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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.
121 Episodes
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The produce section of most American supermarkets in the 1950s was minimal to a fault, with only a few dozen fruits and vegetables to choose from: perhaps one kind of apple, one kind of lettuce, a yellow onion, a pile of bananas. Today, grocery stores routinely offer hundreds of different fruits and vegetables, many of which would be unrecognizable to time travelers from a half century ago. What changed, and how did Americans learn to embrace spaghetti squash, sugar snap peas, and kiwi fruit? This episode, we tell the story of the woman behind this transformation: Frieda Caplan, the Queen of Kiwi.
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 and emerging science of cutlery for our brand new podcast, Gastropod spoke to Bee Wilson, food historian and author of Consider the Fork, and Zoe Laughlin, co-founder of the Institute of Making at University College London.
Pizza Pizza!

Pizza Pizza!

2020-05-1947:14

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 subsistence snack to today's delivery staple? Listen in this episode as we travel with historian Carol Helstosky, author of Pizza: A Global History, and Francisco Migoya, head chef at Modernist Cuisine, from Italy to New York to Brazil and beyond, to tell the story of how pizza conquered the world. All that, plus the tough questions: is Chicago deep dish really pizza? How about bananas on top? What about (gasp) a donut pizza?
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 Republic of Congo is bushmeat? With the help of Gina Rae La Cerva, author of the new book, Feasting Wild, we explore what we gain and lose by eating wild, from the lost primeval forests of Europe to Robin Hood, and from smoked monkey to bird spit.
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? And finally, who invented the blue raspberry? All that, plus one very sexy indigo-hued blossom.
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, and no one knows why—or how to save them. This episode, we join the team of intrepid marine biologists and tribal leaders on a mission to restore the cockle, on a journey that involves cockle viagra, a cockle vampire, and some carefully choreographed simultaneous spawning. Listen in now for a story of shellfish science and cultural history that will warm the cockles of your heart—and perhaps inspire the revival of other indigenous foods.
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 and facial deformity. But whole-wheat bashers had their retorts ready: "Whiteness and purity go hand in hand," proclaimed health writer Dr. Woods Hutchinson. "The whitest possible of white bread" is "not only much more appetizing, but ... more nutritious and more wholesome than any black, brown or brindled staff of life." White vs. wholewheat: this episode, we dive into the world's longest-running, highest-stakes food fight. Along the way: the invention of sliced bread, the science behind Wonder Bread's curious bounce, and a light dusting of eugenics. Listen in now as Aaron Bobrow-Strain, author of White Bread: A Social History of the Store-bought Loaf, unpacks the anxieties and values underlying the bread wars, while wheat breeder Steve Jones introduces us to the "approachable" loaf that he hopes will win the battle for once and for all.
Licorice is a polarizing candy: there are those who pick out the black jelly beans, those who think Twizzlers are better than Red Vines, and those who won't travel without a supply of salty dark lozenges. The dark and chewy treat begins life as a plant root that is more than fifty times as sweet as sugar. This episode, we tell the story of how a traditional remedy become England's first branded candy, and we get to the bottom of a medical mystery (licorice poisoning!) in a tale that involves both Tutankhamun and Henry VIII.
Our glaciers are melting, our forests are on fire, our harvests are increasingly decimated by either floods and drought. We are in a climate emergency that threatens our very survival, and it is, frankly, incredibly depressing. But this episode, we’ve got the story of one of the most exciting, seemingly feasible efforts to reduce atmospheric carbon—by storing it in the soil. The solution involves refreshing beer, crusty bread, and sweet, crunchy broccoli—and a complete reinvention of modern agriculture, including domesticating entirely new crops. And the impact could be huge: because a third of Earth’s ice-free surface is farmland, scientists say that banking just a tiny bit more carbon beneath our fields would help remove billions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. Join us this episode on our quest to discover how switching to no-till, regenerative agriculture and breeding brand new perennial crops can help restock soil carbon, produce delicious grains and greens, and—maybe—save the world.
Just a few decades ago, gin & tonics were considered rather stodgy and boring, the drink of suburbanites at the golf club. Today, the century-old drink is hot again. In part, that’s due to a boom in craft gin distilling—a ginaissance! But there’s also been a new wave of experimentation with gin’s life partner, tonic water. This episode, we focus on the tonic side of the equation. Which genius came up with the idea of combining quinine, a malaria drug, with soda water and sugar in order to create this refreshing beverage? How did the bark of a South American tree end up in everything from hair-restoring shampoo to cocktails? And is it true that the G&T began life as a pleasant way for the Anglo-Indian elite to take their anti-malarials? This episode, we take a sip of tonic’s history with Kim Walker and Mark Nesbitt, authors of the new book Just the Tonic: A Natural History of Tonic Water. Listen in for all that, plus beef-infused tonic wines, Aperol spritzes, and the gin & tonic’s true origin story. Cheers!
McDonald’s is mind-boggling. According to Adam Chandler, author of the recent book, Drive-Thru Dreams, it sells roughly 75 burgers every second and serves 68 million people every day—equivalent to 1 percent of the entire world’s population. “The golden arches are thought to be, according to an independent survey, more recognizable as a symbol than the Christian cross is around the world,” Chandler told us. This episode, we tell the story of McDonald’s—but more importantly, we explore what it has to say about who we are. To do that, we’re also joined by historian Marcia Chatelain, author of the new book Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, who helps us unpack the troubled but fascinating relationship between McDonald’s and African Americans. Why did taxpayers end up funding the spread of McDonald’s into the inner city “food deserts” it now dominates? Who invented the hamburger and how did it become America’s national cuisine? From a bustling barbecue stand in San Bernardino to Ray Kroc’s location-scouting airplane rides, and from the McNugget to the McJob, this episode we figure out how McDonald’s became so ubiquitous, and what that means for America.
Across America, feral pigs are on the rampage, wrecking fields of crops, hunting local wildlife to extinction, and even attacking humans. In the United Kingdom, Japanese knotweed is taking over the landscape: banks deny mortgages to infested properties, and the government regulates its disposal with the same precautions it takes for low-level nuclear waste. Humans are to blame—we introduced invasive species such as these to their new homes. But some conservation biologists and chefs think humans can also be the solution: by eating the invaders. Are we ready for a menu of Asian shore crab and bullfrogs—and can our appetite really make a difference, or might the approach lead to unforeseen consequences? This episode, we forage an invasive menu with chef Bun Lai, and then argue the case with conservation biologists Joe Roman and Sara Kuebbing. Listen in now!
This side dish of spicy, bubbly, funky pickled vegetables is such a staple in Korea that no meal is considered complete without it—but, recently, kimchi has found its way into burgers, pasta, grilled cheese, and even tacos. This episode, we trace the behind-the-scenes story of the “kimchi diplomacy” that turned Korea’s favorite fermented cabbage into an international food trend. And then, because we’re Gastropod, we take part in our very own cutting-edge science experiment to understand one of kimchi science’s most mysterious questions: where do the microbes that transform the sugars in cabbage into such tangy, savory flavors actually come from? Is it our hands? The soil? Or could the secret to all that deliciousness actually lie in the stomach of beetles and bugs? Listen in this episode for kimchi secrets, kimchi explosions, and a little bit of kimchi K-pop, too.
Menu Mind Control

Menu Mind Control

2019-11-1849:08

At its most basic, a menu is simply a way for a restaurant to communicate its offerings and their prices to its customers. But, perhaps even more importantly, says Alison Pearlman, author of a new book on menus called May We Suggest, a menu has to persuade diners that they want what the restaurant is selling. So how do menus do that—and are they somehow subconsciously manipulating our choices? Are there universal principles of effective menu design that savvy diners can identify and outsmart? Listen in this episode as we decode the history and science of the not-so-humble menu.
The earliest humans favored juicy, meaty mammoth at mealtimes. Ancient Romans loved their favorite herb, silphium, so much that they sprinkled it on everything from lamb to melon. In the 19th century United States, passenger pigeon pie was a cherished comfort food, long before chicken pot pie became commonplace. And, for dessert, Americans a century ago might have enjoyed a superlatively buttery Ansault pear, reckoned to be the greatest pear ever grown. What did these foods beloved by previous generations taste like? Well, apart from some written descriptions, we’ll never know: they’re all extinct. Join us this episode as culinary geographer Lenore Newman takes us on a tour of lost foods—and the lessons they can teach us as we fight to save our current favorite foods from disappearing forever. “Shooting wild pigeons in Iowa,” illustration from the 2 July 1867 edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (vol. XXV, no. 625, p. 8), from “Large-scale live capture of Passenger Pigeons Ectopistes migratorius for sporting purposes: Overlooked illustrated documentation,” by Julian Hume. “This project started because of a bird,” Lenore Newman told Gastropod. “And that bird was Martha.” Newman’s project is a new book titled Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food; Martha was a passenger pigeon and the last living member of her species—an “endling,” as such lonely creatures are evocatively called. Her death, on September 1st, 1914, represented the first time that humanity watched a species disappear, in full awareness of the concept of extinction and our role in causing this particular one. “There was no denying it was us,” said Newman: somehow, together, we had eaten so many pigeons that we had wiped the most abundant bird in North America off the face of the planet. But the passenger pigeon wasn’t our first culinary extinction. This episode, Newman takes us on a tour through the foods we have eaten to their end, such as the Pleistocene megafauna, which early humans destroyed as our numbers spread around the world, and the leek-flavored silphium that was so valuable its last stalks were hoarded, alongside gold and jewels, by Roman emperors. In each case, we sift through the evidence that points to human appetite as the leading cause of extinction, and unpack the response of a bewildered, bereft humanity. Gold coin from Cyrene, from between 308-250 BC; the tails side depicts silphium. The Romans clung to the belief that their beloved silphium could perhaps spontaneous reappear someday; the idea that that something could be gone forever was simply, at the time, inconceivable. The concept of extinction—along with its mirror, evolution—wasn’t formulated until the end of the eighteenth century, and it finally gave humans a framework within which to understand their actions. But, as Newman describes, the pace of culinary extinctions has only increased since then, with thousands and thousands of varieties of plants and breeds of animals vanishing in the early 20th century. Why have we allowed so many of the foods we love to vanish? What impact has their loss had—and what lessons can it teach us for the future? Listen in this episode as Newman helps us tackle these morbid questions, leaving us with some hope, as well as a whole new perspective on chicken.Episode NotesLenore Newman‘s Lost Feast Lenore Newman holds a Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley, where she is currently an associate professor of geography and the environment. Her most recent book is Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food; prior to that, she authored Speaking in Cod Tongues: A Canadian Culinary Journey. The Ansault pear, painted by Deborah G. Passmore on 10/13/1897, from the collection of the USDA National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland. The post Of Ghost Foods and Culinary Extinction appeared first on Gastropod.
Tiki Time!

Tiki Time!

2019-10-2242:34

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 bring back the lost flavors. But, while the drinks he rediscovered are delicious, does the classic tiki bar interior, adorned with carvings that resemble traditional Polynesian gods, stand the test of time? Listen in for tales of Hollywood celebrities, backyard luaus, and a savvy restaurateur with a wooden leg.
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 CRISPR story you haven’t heard—and for a taste of our CRISPRized future.
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, and then sit down with this souvenir list: 25 of our favorite fun facts from Gastropod, or five for each of the five years we’ve been making the show!
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 complicated evolution from medieval Moors to the invention of the blender, and from something that had been considered peasant food to a special occasion showstopper. Rachel Laudan is a food historian and author of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History—but, when she started researching mole, the first document she uncovered was hardly deep in the archives. When she first visited Mexico in the 1990s, Laudan went to a restaurant famous for its mole. “And, of course, they had the statutory place mat with the story of mole poblano being invented in a convent in the eighteenth century,” she told us. According to the origin story on the place mat, some nuns, in a panic because an archbishop was visiting and they had nothing to serve him, threw a bunch of spices in a pot and somehow came up with the perfect rich, chocolate-brown sauce. “That, to me, just sounds like propaganda,” said Fernando Lopez, one of three siblings whose father founded Guelaguetza, an Angeleno restaurant that is a temple to Oaxacan mole. He believes mole is far too complex to have been created overnight. Plus, mole comes in many varieties and colors. Guelaguetza serves six kinds of mole—mole negro, mole rojo, mole coloradito, mole amarillo, mole verde, and mole estofado—but Sandra Aguilar-Rodriguez, associate professor of Latin American history at Moravian College in Pennsylvania, told us that she could name ten versions off the top of her head, and that each town in the south of Mexico will have its own variation on the classic recipes. So where does this delicious and extremely labor-intensive sauce come from? This episode, with the help of chef Iliana de la Vega, Rachel Laudan, Sandra Aguilar-Rodriguez, and the Lopez siblings, we trace the varied elements that make up mole: the indigenous tradition of hand-ground sauces, the Old World ingredients and Baroque aesthetic, the surprising Islamic influence, and, yes, the nuns. And we tell the story of how mole was elevated from its humble, southern origins to become a sophisticated sauce that doubles as Mexico’s national dish. Plus, we’ve got the expert verdict on jarred mole pastes, for those of you who can’t face spending two to three days roasting and grinding nuts, chiles, and spices. Listen in now for a deep dive—literally, someone falls into a bucket of the stuff—into the mysteries of mole.Episode NotesGuelaguetza Guelaguetza’s website is ilovemole.com, and the restaurant in LA’s Koreatown is known for its delicious mole, as well as other Oaxacan specialties. We spoke to three of the four Lopez siblings—Bricia, Paulina, and Fernando Jr.—who run it today. You can buy mole paste from their online store (they have three varieties: rojo, negro, and coloradito) and order their new cookbook here.Iliana de la Vega and El Naranjo Chef Iliana de la Vega grew up in Mexico City, but her mother was from Oaxaca, and when she opened her first restaurant, El Naranjo, it was in Oaxaca. So many people asked for her mole recipe that she ended up opening a cooking school there, too. In 2006, she moved to Austin, Texas, and re-opened El Naranjo there; this year, she was a semi-finalist in the James Beard Awards for best chef in the Southwest.Rachel Laudan Rachel Laudan is a food historian whose most recent book, Cuisine and Empire, won Best Book in Culinary History from the International Association of Culinary Professionals Award in 2014. Her blog is required reading.Sandra Aguilar-Rodriguez Sandra Aguilar-Rodriguez is assistant professor of history at Moravian College, and author of the recent article, “Mole and mestizaje: race and national identity in twentieth-century Mexico.” The post Celebrate Mexico’s True National Holiday with the Mysteries of Mole appeared first on Gastropod.
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 workers, local communities, and the environment; and can the strawberry break free of their poisonous grip? Listen in this episode to find out!
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Comments (24)

Shala Perla

RIP Frieda

Jan 20th
Reply

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
Reply

Christian Courchesne

is this about food or politics? one episode mentioned the "current political climate" and another one went on a 20 minutes diatribe about how tiki is cultural appropriation, basically.

Nov 21st
Reply

Nikarra Palmer-Simmons

Ah, congrats on pronouncing Bundanoon right!

Oct 30th
Reply

andres sierra

could you guys make an episode about kombucha?

Sep 19th
Reply (1)

Astha Mehta

This one is *really* close to home! We have so MANY types of sharbat here in India. And so many other cooled/chilled drinks, sweet as well as savoury. 😍

Aug 7th
Reply

Alexander Gee

I get that they were trying to be unbiased but the swings between Tim nieve, Tim's research is likely to be as important as linking cigarettes to cancer just seemed like a mess.

Aug 1st
Reply (1)

Alexander Gee

If they do eat 75kg of fries each per year that's roughly 30% of their total annual calories intake + the mayo.

Jul 18th
Reply (1)

Alli K

I learned so much this episode about my favorite condiment! This was endlessly fascinating!

Apr 8th
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Levi Andersen

One of my fav episodes so far

Dec 6th
Reply

Levi Andersen

“The Incredible Egg” might be my fav episode so far. The Sporkful podcast is another fun food podcast with a more silly side

Dec 6th
Reply

Lotus Cafe

FDA is run by food industry people , They don't protect the public and never will

Sep 13th
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Micheal Brown

nothing more annoying than the word problematic

Jun 1st
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Rebecca Moore

I love this podcast. science and history of food. wonderful! I love learning about food. I would definitely recommend this podcast!

Apr 9th
Reply (1)

iTunes User

I'm a huge fan of Nicola's blog and am looking forward to hearing more from her with Gastropod!

Aug 30th
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iTunes User

Based on the first episode, this podcast has a lot of potential, but the hosts need a little more polish. The topics covered in the first episode were very interesting but the hosts banter in-between the stories was stilted and sounded unnatural (it often sounded like they were reading not really talking). I suspect that as they produce more episodes things will get more polished, so I look forward to hearing more.

Aug 30th
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iTunes User

Smart, funny and fresh take on important topics. I also enjoy the length: short enough to fit my commute, but long enough to cover more topics in more depth. Eager for more!

Aug 30th
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