November 25, 2013 9:30 am
Thanksgiving’s just a few days away, which means that cooks around the country are adding squash to their shopping list. Delicious gourds of all shapes and sizes—butternut, delicata, acorn, pumpkin, kabocha—are a fall staple. But why do we call these fleshy and really quite resilient vegetables “squash”?
The short answer is that the word is an adapted version of the Narragansett Native American word askutasquash, which translates to “eaten raw or uncooked.” According to the Library of Congress, these squash took some getting used to for European settlers:
Virginia and New England settlers were not very impressed by the Indians’ squash until they had to survive the harsh winter, at which point they adopted squash and pumpkins as staples. Squashes were baked, cut and moistened with animal fat, maple syrup, and honey.
They did eventually learn the wonders of the squash though. The first cookbook ever written by an American and published in the United States had a pumpkin pie recipe in it, and many presidents grew squash in their gardens. And now you can impress your Thanksgiving dinner guests with a little Narragansett Native American while you’re cooking.
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November 22, 2013 9:20 am
Ancient Canaanites knew how to have a good time. They were fond of wine bursting with the flavors of mint, honey and psychotropic resins, new archaeological evidence reveals. They stored up to 2,000 liters of that good stuff at a time in a massive wine cellar recently unearthed in northern Israel, researchers reported today at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
Archeologists working on the site say it is the largest and oldest wine cellar ever discovered in the Near East. The remnants of 40 massive wine jars still remain in the cellar, which was built around 1,700 BC. Researchers used those fragments to clue them in to the make-up of the booze the Canaanites once brewed. By analyzed organic residues still left on the jars, they identified molecules of wine components such as tartaric and syringic acid, along with a number of additional flavor enhancers, including honey, mint, cinnamon, juniper berries and resins. The recipe, the researchers say, must have been standardized because all of the jars reveal a strikingly similar mixture.
Based on the cellar’s location near an ancient banquet hall, the team suspects that hosts broke out the wine to entertain important members of society and perhaps to throw parties with foreign visitors. And based on prior knowledge of the Canaanites’ culinary habits, they probably paired the wine with ample helpings of goat meat at those ancient feasts.
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November 21, 2013 12:03 pm
Cheese’s salty, creamy, gooey goodness is made possible from the biological efforts of molds and bacteria. But what if those bacteria came not from a cow, goat, sheep or the broader environment, but were intentionally colonized from a human nose, toe or belly button?
At Dublin’s Science Gallery, artists and cheesemakers lovingly harvested human microbes and cultured them into several delicious-looking but mentally off-putting wheels of cheese. The cheeses are part of a Selfmade, one installation in an exhibit called “Grow Your Own…” that explores the possibilities of synthetic life.* Each of the eleven cheeses, collected with a sterile swab from various artists and scientists’ body parts, represents a unique microbial landscape, they say, including tears, a belly button, the inside of a man’s nose and a mouth.
Here, the artists explain their work’s methodology:
Isolated microbial strains were identified and characterised using microbiological techniques and 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing. Like the human body, each cheese has a unique set of microbes that metabolically shape a unique odour. Cheese odours were sampled and characterised using headspace gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis, a technique used to identify and/or quantify volatile organic compounds present in a sample.
The cheeses, apparently, were faithful to the body smells of their original donors. “It’s no surprise that sometimes cheese odors and body odors are similar,” artist Christina Agapakis explained to Dezeen maagzine. “But when we started working together we were surprised by how not only do cheese and smelly body parts like feet share similar odor molecules but also have similar microbial populations.”
The artists recently held a wine and cheese pairing event, in which visitors stuck their noses close to the human cheese and took a big whiff. They were not allowed, however, to actually sample those delicacies. But if visitors were given a chance to take a nibble, the odds that they would agree are questionable. As one viewer anonymously wrote in a review of the exhibit, the Atlantic reports, “The cheese one: I is so yuck and grose.”
*This sentence has been updated for clarity.
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November 19, 2013 12:08 pm
These days, more and more restaurants and businesses are offering things to eat for people who can’t eat gluten. But what about things to drink? Beer is out. Anything made from grapes should be safe (although there’s a small chance the production process of wine could be a problem). Bourbon is ok; rye whiskey is often not.
As tricky as finding gluten-free alcohol can be tricky, a debate over spirits labeling might make it even trickier. According to the FDA distilled spirits should never have any gluten in them, unless it’s added after distillation. So adding a “gluten free” label might be seen as a total marketing ploy. But in 2012, the Tobacoco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) ruled that gluten-free vodkas could hit the markets. Fred Minnick at Scientific American explains:
The TTB measure—which is under review after passage of the FDA gluten-free labeling standards in August—allows nonwheat, rye or barley distilled products to be labeled as gluten-free if verified by an R5 Mendez competitive ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay), the main testing method for determining gluten in distilled spirits. Other gluten analysis techniques, including the sandwich R5 ELISA, often misconstrue the quantity of protein fragments in hydrolyzed products. According to Spain’s National Center for Biotechnology, the competitive ELISA only requires one QQPFP peptide epitope to react with the R5 antibody, and is capable of effectively measuring intact and hydrolyzed gluten in foods, syrups or beers down to three parts per million gluten.
Others say that labeling something like vodka gluten-free is like labeling water fat-free—it just doesn’t make sense. “All vodka is gluten-free unless there is some flavored vodka out there where someone adds a gluten-containing ingredient,” Taylor told Minnick. “I know that many celiac sufferers are extra-cautious. That is their privilege. But their [vodka] concerns are usually not science-based.”
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November 19, 2013 9:23 am
Egyptians Mummified The Beef Ribs And Sliced Goat Meat They Sent on With Their Rulers to the Afterlife
High-standing members of society and their pets weren’t the only pieces of dead flesh getting mummified in ancient Egypt. Meat offerings, too, were given the kingly mummy treatment. Food mummies, researchers from the UK and Egypt write, complete the “trilogy” of Egyptian mummies, alongside humans and animals. Now, they have figured out just how those meat mummies came into being and withstood the trial of time. “The Ancient Egyptians prepared the food offerings they made to their dead using preservation techniques at least as exotic as those used in embalming human and animal mummies,” they report.
The researchers chemically analyzed four samples of mummy meat—two racks of beef ribs, a slab of duck and sliced goat, discovered with mummified remains. The oldest of those samples belonged to a nobel couple buried sometime between 1386 and 1349 BC, LiveScience reports, whereas the most recent was buried around 845 BC. Fat coating the bandages wrapping the meat helped preserve the goat, they found, whereas the beef ribs employed “an elaborate balm” of fat and a luxurious resin used in ancient Egypt as a coffin varnish for royal and nobel members of society, LiveScience says.
That sample, LiveScience continues, was found with the highest-standing couple, and most likely reflects their wealth and status. Just as mummification techniques varied in elaboration depending on whether they were being used for a royal pharaoh or their pet cat, so too did the means of preservation for their meaty afterlife snacks, the researchers think.
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