Like Sushi? Thank a Female Phycologist for Saving Seaweed

If you’re a sushi lover, you owe a debt of gratitude to Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker.

Drew-Baker was a British phycologist, a practitioner of a branch of science so arcane that Google, questioned about it, insists that surely you meant “psychologist.” If you persist, however, you eventually discover that phycology is the study of algae, a diverse class of primitive plants, the largest of which are known as seaweeds.

Sushi depends on seaweed. Spicy tuna, abalone, eel, cucumber, yellowtail, and (in California rolls) avocado all come to the table encased in vinegary rice and wrapped in sheets of seaweed which—though distinctly green after processing—come from a species of red ...

The Art and Science of Stocking Up for a Storm

Quick: The weather outside is frightful and the National Weather Service says it’s going to get even worse. You’ve got 24 hours notice. What do you rush to the store to buy?

What leaped immediately to my mind was wine and cookies. But most of us, it turns out, are less frivolous.

In the shopping window of opportunity before the East Coast was smacked this weekend by Winter Storm Jonas, Washington, D.C. residents stripped local stores of staples: bread, milk, and eggs. The reproducibility of this behavior—possibly dating back to the fabled New England Blizzard of 1978—has led to a standing joke that the severity of a storm can be ...

On Scottish Poet Robert Burns Night, Don’t Forget the Haggis

January 25 is the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns, born in Alloway (now a suburb of Ayr) in 1759, and famed for such works as “To a Mouse,” “A Man’s a Man for A’ That,” “A Red, Red Rose,” and the words to that staple song of New Year’s Eve, “Auld Lang Syne.” On Burns’s birthday—now commonly known as Burns Night—Scots and Scots’ lovers around the world gather to celebrate, feast on haggis, and drink Scotch whiskey. But how did the stuffed sheep's stomach become the star of the feast?

The first Burns Night took place in July, 1801, when nine of Burns’s best buddies met on the fifth ...

Take One Chicken Soup and Call Me in the Morning

Your mom was right. There’s a lot to be said for chicken soup.

One of the more miserable aspects of winter, along with snow shoveling, windshield scraping, treacherous highways, and wet mittens, is the common cold. Colds, despite their name, aren’t caused by running around in damp socks or trotting out to play without your jacket. The evil geniuses behind colds are viruses—over 200 of them, including the major culprits called rhinoviruses and coronaviruses. And we don’t pick these up from unseasonable weather, but from each other.

One reason for the flurry of colds in the winter months, scientists guess, is togetherness. That is, a lot of us spend more time ...

To Really Reduce Meat in Your Diet, Don’t Go Cold Turkey

There are, most of us agree, excellent reasons for committing to a meatless diet. For one thing, our passion for meat has a negative impact on the environment. Of the 40 percent of the earth’s surface used for agriculture, a whopping third is used just to grow animal (not people) food. In the United States, studies show, raising livestock accounts for 55 percent of land erosion, 37 percent of pesticide use, and 50 percent of antibiotic consumption. Globally, livestock are responsible for about 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions—flatulent cows are doing the atmosphere no good—and food animals, collectively, slurp up about a third of the ...

From Fried Canary to Pickled Plums, History’s Questionable Hangover Cures

Had more champagne recently than you can handle?

Ever since human beings have been consuming alcohol—which began, scientists now believe, some ten million years ago with our not-quite-yet-human ancestors—imbibers have been suffering from its awful after-effects. The result of too much of a good thing is far from wonderful: a hideous mix of pounding headache, dry mouth, upset stomach, tremors, wooziness, and general misery  known as a hangover. This malady has been with us for a long time, since the unhappy symptoms have been described by the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Greeks, and the authors of the Old Testament.

For millennia, desperate day-after sufferers have been looking for remedies. ...

The Sweet and Sticky Story of Candy Canes

Candy canes are now as much a feature of Christmas as carols, evergreen trees, and mistletoe, but we don't know much about them. We don’t know who invented them or why, or when and where they first got their red-and-white stripes. What we do have are a lot of guesses, gossip, and rumors.

The earliest proto-candy-cane was most likely a plain white sugar stick of the sort used by frazzled parents of the 1600s as pacifiers for fussy babies. The stick got its cane-like hook, one unsubstantiated story claims, when a 17th-century choirmaster at Germany’s Cologne Cathedral convinced a local candy maker to bend sugar sticks into the shape of ...

Thank a Farmer for Your Foodie Genes

Our moms have all warned us that we are what we eat, usually with an eye to heading us away from French fries and toward carrot sticks. Research nowadays, however, shows that what and how we eat not only affects us as individuals, but has shaped the entire human race. The birth of farming, for example, did a job on human DNA.

The Agricultural Revolution not only brought us wheat, barley, millet, peas, cows, pigs, sheep, and goats, but triggered changes in the human genome, altering everything from our digestive and immune systems to our height and skin color. Blond Scandinavian supermodels may owe their pale hair and ...

The Hale and Hearty History of Eggnog

Nowadays eggnog is a seasonal drink, only available in stores in the "hot" eggnog months of November and December. Some argue that this is just as well. After all, eggnog clocks in at 400 or more calories per cup, a hefty percentage of that in saturated fat and cholesterol. And that’s just the calorie count for plain eggnog, without the enlivening brandy, bourbon, or rum. There’s no way this stuff is good for us.

On the other hand, it’s sweet, creamy, and delicious, and for others, a mere two months of eggnog isn’t nearly long enough. Homer Simpson—who blames the short eggnog season on the government—pours it ...

How Leftover Turkey Launched The TV Dinner

In the fall of 1953, the frozen-food company of C.A. Swanson & Sons of Omaha, Nebraska, was left with what must be a record in turkey leftovers: ten railroad cars packed with 520,000 pounds of turkey.

Swanson had massively overestimated the number of birds Americans planned to purchase for Thanksgiving, and so now was stuck shuttling a trainload of spurned turkeys back and forth between the Midwest and the East Coast in order to keep the electricity on in the refrigerated cars, thus keeping the turkeys safely cold.

At its wit’s end, the company put out an all-points bulletin to employees, asking for solutions to the turkey problem. The winner ...

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