diversions

Rewire Your Tastebuds

Go from yuck to yum with the miracle berry.

About a year ago synsepalum dulcificum, known as the miracle fruit or miracle berry made some ripples in the food press.
In case you missed the story the first time around, these are berries that rewire your palate so that sour or bitter foods will taste sweet. Dark beer tastes like a chocolate milkshake, goat cheese turns into cake frosting, and ketchup tastes like maple syrup. Tequila goes down like apple juice, vinegar becomes wine, and wine tastes like a melted Popsicle.

What’s going on is that a protein in the miracle fruit binds with and alters the flavor of the acid in whatever foods you eat in combination with it. Low-acid foods like bananas and zucchini are unchanged. Vanilla is just vanilla. Tangy foods like onions and horseradish retain their astringent aroma but taste disorientingly bland, while worcestershire sauce will surprise you with its complexity.

The miracle fruit itself is pleasantly sweet and berry-like. It takes effect almost immediately and lasts for an hour or two. It took a first run at the American market in the 1970s. The fruit’s growers promoted its potential to sweeten foods with fewer calories than sugar and none of the health risks of artificial sweeteners. Its commercialization was abandoned when the FDA classified the fruit as an “additive” rather than a food. Recently interest has been revived by cutting-edge chefs and bartenders exploring its culinary potential and by food enthusiasts who make the fruit the centerpiece of experimental tasting parties.

Keep in mind that miracle berries change only the perception of taste, not the food’s chemistry. Your teeth, mouth, and digestive tract are as vulnerable as ever to the effects of highly acidic and spicy foods. If you want to experiment with a Tabasco-pickle juice-vermouth cocktail (and you know you will), just remember to follow it with a Tums chaser.

You can order miracle fruit online as fresh berries or as freeze-dried berry tablets.

 

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This isn’t better than sex; this ice cream IS sex.

This is ice cream that comes with a parental advisory.

It’s a sweets parlor crossed with a George Michael video.
There’s a dj spinning on one side and a fashion show catwalk on the other. The soda jerks are model-thin beauties in glossy dominatrix get-ups. The hip iconography borrows freely from street art, gangsta style, and porn.
Trust me, you’re not in Baskin-Robbins.

The advertising adage tells us that sex sells; we just didn’t know that it sells ice cream.

The London-based Icecreamists know how to sell the hype along with the sweets. Menu items are arranged as vice cream, lunchtime licks, and guilty pleasures. They come in flavors like ‘The Vanilla Monologues,’ ‘Cold Sweat,’  ‘Wikilicks,’ and their most famous creation, the breast milk-based ‘Baby Gaga.’ Yes, the Icecreamists are those guys.

The Icecreamists are no strangers to the publicity stunt. Before the Lady Gaga fracas, they graced the morning papers for tangling with the Sex Pistols. The Icecreamists appropriated imagery from the record jacket for the band’s single God Save the Queen, and added the altered tagline God Save the Cream. John Lydon, formerly the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten, was not amused.

For all the decadent graphics and calculated boundary-pushing, the ice cream (as yet unsampled by Gigabiting) is rumored to be quite good. The parlor’s founder spent time in Italy studying flavor theory at Bologna’s Carigiani Gelato University. The provenance of the ingredients— Madagascan vanilla pods, Ecuadorean dark chocolate, Italian balsamic vinegar crema— and the participation of a respected London chef, lend credibility to the product.

We’ll be watching the Icecreamists to see what they come up with next. After all, most pop culture fads have the shelf life of an ice cream cone in July.

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Audible Edibles: Radio Food Shows

There’s something about listening to a food show on the radio.

TV cooking shows have it easy. We can be endlessly entertained by the the flashy knife skills and high drama of competitive cooking shows, or cozy up to the pseudo-cooking of our favorite celebrity host. It’s cooking as performance, and it washes over its slack-jawed viewing audience like one more Law and Order marathon.

Radio is different.
There’s an intimacy and immediacy to the disembodied voice in your ear, a connection that is rarely found through the high-gloss visuals of television. Radio knows it has to try harder to entice and excite, and it succeeds by telling a story. Fans of the genre claim that at its best, radio taps deep into their memories, pulling imagery from their brains in a way that video never does. […]

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A Tip of the Toque to the Bro King

image via Charlie Sheen's Winning Recipes

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Thank you Charlie Sheen, for bringing bro food culture to the front and center.

Charlie Sheen is not himself a bro.
He’s way too West Coast for that, and of course he’s also missing the requisite frat house credentials. But more importantly, even if he had gone to college, he still wouldn’t have joined a fraternity—he’s too much of a lone wolf for that. Plus he clearly prefers the company of women. […]

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A Big Bowl of Smarty Pants

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Have You Had Your Recommended Daily Allowance of Trivia?

We love trivia.
And because we love food, we love food trivia most of all.
The uncommon food facts, the curious bits of culinary miscellany, the flotsam and jetsam of the kitchen— each tasty tidbit is more useless than the next, but still we gather.
And who knows; someday, maybe, just maybe, there will be an opportunity to flaunt it. […]

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Bedtime Snack: How Food Influences Dreams

[image via the film Sleeping and Dreaming of Food]

You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!

– Scrooge to Marley’s ghost; from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Was it something I ate?
Anyone who has ever gone to bed after a dinner of enchiladas can tell you that what you eat affects your dreams. Surprisingly, there is very little solid science to explain it.

Spicy foods in particular are notorious for inspiring particularly vivid dreams.
Some in the medical community have theorized that the heat from the spices elevates body temperature enough to interfere with the quality of sleep. The discomfort then works its way into your subconscious, and is reflected in the narrative it creates. Real-life stomach aches and other types of gastric distress can end up as dream pain experienced by your dream self.

Another theory suggests that what you eat before bedtime isn’t as important as how much you eat and when you eat it. Any digestion increases the metabolism and brain activity, so the more you eat and the closer it is to bedtime, the more vivid the dreams.

Sweet dreams: Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is another culprit. When your body’s blood sugar level is low, which happens when you haven’t eaten in a long while before bedtime, your brain gives you a little spurt of adrenaline that causes your body to drop some stored glucose into the bloodstream. If you’ve ever had a dream that wasn’t just vivid but also felt especially frantic, you know the feeling of adrenalized dreaming.

If you’ve ever dreamed you were sitting in a restaurant only to wake up and find your partner cooking up some bacon, you already know that food smells can creep into your dreams. The sense of smell is associated with the part of the brain that is associated with emotions, so food smells can take on a literal meaning and also affect the mood of your sleeping self. One study (unpublished but presented to the American Academy of Otolarygology) pumped different scents into the nostrils of sleeping subjects, and found that dream moods and impressions were clearly colored by the smells, although dream content seemed unchanged.

Gaming your own dreams
We know that food affects dreams, but no one has figured out how to use it to manipulate the content of dreams, Inception-style. The best we can do is choose foods and time our meals to get the best night’s sleep possible. Web MD has a slide show of foods that help and foods that harm your sleep.

 

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Competitive Eating in the NCAA

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The sport of competitive eating. Yes, I said sport.
Competitive eating has all the trappings of a sport. It has the International Federation of Competitive Eating to sanction and supervise events worldwide. There are strategies and training regimens for top competitors, cash prizes that can be upward of $30,000, ESPN televised coverage of its marquee events, and even a video game (Major League Eating for Wii). I’d say it’s at least as much of a sport as Olympic ice dancing.

A newly-formed competitive eating team at the University of Maryland is making a bid for intercollegiate glory. […]

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Watch Where You Sit: Attack of the Flesh-Eating Furniture

[image via DJ Reko]

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Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan of technological advancements.
iPhones, electron microscopes, instant streaming Netflix—all good stuff.
But every once in a while, something comes along that makes you wonder what those scientists are smoking.
This one feels like a big, big mistake. […]

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Hey Food Network: You’ve Lost Your Mojo!

image via Food Network Humor

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After years of growth, I see you had a major drop in ratings.
I know you saw it coming: you had those itty-bitty, single-digit declines earlier last year. But the 10 percent drop in the fourth quarter? No sweeping that one under the rug. You’ve got some explaining to do to the network advertisers. […]

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Death Row Dining

Death row meals recreated by James Reynolds

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A taste for the macabre.
Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh ate nothing but mint chocolate chip ice cream.
John Wayne Gacy had fried chicken—a death row favorite.
Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann wanted only a nice dry red from Israel’s Carmel Winery. […]

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I Am a Grain of Rice

Enter the installation Of All the People in All the World and you’re given one small grain of rice. That grain is you.

Wander among the mounds of rice and you see truths about the millions and billions that aren’t you: the people who will be born or will die today, child soldiers, people who have been to outer space, and the number of people who will visit a McDonald’s today. […]

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Gastro Meets Astro: A Taste of the Zodiac

image via Catgirl Rulezz

What’s your food sign?
Aries likes it hot, spicy, and on the table fast.
Libra has a sweet tooth.
Aquarius will show up late for dinner, but Pisces will get there early and be ready to help in the kitchen. Sagittarius will be the last to leave the table but the first to hit the gym afterwards. […]

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Google’s Mad Crazy New Search Tool

image via Electronic Illusions

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Have you checked out the new Google labs Ngram Viewer?
It’s either the greatest research tool since the Dewey Decimal System or the internet’s most colossal, pernicious time suck.

It takes the vast, digital library of Google Books and treats the content like data. Choose up to five words or phrases and the Ngram Viewer will graph their published appearance for any period in the last 200 years. Choose well and it can reveal an awful lot about trends, interests, and inclinations. […]

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The Christmas Carol/The Christmas Dinner: Holiday cheer takes an inflationary hit.

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The cost of holiday feasting is the real Christmas Price Index.

Every year, the economists at PNC bank tally the cost of the items in the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas.
The French hens, the swans, the leaping lords, the pipers and the drummers; they add it all up at current prices for a tongue-in-cheek economic index. […]

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Breakfast Breakthroughs

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The Rube Goldberg-esque automated breakfast cooking machine is a pop culture staple.
The comically convoluted gadgets are like shorthand for mad scientist. Think of Doc Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy; the father/inventor in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; even Pee Wee Herman got one in his Big Adventure. Toast, coffee, juice, and eggs at the push of a button is the holy grail of kitchen technology. Here are some recent kitchen innovations that take us a few steps closer to that reality.

 

The Cuisinart Egg Cooker handles up to seven eggs at a time. It hulks futuristically on your countertop where it boils or poaches to the precise consistency.

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http://www.ipmart.com/contents/products/P57000/57710/extra_pic/NostalgiaElectrics_Dough-Nu-Matic_DON-100.jpg The Dough-Nu-Matic automatically forms, fries, and drains mini-doughnuts in under a minute. It drops the finished doughnuts into a receptacle at the end, but you’ll be tempted to position your gaping yaw directly beneath.
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Is there any better way to wake up than to the sizzle and smell of bacon? Before bed, you slide frozen bacon strips into the cooking drawer of the Wake n’ Bacon alarm clock/bacon cooker. The 10 minutes cooking time is better than a snooze button.
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http://blog.gadgethelpline.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/chefstack.jpg If you’ve ever tried to make pancakes for a crowd, you’ll appreciate the ChefStack. It’s a fully automated pancake maker that can crank out a flapjack every 18 seconds—that’s right, 180 pancakes per hour.
It’s only 3 functions but we’re getting close with the toaster oven-hot plate-coffee maker combination that is the Maxi-Matic EBK-200 Elite Cuisine 3-in-1 Breakfast Station 4-Cup Coffee Maker.
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See the modern-day Rube Goldbergs who took a Craigslist curb alert’s-worth of castoffs and spare parts to create an all-chain reaction breakfast-maker. It scrambles eggs, juices oranges, brews coffee, makes toast, and plates the whole thing up with jam, meat, and cheese. A single push of a button sends an egg rolling from a chicken cage down a chute and onto a hot plate where it breaks and cooks.  Simultaneously, a coffee grinder is dropping freshly ground beans into a cup while water boils, oranges are squeezed into a juice glass, and a loaf of bread rides on a conveyor belt for slicing and then drops into a toaster. When it pops, the toast moves to a butter and jam paint roller. The toast and scrambled egg drop onto a plate on a sliding tray where they are joined by juice and coffee. Voila, breakfast!
View the video here.
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The Biggest, Greatest, Most Revolutionary Cookbook Ever. No kidding.

image via Modernist Cuisine.

We love the antics of the rich and eccentric.

They build castles and amusement parks, buy exotic islands and sports teams, run for public office, and book travel on spaceships. Now we have billionaire Nathan Myhrvold, developer of Windows software, former Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft, and author of a self-published, six-volume, 2,400-page, 48-pound, $625 cookbook.

As you would expect from the man who Stephen Hawking turns to for help with quantum theories of gravity, this is no ordinary cookbook. In the words of the book’s website, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking “is des­tined to rein­vent cook­ing.” Heady stuff, indeed. […]

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Eating in the Majors: Food and Baseball

Protoast™team toasters image via MLB.com Shop

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Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball

 [cultural historian Jacques Barzun] 


Can we make that heart, mind, and stomach?
The ceremonial first pitch, the seventh inning stretch, peanuts, beer and hot dogs—food is right up there with the grandest of baseball’s tradition.

Jacques Barzun’s statement is as apt today as it was a half century ago when he first made it. Baseball continues to resonate deeply within us, striking that mystic chord of memory. It has always encapsulated so much of American life and history, from racism to immigration, urbanization, labor disputes, and substance abuse. Baseball’s issues have always been our issues. And so it is now with food. […]

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Some Very Strange Cookbooks

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Two truisms:
There’s no accounting for taste;
Everyone has a cookbook inside of them.

Put them together, and you end up with some very strange cookbooks.

The Narrowly Focused
If it’s marginally edible, no doubt there’s a cookbook singularly devoted to it. And it doesn’t always taste just like chicken.

There’s the Eat-a-bug Cookbook (33 ways to cook grasshoppers, ants, water bugs, spiders, and centipedes) and a mini library of marijuana cookery. There are cookbooks for fans of Twinkies, and the Testicle Cookbook, a new, English language translation of a Serbian best-seller focused on the beloved, local delicacy. Who wants seconds on the testicle goulash?

Even in that crowd, Natural Harvest stands out. The back-of-the-jacket blurb says it best:

Semen is not only nutritious, but it also has a wonderful texture and amazing cooking properties. Like fine wine and cheeses, the taste of semen is complex and dynamic. Semen is inexpensive to produce and is commonly available in many, if not most, homes and restaurants. Despite all of these positive qualities, semen remains neglected as a food. This book hopes to change that. Once you overcome any initial hesitation, you will be surprised to learn how wonderful semen is in the kitchen. Semen is an exciting ingredient that can give every dish you make an interesting twist. If you are a passionate cook and are not afraid to experiment with new ingredients – you will love this cook book!

Food for Every Mood
Sometimes, the occasion calls for something truly special. Every meal is an event when you cook from the Eating in Bed Cookbook or a volume from the Cooking in the Nude series (although Cooking in the Nude: For Barbecue Buffs seems particularly ill-advised). Looking for less romance and more action? Try the unabashedly pragmatic Cook to Bang. And when the whole affair is best forgotten, maybe that’s the time to whip out a copy of Cooking to Kill: The Poison Cook-book.
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Why would anyone want to dance with the stars
When you can cook with them.
Coolio, Regis Philbin, Gwyneth Paltrow, and two of the Real Housewives from the Bravo TV franchise (notably, both have ‘skinny’ in the book title) have cookbooks. Hard rocker/NRA spokesman Ted Nugent penned Kill It and Grill It, and Roger Ebert, unable to eat for four years now (since undergoing surgery for jaw cancer), published a cookbook last month.  Strange bedfellows? Maybe; but policy wonks can choose to Dine Liberally with the Democrats, Eat Like a Republican, or go bipartisan with Politics and Pot Roast.
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While most celebrities write cookbooks for the media attention. Dorothea Puente penned hers as a legal defense for her life sentence. Charged with killing nine of her elderly boarding house residents, she claimed that her recipe collection, Cooking With a Serial Killer was proof of her innocence (Why would I spend money fattening them up if I was going to kill them?). Alternatively, you can cook like a savior with perhaps the ultimate celebrity cookbook: What Would Jesus Eat.

WWJT—What Would Julia Think?

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The Sweetener Formerly Known As…

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It worked for Prince.

By now you’ve probably heard about the public relations disaster that is the sweetener formerly known as high fructose corn syrup.
After years of waging a losing battle to convince the American public that HFCS is not really so bad, the Corn Refiners Association has petitioned the FDA for an ‘alternative labeling declaration,’ preferring the more natural-sounding moniker ‘corn sugar.’

Name changes are a common practice in today’s marketplace .
When a name—for one reason or another—just isn’t working, the strategy is to regroup, rebrand, and relaunch. We’ve seen it in the corporate world: who even remembers that AirTran was once ValuJet, an airline best known for safety violations and fatalities? Philip Morris hoped to distance itself from tobacco when it became Altria; the Nashville Network added CSI reruns to its low-rent lineup and reinvented itself as Spike TV; and then there is Sean Combs, patron saint of name changes, aka Puff Daddy, er Puffy, I mean P. Diddy, or is that just plain Diddy?

The food world has a long history of name changing.
Consumer tastes, diets, perceptions, and health concerns are constantly shifting, and food names and brands have had to be especially mutable to survive.

How Sweet it Was.

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http://www.blatherwincerepeat.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/sugar-crisp-a.jpg http://www.comicbooknoise.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/spock-sugar-smacks.jpg http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_XU9x8G7khv0/S4vh_DsAnFI/AAAAAAAANV4/ehWkeDgtkNs/s400/sugar+sparkled+flakes.jpghttp://theimaginaryworld.com/box203.jpghttp://www.12ozprophet.com/images/uploads/sugarpopspete.jpg […]

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I’ll Bet You Didn’t Know…

Ken Jennings' brain via Villard/Random House

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You can be the life of the party;
Or the world’s leading authority of an esoteric knowledge domain;
Or know the special pleasure that comes from stockpiling obscure facts because some day they might, just might, be useful—and that day arrives.

We love trivia.
And because we love food, we love food trivia most of all. […]

Posted in entertainment, food knowledge | Tagged | 10 Comments
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