Food for Thought – 5 tasty little tidbits you might not know

Happy Summer folks. We are now officially past the longest day and apparently supposed to be enjoying one of the hottest summers on records….which I’m sure is just around the corner.

Anyway, I’ve decided to take a slight diversion for this week’s blog. We’ve recently spent a lot of time listening to the QI Elves – a group of the researchers for QI who have a weekly podcast entitled “No Such Thing as a Fish” where they present their four favourite (and usually bizarre) facts of the week. So inspired, I have put together a little listicle of my own favourite facts – though they’ve all ended up revolving around food (which says a lot) – to share and educate you all.

I would like to present these with the disclaimer that it’s all pretty much off TV, the internet or radio 4, so take what truthfulness you will. Without further ado – here goes:

1)      These are not the bananas you’re looking for…

I read the first one these facts in a tumblr post about Captain America I think (because I am a giant nerd). In it, there was a discussion thread about how confused Steve Rogers would be by the taste of bananas in the 21st Century *side note – for those not in the know, Steve Rogers is a young American during the second world war who is turned into a super solider and then accidentally frozen only to be awakened in the modern day*. Obviously this confused the heck out of me – what banana based mystery was this? Never one to be daunted by the dark recesses of what the internet holds, I delved in head first to find out what was going on. It turns out that the bananas we know and love today are not the bananas enjoyed by our predecessors during the 20th century – Say whaaaaat?

Originally, the bananas that were commonly cultivated and sold worldwide were a breed classified as a Gros Michal (literally translating as “Fat Michael” or “Big Mike” to his friends) – a squatter, much brighter and stronger tasting variety more similar to its plantain brethren. However due to the Great Banana Plague (or Panama disease) of the 1950’s, the Gros Michal breed was almost completely wiped out and no longer sustainable (oh no!). The continued high demand for bananas was not to be stopped though, and this led to the introduction of a new, more hardy and durable type of banana…the Cavendish! Now, most of the bananas we enjoy today are of this Cavendish variety, and indeed it is the most popular breed world wide. However I am sure you will have either thought (or heard someone say) how most banana flavoured things (think those foam sweets or banana milkshakes) don’t taste very banana-ry. This is because the extract used to flavour them is based of the original Gros Michal rather than the Cavendish; meaning when you’re eating or drinking these products, you’re actually closer to tasting the original bananas that you are if you eat an actual banana! Mind – BLOWN!


2)      Attack of the (Banana) Clones (who knew bananas and Star Wars linked so well?)

So you might actually be surprised to learn (or not, because I do love these facts) this isn’t the only banana fact I have. Those little buggers are chocked full of history.

My second fact goes back to the introduction of the Cavendish banana to the United Kingdom. One of the first shipments ever created were brought over to England actually cultivated in the greenhouses of Chatsworth House. Now, whilst Chatsworth doesn’t seem like a typical birthing point for a global banana industry – nearly every banana eaten in the western hemisphere is directly descended from one of the plants grown there (freaking science man!) 

The reason for this is that commercially cultivated bananas are propagated through “vegetative reproduction” rather than sexual reproduction (you can tell by their lack of seeds) – which means they are sterile and each new banana plant has to be taken as a cutting from a currently existing tree and planted manually. Basically, each of the Cavendish bananas are actually classed as clones and are genetically identical to the original source banana (that is some next level sh*t right there). This has been done to quite a few fruits and veg, but not on quite such a dramatic scale. Whilst this makes cultivating the plants easier, it does hold quite a high level of risk – if a fungus (such as the Panama disease which is slowly encroaching again) infects one plant, the banana have no chance of naturally evolving a defense and will be practically wiped out. BANANA-DRAMA!

3)      Jelly is basically a coma patient

I have never trusted jelly. A bold statement you might think, but I’ve always thought there’s something very unnatural about it. I will give most foods a chance, but texture can be a big no-no for me, and anything that wibbles in my mouth so aggressively is not going to stay there very long.

Well, it turns out that jelly moves in such a fashion it could actually be classed as alive (and so I feel validated in my intense distrust). Experiments have been done in which jelly’s have been hooked up to electroencephalographs (EEG machines) and have responded very much as a healthy human brain would. (I’m not too sure why these experiments have been done, but I like it none-the-less).

It turns out that the jelly picks up and responds to particular signals within the room (such as the vibrations of the machine it’s plugged into, people moving, even telephones ringing) and does so in such a strength that it exhibits alpha rhythms which mimic that of a human brain when a person is awake but has their eyes closed. In fact, based on EEG results alone, jelly qualifies as “alive”. (Cue mad scientists shouting “it’s allliiiivvvvveeeeee!” whilst jelly monsters lurch about awkwardly).

This has actually had quite a serious impact on the validity of EEGs being used as a sole measurement of response. (Huzzah for real life applications of silly science!) It is possible that, like jelly, the brains of certain coma patients might actually just be mirroring outside stimuli even though they are no longer technically classed as responsive. A positive response may not mean a patient is alive, and similarly a negative response does not necessarily mean they are dead.

Or it might just mean prove that jelly is an alien life force sent to freak me the hell out. I think we all know what the real fact is here.

4)      Mushrooms will not play the game

We’ve all been on long road trips or camping and played endless games of “Animal, Vegetable or Mineral”. Well, thanks to this fun fact, you can now annoy the hell out of everyone by picking something which fits into none of those categories! The humble mushroom is indeed humble no longer, but actually strutting out all on it’s own.

Typically labelled as a vegetable, the mushroom actually falls under the “fungi” category (insert awful joke here) which is actually much closer to animals than plants and technically is a separate kingdom altogether.

{Side note, there are actually 5 “kingdoms”; Bacteria (Monera), Eucaryotes (Prostista – a catch all for anything as yet not specified as any of the others), Fungus (Fungi), Plants (Plantae) and Animals (Animalia). Bonus fact ftw}.

Mushrooms do actually grow like plants, but contain no chlorophyll and don’t perform photosynthesis. Instead, they get their energy and nutrients from non-living organic matter – meaning they break down and “eat” dead or decaying organisms (limited to but not excluding, compost, dead animals and even human feet!) – basically like little zombies.

They follow a very similar evolutionary path to animals but grow from spores, rather than seeds, and a single mushroom can drop up to 16 billion in it’s life time.

They’ve also been proven to grow bigger than any plant or animal – often with individual heads growing out from one giant organism that is spread out underground. Indeed, most of the work goes on away from prying eyes; the living body is a web of tiny little filaments that grows under soil and can be as small as a single ant or cover acres (some can even expand up to half a mile a day). It’s from this that the “fruit” (the puffballs or caps that we see) grows from, leaving the main body hidden and unknown.

Mushrooms – actually magic and more than slightly terrifying…

 

#FungusAmongUs

 5)      Let’s Avo cuddle

The last but certainly not the least fact, is that I have discovered that Avocados are scientifically proven to be the most adorable of all the foods. Seen as the Aztec symbol of love and fertility – often seen as so sexually potent virgins were banned from eating them. This belief is though to have sprung from the appearance of the fruit (THEY LOOK LIKE TESTICLES!) and the fact they typically grow in pairs on the tree, like little berry buddies. They are also only able to partially self-pollinate due to the fact the female and male flowers open and close at different times, and most avocado trees require other avocados trees to be close by in order to grow (awww). Basically, they are the panda of the fruit world.

Excitingly, the avocado evolved alongside the Pleistocene Mega fauna (basically GIANT F*CK OFF ANIMALS) such as giant sloths and armadillos in order to facilitate seed dispersal through poops – which is why the seed is so big. However, once the mega fauna died out, it is only due to human intervention that the avocado escaped extinction. Bless their little green hearts. 

The most commonly consumed variety of avocado today; the “Hass” is quite nails though. Each fruit is directly descended from a single mother tree, which was cultivated by a Californian postie named Rudolph Hass. Unaware of what he was actually growing, he soon patented the tree (incidentally the first US patent placed on a tree) which outlived him by 50 years, finally dying of root rot in 2002 (the tree – not the postman). The avocado is now one of the most popular fruits worldwide and loved by health nuts and hipsters alike.

 

And there we have it. Just 5 little snippets of the things my brain finds fascinating. I hope you enjoyed and please let me know if you have any other food facts, because, let’s face it, I will totally be intrigued by them.

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