Stories tagged food


Scientists in Japan have developed a robot that can identify different types of food by "taste." Actually, the robot shoots infrared light at the food item and analyzes how the light bounces back. Each food has a different infrared "signature," allowing the robot to tell a sweet apple from a sour one without taking a bite, or even to identify a wine still in the bottle.

The researchers didn't set out to create a wine-sniffing robot. They just wanted to see if they could create a machine that can identify food. Companies in the food industry will soon be able to use this technology for a variety of useful purposes.

A reporter offered his hand for the robot to sense, and learned that human being taste like bacon. Which just goes to show, if you don't want to get eaten by a robot, don't make a pig of yourself.

Researchers at Oregon State University are changing the standard tomato’s appearance….they developed a purple tomato. The purple colored tomato contains the same compounds (phytochemical) found in blueberries. This compound assists in reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease. The new purple tomato could hit grocery stores in the next two years.


According to recent Washington Post articles, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is close to approving the sale of milk and meat from cloned animals, perhaps by the end of this year. Stephen F. Sundlof, the FDA's chief of veterinary medicine, was quoted: "Our evaluation is that the food from cloned animals is as safe as the food we eat every day." However, this pending approval has drawn criticism from both consumer and certain religious groups. The potential approval was a topic at a Washington conference sponsored by Michigan State University and the nonpartisan Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. Speakers with expertise in biology, philosophy, ethics, and theology said that scientists must be part of an "implicit social compact" to use ethical means to solve societal problems. Paul Thompson, W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Food, Agricultural, and Community Ethics at MSU, provided an overview of animal ethics to conference participants. Besides the impending authorization of cloned milk and meat, the topic of whether these products will carry a label designating them as such is an issue of current debate. Barb Glenn of the Biotechnology Industry Organization was quoted in another Post article:

"We feel like the average consumer is going to accept this technology as we move forward. There will not be a label that will indicate this is anything other than healthy meat and milk."

To view the Post articles, see the links below. (You may have to register with the Post to view them.)
What do you think of cloned milk or meat? Would you buy these products? Should they be labeled as originating from cloned animals?
"Religion a prominent cloned-food issue"

Fresh spinach: Courtesey ranjit
Fresh spinach: Courtesey ranjit

The FDA is warning individuals to think twice before consuming bagged spinach. An E. coli outbreak has been linked to fresh spinach. E. coli depending on its severity, can have adverse affects.


Marshmallows: Image courtesy Neil T.
Marshmallows: Image courtesy Neil T.
Q. What are marshmallows made of?

A. When I got this question I thought of “cow hooves” because that is what I was always told, and thought here’s an opportunity to resolve that marshmallows are not made of cow hooves. It turns out, that while it’s not just hooves, hooves are a part of one ingredient of marshmallows: gelatin. According to (makers of Jet Puffed Marshmallows), marshmallows contain: corn syrup, sugar, dextrose, food starch - modified (corn), water, gelatin, tetrasodium pyrophosphate artificial and natural flavor, and artificial color (blue 1). There are links to some of the less familiar stuff, but gelatin is the most interesting ingredient as far as I am concerned. Gelatin is produced through the prolonged boiling of animal skin, connective tissue, hooves or bones. But marshmallows are not the only place where you’ll find gelatin – jelly, gummy candies, Jell-o, ice cream, margarine, cream cheese, and many other foods also contain gelatin. So, if eating hooves weirds you out, you can relax, you’ve probably eaten several already and not even known it.

Q: What do cicadas eat?

A: Sap from plants. The cicada's mouth parts are covered by a long thin sheath called a labium. The labium contains four needle-like stylets which are used to pierce the plant and then act as straws that the cicada used to suck the sap from the plant. If you are into cicadas and want to learn more, Cicada Mania is the place for you!

Q: How come there are no Native American artifacts in the Science Museum of Minnesota?

A: There are lots, actually. Like most museums, we display only 1-3% of our permanent collections, which number 1.75 million objects. Our anthropology collections span the globe, but our one of our strengths is in Native American material culture from the Upper Midwest. Currently in the museum, you can see a small exhibit detailing the Prairie Island Dakota community with a bison robe, star quilt and contemporary artwork by Francis Yellow and another on Native American archaeology of the area on level 5 in the Mississippi River Gallery. In addition, the museum is working on an Ethnobotany project with Paul Red Elk (Lakota) in the Big Back Yard where we are germinating indigenously cultivated seeds in a three sisters garden, some which are over 900 years old. The Science Museum has been involved in archaeological field investigations since the 1950s. The majority of these collections have been from sites in Minnesota and include 100,000 documented specimens from over 200 recorded prehistoric archaeological sites. Currently, SMM’s archaeology research initiative focuses on Red Wing Archaeology.


Popcorn: Courtesy Saffanna

Artificial flavoring is a big part of our food industry whether we like it or not. But the use of one chemical might be causing a potentially fatal lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, in the workers who handle it. Investigators have found an alarmingly high number of cases of this disease in Midwestern popcorn workers and have linked it to the cheap flavoring diacetyl. Diacetyl helps to give the popcorn a butter flavor.

Scientists at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and industry leaders are clashing over what should be done. This report on the industry's reactions to safety claims outlines how science is never a fixed standard. Everyone in this issue seems to disagree: the industry scientists, health officials, workers.

What do you think?


Have you had your wisdom teeth pulled? I have. And they were impacted. Not on my list of all time favorite memories — in fact, having teeth pulled is one of my least favorite things to do.

Wisdom teeth: Earliest known impacted wisdom tooth. Digital radiograph (X-ray) of the mandible of Magdalenian Girl showing impaction of the right lower third molar (wisdom tooth). New high-quality radiographic imaging of the entire Magdalenian Girl skeleton, which is

Apparently, it was also not a favorite thing to do for the "Magdalenian Girl" (also known as the Cap Blanc skeleton), a nearly complete 13,000- to 15,000-year-old skeleton excavated in France in 1911and acquired by The Field Museum in 1926. To be fair, the pulling of wisdom teeth may not have been possible for her, but it turns out that her wisdom teeth are proving very valuable.

It had been previously believed that the Magdalenian Girl was under the age of 18 at the time of her death because her wisdom teeth had not grown in, which usually happens between the ages of 18 and 22 (I was 20). But after a new analysis of the skull, scientists now believe the Magdalenian Girl was actually between the ages of 25 and 35 when she died. This new theory has come about after looking at new digital X-rays (such as the one pictured) which show that the Magdalenian Girl's wisdom teeth were impacted.

So, why is that a big deal? Impacted wisdom teeth are thought to be the result of dietary changes that occurred in past human cultures. It is believed that impacted wisdom teeth were not common during the stone ages because the food that people ate at that time required them to chew more and chew more vigorously. This more intense chewing would have resulted in increased jawbone growth, which in turn creates more room for the wisdom teeth to grow in. When the diet changed to foods that required less forceful chewing the jawbone was not stimulated to grow as much, making less room for wisdom teeth when the time came for them to grow in. So, the fact that Magdalenian Girl has impacted wisdom teeth tells scientists that the diet of her time period would have already changed.

The skeleton of the Magdalenian Girl, the most complete Upper Paleolithic skeleton available for study in North America, is a part of the new permanent exhibition at the Field Museum called Evolving Planet. If you happen to see the exhibition, make sure you also check out the Kristi Curry Rogers' Rapetosaurus krausei also on display in the exhibition. Kristi is the Science Museum of Minnesota's Curator of Paleontology.


Thanksgiving is fast approaching and with it comes the opportunity to eat a lot of turkey. I've heard for years that the tryptophan in turkey meat makes you tired after a meal, and I've hauled out that knowledge in a Cliff Claven like fashion year after year.

Turkey.: A turkey.

Now I come to find out that it's not tryptophan that makes you sleepy, its serotonin. Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps the body produce niacin, a B-Vitamin, which helps produce serotonin, which makes you sleepy. However, according to nutritionists the tryptophan in turkey works best in an empty stomach — something most of us don't have on Thanksgiving, I certainly don't. After a large meal there are so many amino acids that the body is trying to use that the amount of tryptophan could even go down. Further, turkey does not have as much tryptophan as other foods such as beef or soy beans. Tryptophan is also found in chocolate, bananas, milk, peanuts and fish.

So why do I feel tired after a huge Thanksgiving meal? Probably because the meal is full of carbohydrates — potates, stuffing, breads, pies... The body has to work hard to digest all that food!

Neat. Now I have a great new Cliff Claven-ism to stun and amaze my family.


It's deer hunting season in Minnesota. Deer hunting is a major industry in this state, generating $236 million in retail sales in 2001, 4,825 jobs and $122 million in wages. The sale of hunting licenses for deer brought in $19.7 million to the DNR in 2004. The revenue from these licenses account for 29% of the DNR's Game and Fish Fund, which help buy and manage wildlife management areas and fund research on forest animals.

As important as all this is, deer hunting plays an even more critical role in managing the state's deer population. There are more than a million whitetail deer in Minnesota, and due to recent mild winters the population is nearing record numbers.

The record number of deer is having an impact in many parts of the state. Deer grazing is threatening some plant species, such as trillium, wild lily of the valley, and rose twistedstalk. Reforestation of Eastern white pines and white cedar trees is difficult due to deer grazing. Deer related traffic accidents are also a concern, with an estimated 20,000 deer-vehicle crashes annually.

Deer management through hunting is tricky, especially since the DNR cannot predict what the winter weather will be like. Seven of the last eight winters have been milder than average, leading to increased deer numbers despite more liberal hunting policies meant to control the population. Severe winters result in "winterkills" that can reduce the population significantly, but without being able to predict them, the DNR has to make some educated guesses. Another factor that worries the DNR is that while the number of hunters is increasing, it is not increasing at a rate that can control the high population of deer.

As a result, the DNR is loosening restrictions on hunting anterless deer. Hunters used to have to enter a lottery to obtain an anterless permit. Now any hunter can buy them over the counter.

What do you think? What would you suggest to help control the deer population? What do you think about hunting? Do you think it is an effective deer population management strategy? If not, what would you suggest as an alternative?


It's time for the annual wild rice harvest.

The traditional harvesting technique requires one person to pole a canoe and one or two other people to gather grain. They beat the stalks with paddles, sweeping about half the rice into the boat. The rest of the grain falls to the bottom of the lake, where it sprouts the next spring.

But wild rice in Minnesota is threatened in many ways, and many lakes have produced a poor crop.

Wild rice, or Zizania palustris, is actually an aquatic grass. To grow, it needs shallow water and a mucky bottom. Drainage and damming of wetlands or lakes for farming or reservoirs have destroyed wild rice habitat. (Wild rice once grew throughout Minnesota and the eastern United States. In Minnesota alone, there are 70 Rice Lakes and 25 other lakes with "Rice" in their names, even though wild rice may no longer grow there.) And runoff of herbicides and nutrients from farm fields kills rice, too.

Fluctuating water levels are tough on the plants. When wild rice sprouts in the spring, a tiny root anchors the seed in place. When the stalk reaches the surface, long leaves form, floating on the surface of the water. If the water level rises, the weakly rooted stalk is pulled up and the plant dies. If the water level drops, the weak stalk collapses, killing the plant.

Carp often kill wild rice seedlings. They're bottom-feeders, digging up and disturbing young plants as the fish search for food. (These fish are not native.)

But there's another threat: for decades, the University of Minnesota has been researching wild rice, aiding in the development of 25,000 acres of machine-harvested, cultivated paddy rice in Minnesota. See, the seed head of the wild grain shatters easily. That allows the plant to seed itself, but makes it tough to farm commercially. Many fear it's just a matter of time until scientists genetically modify the wild rice genome, and contamination by genetically modified rice might decrease the economic and cultural value of the wild grain.

"We consider the wild rice to be a sacred gift from the Creator and it's always been here for us. Now, if the rice is altered genetically, it may be a strain that will take over the wild rice, and we will lose what was given to us by the Creator."
(Earl Hoagland, Ojibwe tribal elder)

(Not everyone agrees that the genetic research is a problem.)

Bills banning genetically modified wild rice in Minnesota (supported by White Earth Band members) didn't make it through the last legislative session, but will be reintroduced next year.

But here's the good news. At Lower Rice Lake on the White Earth Indian Reservation (north of Detroit Lakes), where lakefront development is prohibited and the White Earth Land Recovery Project manages the watershed, 200 people participate in the traditional harvest, gathering 11,000 to 15,000 pounds of rice a day, or 200,000 to 300,000 pounds each year. The rice is processed locally and sells for about $8.50 a pound. The grain itself feeds many White Earth families, and the proceeds from the rice harvest are a significant chunk of the annual income of many families.