June 10, 2013 9:56 am
Making tea might seem pretty easy; you just heat up some water and add some tea leaves. But apparently there are a lot of things us novice tea makers are doing wrong. A big one is using the microwave to heat up our water.
It seems like no big deal. Tea requires hot water. Microwaves make things hot. What’s the problem?
It turns out that tea requires certain types of hot water. That is, water at a certain temperature. Green tea, for example, should be steeped at 176º F; herbal tea requires 210º F. When you stick your mug in the microwave, you have no idea how hot your water is. Tea kettles, on the other hand, are designed to heat tea to 212º F, according to Slate.
There are a lot of other theories about why nuking your mug isn’t the best. Slate says that the microwave will result in unevenly hot water:
Microwave ovens shoot tiny waves into the liquid at random locations, causing the water molecules at those points to vibrate rapidly. If the water isn’t heated for long enough, the result is isolated pockets of very hot or boiling water amid a larger body of water that’s cooler. Such water may misleadingly exhibit signs of boiling despite not being a uniform 212 degrees. For instance, what appears to be steam rising from a mug of microwaved water is only moist vapor evaporating off the water’s surface and condensing into mist on contact with cooler air—it’s the same principle that makes our breath visible on frigid days.
That’s not true—after all, microwave wavelengths are about 4-inches, so unless you have a really huge teacup, you’re getting pretty even heating, especially if you remember to put it on the edge of the carousel, so we don’t think that’s much of a problem, especially if you stir after heating.
The two do agree though, that the right temperature of water is really important. Overheating your water can make your tea taste bitter and weird, says Slate. But those without a kettle shouldn’t despair just yet: as long as you’re willing to drink only green tea, the microwave is the way to go.
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June 7, 2013 10:31 am
Important Friday News: It’s national doughnut day. Yes, this is a real holiday. Yes, it means free doughnuts.
So, first things first: where can one get these free doughnuts? ABC News has a list with the relevant caveats.
Okay, now that you know where the doughnuts are, let’s talk about why the doughnuts are.
Why is there a national doughnut day at all? The celebration dates all the way back to 1938, when the Salvation Army wanted to honor women who served doughnuts to soldiers during World War I. Of course, the doughnuts that these women were serving aren’t quite like the ones you’ll get for free today at Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme. The history of the doughnut is a longer one than you might think. Smithsonian Magazine covered the doughnut tradition, explaining that:
Of course doughnuts in some form or other have been around so long that archaeologists keep turning up fossilized bits of what look like doughnuts in the middens of prehistoric Native American settlements. But the doughnut proper (if that’s the right word) supposedly came to Manhattan (then still New Amsterdam) under the unappetizing Dutch name of olykoeks–”oily cakes.”
That story also explained the reason women gave returning soldiers doughnuts:
But in fact doughnuts didn’t come into their own until World War I, when millions of homesick American doughboys met millions of doughnuts in the trenches of France. They were served up by women volunteers who even brought them to the front lines to give soldiers a tasty touch of home. When the doughboys came back from the war they had a natu-ral yen for more doughnuts.
Lots happened between then and now, including the invention of the doughnut machine and the rise of Krispy Kreme, culminating in today’s version of National Doughnut Day. And some have tried to innovate further on the doughnut. Take the cronut, for example—half doughnut, half croissant. Here’s a fancier description from Grub Street:
Each one of these puppies is made from pastry dough that’s been sheeted, laminated, proofed, then fried like a doughnut and rolled in flavored sugar. But that’s not all: Cronuts-to-be are also filled with a not-so-sweet Tahitian vanilla cream, given a fresh coat of rose glaze, and bedazzled with rose sugar.
Unfortunately cronuts are not part of National Doughnut Day. And they’re far from free: there are reports of single ones going for upwards of $40. Probably best to stick with the classic, for today at least.
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June 5, 2013 1:51 pm
Connecticut’s legislature has become the first in the country to pass a law that requires labeling all genetically modified organisms. But Connecticut shoppers won’t be seeing labels on their food just yet. The bill comes with a lot of caveats—most importantly that it will only actually come into effect if it can find company—but if it goes into effect, it will be the most comprehensive GMO labeling law in the nation.
Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s office issued a press release, explaining:
House Bill 6527 – An Act Concerning Genetically-Engineered Food, will require producers to label genetically-engineered food in Connecticut as long as four states from the New England region with an aggregate population of 20 million also adopt a labeling provision.
The fight over GMO labeling (and GMOs in general) has been a heated one for many years. Proponents of Connecticut’s bill says that consumers have a right to know whether the products they’re buying have been genetically modified—a term the bill defined this way:
“…food that is intended for human consumption and seed that is intended to produce food for human consumption, which has been genetically altered by scientists to improve its ability to grow in non-native environments, resist pests, tolerate extreme weather conditions, produce more food (like milk in cows), or show other desired traits.”
Opponents point out that very little, if any, science has proven GMOs to be dangerous for people’s health. Genetics professor Pamela Ronald wrote in Scientific American in 2011, “There is broad scientiﬁc consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops.” And one review paper that looked at studies on adverse health effects due to genetically modified crops concluded, “The review of available literature indicates that the genetically modified crops available in the market that are intended for human consumption are generally safe; their consumption is not associated with serious health problems.”
But many lawmakers and consumers aren’t convinced. Connecticut isn’t the first state to attempt to label GMOs. Last year, Californians voted on Proposition 37, which would have required companies to label GMO foods. New Hampshire, Maine, Massachussetts and Rhode Island are all talking about GMO labeling bills right now. In Alaska, they passed a bill in 2005 that required labeling genetically engineered fish and shellfish.
It remains to be seen whether Connecticut will get enough support from its neighboring states for their bill to go into effect, but the debate over GMO labeling won’t be going away any time soon.
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June 5, 2013 12:19 pm
Conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval’s passion for protecting sea turtles likely cost him his life. Sandoval was always outspoken against wildlife poachers and their link to drug trafficking, the New Scientist explains:
In articles published in April in La Nación, Costa Rica’s leading newspaper, Mora Sandoval and other conservationists highlighted the links between drug trafficking and wildlife poaching – including a disturbing trend for crack-addicted poachers to be paid for turtle eggs with drugs.
Turtle eggs are believed by local people to be an aphrodisiac, and retail for about US$1 each….Given that a single nest can contain 80 or more eggs, trading in turtle eggs can be a lucrative sideline for criminals employed by drugs gangs to move their products along the coast.
Sandoval was found dead on Friday, his body discarded on a beach he used to patrol for baby leatherback turtles with the non-profit conservation group Widecast, the New Scientist reports. Sandoval had been bound, beaten and shot point-blank through the head. The Huffington Post elaborates:
Mora Sandoval, 26, had been patrolling the beach along with four other female volunteers Thursday night when masked men kidnapped them. The women escaped their attackers and went to police, [Widecast director Didiher] Chacon said.
Authorities and colleagues suspect his murder was carried out by drug traffickers working around the Costa Rican beach where Sandoval carried out his turtle research. This isn’t just a problem in Costa Rica: 2011 and 2012 saw a significant increase in the number of environmental scientists and activists murdered over the wildlife or habitats they sought to protect, Yale’s Environment 360 reports.
Most likely, drug dealers got tired of dealing with Sandoval’s efforts to protect the turtles and call attention to their illegal activities. In March 2012, traffickers raided a turtle incubation station on the beach and held the workers at gunpoint while they smashed all of the eggs. According to the New Scientist, locals later confirmed that the raid was a warning, though Sandoval did not comply.
Just weeks before his death, More Sandoval was personally threatened at gunpoint, and given a similar warning. “We said, ‘You should get the hell out of there, that’s just too much,’” says Christine Figgener, a friend who works for another turtle conservation project at Ostional, on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.
Conservationists suspect that the police will lose interest in protecting the beach after the buzz surrounding Sandoval’s death dies down, the New Scientist reports, and they worry that the foreign volunteers who carry out much of the work will stop coming due to safety concerns.
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June 5, 2013 10:23 am
Around 3.5 million years ago, human ancestors became less ape-like in their diet, supplementing leaves and fruit with grass and sedge, according to new research published in four new studies in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors think that this transition helped to eventually turn us onto some of the foods we most enjoy today—grains, vegetables and meat from grazing animals. NPR reports:
What the team looked at specifically were the amounts of certain isotopes of carbon that get taken up from our food and deposited in our teeth. These isotopes reveal what we and our ancestors were eating.
The researchers examined 173 teeth from 11 species of hominins, which include human ancestors and extinct relatives.
What the tale of the teeth reveals is this: About 3.5 million years ago, our ancestors started switching from the ape diet — leaves and fruit — to grasses and grass-like sedges. In the terminology, they switched from C3 plants to C4 plants.
Around 4 million years ago, our ancestors ate about 90 percent fruit and leaves, a diet nearly identical to that of chimps. But 1.4 million years ago, grasses made up around 55 percent of some Homo diets.
This switch may mirror changes that were going on in the local environment. Around 10 million years ago, NPR reports, Africa’s forests began thinning into grassy savannas. Over millions of years, animals that lived there, including hominins, adapted, switching to a diet predominantly composed of grass. Some dietary questions remain, NPR reports:
Now, one thing this carbon isotope technique can’t tell is whether Australopithecus just grazed like a bunch of antelope, or whether they ate the antelope that did the grazing. The carbon signal from the C4 plants gets taken up in animal (or insect) tissue and passed on to whoever eats that tissue (thus, when we eat chicken, we’re pretty much eating corn).
By 10,000 years ago—a blink in evolutionary time—Homo sapiens’ teeth give away a diet split neatly between trees and grasses, and also most likely included tree and grass-eating animals. This 50-50 diet is almost identical to that of modern North Americans, the authors write.
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