When they think of extraordinary foods, most minds evoke images of obscure cuisine and elaborate dishes with unpronounceable names. However, there are remarkable secrets in the foods we eat on a daily basis, with fascinating scientific explanations to support them. From nuts to fruits to vegetables, here are 10 bizarre natural phenomena in the daily diet.
10. Brazil Nuts
Anyone who has ever had a container of nuts has unknowingly witnessed a wierd effect that no scientist has been able to fully explain. In most nut packaging, Brazil nuts appear at the highest and therefore the smallest at rock bottom . an equivalent goes for cereals, with all the larger ones at the highest of the box and zip but dusty pieces at rock bottom . But why? Everyone knows that big nuts run down and little nuts go up. Well, nobody really knows. Nicknamed the “Brazil Nut Effect” but better referred to as “granular convection,” this phenomenon has left experts perplexed for years. this idea refers to the rotation of varied pieces of small objects of comparable mass, within the same way that fluids move. the method by which a packet of nuts goes from the factory to the hands of a consumer requires tons of jostling.
When the nuts are all pushed upwards, the smaller ones fall below the larger ones, pushing them upwards. This will be repeated in a cycle because the nuts are continually shaken. However, the Brazil nut effect brings a slight crease to this logic. You see, Brazil nuts reach the top of the container and stay there, ending the cycle. Scientists are not sure why they can’t move from their position on top. Of course, many theories have been presented. Maybe the nuts are too big to fit into the smaller spaces of the container after this jolt, or maybe the density of the nuts plays a role in pushing them to the surface. Anyway, science has applications beyond this difficult situation of nuts (do you understand)? Dr. Douglas J. Jerolmack and his team have even found a link between this phenomenon and why rivers can withstand erosion, because rivers also have larger rocks near the top, with sand and gravel lower in the river.
No one would think of comparing an ordinary cranberry to a popular children’s toy, but there is an amazing similarity between the two. Although it is usually cooked and softened to reduce the natural acidity of the fruit, a raw cranberry has a very different texture. When ripe, it can bounce like a bouncing ball. This is due to the small air pockets inside each cranberry, as well as the firm texture that allows it to bounce off the ground. In fact, cranberry growers even use this feature as a maturity test for their berries. It is common for cranberry growers to bounce each cranberry on a wooden fence, where the berries that cross the barrier will circulate, while those that do not go into separate bins to become juice. It is interesting to note that this practice was discovered by accident when an old farmer from New Jersey, John “Peg Leg” Webb, dumped his cranberry reserve down the stairs. Because of his wooden leg, it was his best method of transporting them. However, he noticed that the firmest cranberries bounced down, while the softer, more bruised berries remained soft at the top of the stairs. This discovery took place in 1880, and since then farmers have been using the bounce to test the maturity of cranberries.
Maize has been around for thousands of years, but few realize that each corn cob has a unique similarity. You see, corn will always have an even number of rows. This is due to the fact that a corn cob is not only a vegetable but an inflorescence, which means that it produces nearly 1000 female flowers. These flowers, otherwise called future grains, will be ordered in rows, forming the common image of a corn cob. An average corn cob has 800 grains, organized in 16 rows. The even number comes from the fact that each split (grass base flower) will produce two florets, which are the small flowers that make up a full cob. It will produce two because one flower must be fertile while the other must be sterile. It is interesting to note that this applies to foods other than corn. Watermelon, for example, is supposed to have an even number of scratches. In any case, this is due (no pun de pun) to the fact that a cell always divides into two cells which, in turn, divided into two other cells. As this cycle continues, the number will always remain even. How strange!
Pistachios may seem innocent enough, but we didn’t know they had a sinister side. This is because pistachios, when stored in large quantities, are very likely to ignite spontaneously. Fat is known to burn very easily, and each pistachio contains almost 50% fat. In addition, pistachios contain almost no water and if kept in a very moist place, they become moldy. With their total lack of water and a high concentration of fat, pistachios can become flammable. This risk occurs when pistachios are packed in large quantities and in close proximity to each other, as nut oils can heat up and ignite. As they can self-heat, this pistachio-fed nightmare can occur without warning, without human contact. This has led to the adoption of many strict guidelines on how pistachios are shipped, as most of the world’s pistachio production comes from the Middle East. This means that boats are needed for transport, and no one wants to see a boat burn because of badly packed nuts.
Nutmeg may be a spice widely used during the vacations, as a sweet topping for drinks or as an ingredient in desserts. However, a bit like pistachio, there’s a dark secret behind this festive spice. Indeed, nutmeg is really a hallucinogen, capable of causing powerful highs and unsightly side effects. Sudden panic attacks, difficulty urinating and constant xerostomia are just a few of the results of the hallucinogenic trip. Nutmeg itself is really a seed, and it contains a compound referred to as myristicin. Myristicin is employed in many drugs that are wont to affect the psychological state, and this is often why nutmeg produces hallucinogenic effects.
While this may shock us all, it would not have surprised anyone in 12th century Europe. At the time, it was considered a drug rather than a garnish, and people frequently used it to cause hallucinations. It is even thought that the famous doctor Nostradamus ingested nutmeg to have visions that led to his scientific discoveries. Nutmeg has remained a popular drug for years, but at one point its status has risen to that of an innocent spice, as we know it today.
The line is often thin between undercooked, overcooked or perfectly cooked food. Fortunately, for those of us who can’t easily cross that line, there’s a safe ingredient we can use: The mushroom. You see, it is almost impossible to overcook a mushroom because its cell walls have a different molecular structure than meat or vegetables. While the cell walls of meat and vegetables contain protein and pectin respectively, the fungus contains a polymer called chitin. Chitin is extremely stable in heat, which means that when cooked, heat has little effect on the molecular structure of the fungus. It is different from that of meats and other vegetables because the heat causes a tension of the proteins of the meat (which makes the meat overcooked fluffy) and a decomposition of the pectins of the plant cells, which gives green and pasty tuft.
In an attempt to prove this scientifically, Dan Souza, the editor of America’s Test Kitchen, put mushrooms to the test once and for all. Souza took a mushroom, a piece of zucchini and a piece of beef fillet and steamed them all for forty minutes. Every five minutes, he submitted each article to a texture analysis that calculated the force needed to bite into that article. It is not very surprising that the fungus outperformed its competitors by remaining at less than 100 grams of force to bite throughout the testing period. In comparison, the filet mignon suffered a force of 500 grams and the zucchini nearly 200 grams. In other words, the fungus remained consistent in texture, while the filet mignon became hard and the zucchini became soft and fluffy.
4. Chili Peppers
With a quarter of the world’s population eating chillies every day, it is clear that many people appreciate the spice shake that has become the hallmark of these peppers. While people around the world have chosen to adopt chilli and feel the burn, few people have stopped to ask the cause of this sensation. All peppers contain an active ingredient called capsaicin, which activates the heat-sensing protein in our brain when stung. When the protein detects heat, the brain sends a sting of burning pain to the chilli eater. This means that peppers cause our brains to feel a burning sensation since we will not actually be burned by the consumption of a pepper. Scientists have determined that peppers have actually evolved in this way to prevent predators from eating their fruit. It is interesting to note that birds do not feel any burns when eating peppers and that peppers have actually evolved in this way on purpose. Unlike mammals, birds eat whole pepper seeds, so when they excrete these seeds, they spread the pepper and ensure its survival.
Rhubarb is a perennial plant that resembles celery but is commonly classified as a fruit because of its sour and fruity taste. Stuck between these two categories, rhubarb seems to be somewhat ignored in society, with apples or broccoli, more traditional, being featured. However, there is a unique phenomenon that occurs with the humble rhubarb plant, and that is related to how it is grown. You see, since the 1800s, rhubarb growers have harvested these vegetables/fruits using a method called “forced rhubarb”. In this method, rhubarb is grown in the dark, causing them to ripen at an alarming rate. When rhubarb grows so fast, they make a snap noise as they come out of their initial buds and begin to grow upwards. As they continue to rise, they begin to rub against other rhubarb stalks, creating an interesting squeak and crack. Rhubarb producer Brian French said of the noise: “I’ve heard this noise before. They push against each other. You really have to listen to it.” The reason for this musical method of growing rhubarb is that the darkroom makes the rhubarb plants unable to do photosynthesis, which gives a rhubarb less stringy and softer. You can listen to the sound of rhubarb growing here.
Of all the nuts on this list, cashews have perhaps the strongest trait. When asked what grows on a cashew tree, most people assume that it is, in fact, cashew nuts. Although this is true, the nut is not actually the main fruit of a cashew tree. Native to the coastal areas of northern Brazil, cashew trees actually grow apples. The real nuts grow at the bottom of each apple. Most of us have probably never heard of a cashew apple, nor have we seen it being sold somewhere. Although they are perfectly safe, the thick skin of cashew apples makes them difficult to transport. Cashew apples don’t get lost, though. their pulp is frequently used in juices and other apple-based foods. Even more surprising is the fact that cashew nuts are technically not a nut at all, but a seed. The seed of the cashew nut is covered with many highly toxic layers in order to frighten the animals. But don’t panic, because only the shell is toxic. Any packet of cashews purchased in a store will not have the shell, making it perfectly safe for consumption.
The carrot has become almost synonymous with the orange color, but carrots have not always had this distinctive hue. Originally, the carrots were actually purple, but a mutant gene prevalent among these plants led to the creation of the yellow carrot. The transition from the harvest of purple and yellow carrots to that of orange carrots is a bizarre and interesting story. The origin of orange carrots began in the town of Arausio, in the south of France. The classical pronunciation of this city was “Aurenja”, and the French word for orange being Narang, the citizens of Arausio ended up changing the name of the city to Orange. A man named William the Silent took power at Orange in 1544 and was now known as William the Orange. After taking control of Arausio, William the Orange led the Dutch to independence from Spain, thus creating the Dutch Republic.
At the same time as this revolution, another revolution was taking place. A carrot revolution. At the time of Dutch independence, Dutch carrot growers created a breed of carrots containing a plant pigment called beta-carotene. This pigment gave the carrot an orange color, and the Danish people began to mass-produce it in honor of its hero William The Orange. It got to the point where the other colors of carrots were no longer suitable for cultivation, which led us to the orange carrot that we know and love.
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