival at Earth's southernmost points, from Heroic Era expedition chefs whipping up croissants on the ice, to desperate Dorito auctions when supplies run low today. Plus, listen in now for the scoop on how food fueled the race to the South Pole—and determined the ultimate winner and loser. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
You may feel like it's cold where you live, but in the Arctic, the average temperature is well below freezing all year round. In winter, it's also pitch black for weeks on end—not an ideal environment for growing food. Still, for thousands of years, people in the Arctic have thrived in a landscape that most outsiders would find fatally inhospitable. This episode, we point our compasses north on a journey to discover how traditional knowledge, ingenuity, and a lot of hard work—combined with genetics and microbes—have allowed the indigenous populations of the far North to not only successfully feed themselves, but also develop a distinctive and remarkable cuisine. Tune in now for the secrets of a dish that feels like Fourth of July fireworks in your mouth, the story of Iceland's second-most famous celebrity (after Björk), and the science behind how to avoid scurvy on an almost vegetable-free diet. Just don't forget your long underwear! Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
“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 her journey into the history and science behind blind tasting, wine flavor wheels, and the craft of the sommelier. You'll never feel lost in front of a wine list again. (encore) Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
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 hard drugs—and, to help tell the tale, Cynthia and Nicky visit Britain's one and only commercial tea plantation, tucked away in a secret garden on an aristocratic estate on the Cornish coast. While harvesting and processing tea leaves, we learn the difference between green and black tea, as well as which is better for your health. Put the kettle on, and settle in for the science and history of tea! (encore edition) Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
When it comes to booze, it’s fun to be bitter: an Aperol spritz has been the drink of summer for about five years, vermouth and soda was apparentlythe "hot girl" drink of 2023, and amaro is having "a major moment." Bitter botanical beverages are everywhere, but that doesn’t mean we understand what on earth they are. Could you explain the difference between vermouth and amaro, or whether either is an aperitif or a digestif? Where do Aperol, Campari, and Chartreuse fit in, and what’s the difference between drinks called bitters and the bitters your bartender dashes into a Manhattan? This episode, Gastropod is on the case of the confusing bitter beverages, starting with their origins in alchemy. (That pre-dinner spritz is pretty magical!) Listen in now to find out why Napoleon chugged cologne, how a shopkeeper’s assistant created the preferred drink of kings and influencers, and how you should enjoy these trendy new botanical beverages. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Rice, Rice Baby

Rice, Rice Baby

2023-12-0554:192

Though rice might not feature in a hit 1990s Vanilla Ice rap, this grain tops the charts in other ways: it's the staple food for more than half the global population, and it's grown by more farmers than any other crop on Earth, from Japan to West Africa to Italy's Po River valley. Rice is so central that it's been used as currency, embedded itself in language, and formed the basis of beloved dishes, from sushi to jollof to risotto. But this adaptable grass has two features that have molded rice cultures and directed the grain's destiny: it can grow in an aquatic environment, but it requires cooperation to cultivate. In this episode, we explore how rice's relationship to water and community have shaped stories all over the world, from Japanese-American rice growers in California's drought-prone San Joaquin valley to Bangladeshi farmers facing flooding from climate change. Plus: could taking rice out of water not only build a better future for African-American rice farmers in the American South, but save the planet in the process? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Is white chocolate really chocolate? What causes asparagus pee? Sprinkles or jimmies—which do you call them, and is the term ‘jimmies’ racist? Why is the heat of mustard and wasabi so different from a chile burn? This episode, Gastropod is getting to the bottom of your most pressing questions—which also means diving into some of the internet’s most controversial food debates. Listen in now as we call in historians and scientists to bust myths, solve mysteries, and find out why some people turn asparagus into the devil’s own brew! Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
No pumpkin spice latte, cookie, candle, or seasonal can of Spam (yes, really) would be the same without one of its key flavors: nutmeg, a warm, woody spice grated from the seed of a tropical fruit. But back in the 1600s, nutmeg wasn’t so common that you could put it in everything from coffee to soap. In fact, nutmeg once grew only in one place in the entire world: the Banda Islands, a Pacific archipelago too tiny to even appear on regular maps. To get their precious nutmeg, European sailors had to brave a three-year journey filled with the possibility of shipwreck, storms, scurvy, dysentery, starvation, and death—so it's not surprising that the spice was so valuable that the crew weren't allowed to have pockets in their clothing, in case they smuggled some ashore for themselves! But how did one heroic Brit, Nathaniel Courthope, end up changing the course of nutmeg history—and, with it, the fate of not just pumpkin spice lattes, but also the city of New York? Listen now for the spicy, swashbuckling tale behind the season's favorite flavor. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
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Comments (41)

Bob Daye

There are no disappearing coastlines worldwide. Why would billionaires buy costal property or developers spend billions on low lying islands like the Seychelles for new resorts?

May 8th
Reply

Lisa Santana

Kind of strange to read that Luther Burbank is unknown. We learned about him in elementary school!

May 1st
Reply

Reuben Philip Gabbay

fooooooooood do u like it?

Mar 11th
Reply

Tea

that caller was absolutely watching The Terror

Feb 6th
Reply

Sophie Johnson

just me or does the episode end mid sentence?

Jun 10th
Reply

Basil42

Fantastic podcast about the history science food that are never really talked about much. Not a huge fan of how many "guest episodes" and repeats they do now, I would much rather prefer hearing Cynthia and Nicola host and present. But the ones that they do actually make are great!

Sep 28th
Reply

Samir Dallali

EU has reported that glyphosate is not a carcinogen just recently sooo ...

Jun 8th
Reply

sh.imn69 imn69

Excellent

Apr 22nd
Reply

Samir Dallali

everyone on this podcast missed the whole point of vertical urban farming, so many things that it solves where not mentioned. think about creating space for rewilding nature by bringing agriculture to cities, think about supplying food deserts with fresh produce. no seasons, perfect for climate adaption. no pesticides or fertilizers going into surrounding ground water etc. vertical farming is not perfect but definitely needed. and we are far from reaching a point where these pro's will show

Feb 18th
Reply

Rayna Ketchum

Just finished the Date esp. I was really disappointed to hear cultural appropriation being reported on without being called out. The date festival and beauty contest were talked about as a funny, cute experience. Considering how our country has mistreated people from the middle east, it is completely inappropriate (and a form of violence) to celebrate a bastardized version of their culture. this is not the critical and thoughtful type of reporting that I'm used to from gastropod.

Jan 18th
Reply

Patty

tw s36gAMbMg3oKJ?Ghrn

Jul 14th
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Miike Green

great content but presenter had a very ...distracting voice. it's like sandpaper in my ears. is it vocal fry? Anyway, I still managed to enjoy this episode.

Jul 2nd
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Isobel Holland

Thank you for this episode. It gave me a much greater understanding of BLM and intersectionality.

Jun 26th
Reply

Andres Rosales

at minute 19 theres two audio tracks on top of each other

Oct 28th
Reply

arthur victor

such a great episode! thanks

Aug 6th
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arthur victor

great Topic!

Jul 27th
Reply

arthur victor

very good topic.

Jul 6th
Reply

Shala Perla

RIP Frieda

Jan 20th
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Shala Perla

this was a fascinating listen! I never knew this ! thank you for such an informative episode !

Jan 6th
Reply (2)

Jason Stachura

Content is great but the odd inflections used by one of the hosts becomes like a box grater.

Dec 28th
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