17 FOOD QUESTIONS YOU DIDN’T KNOW YOU NEEDED AN ANSWER TO
We recently asked the BuzzFeed Community to ask us their most pressing questions about food. BuzzFeed Science answers our favorites here:
- •“What makes food spicy?” —pippoppopcornCapsaicin gets in there and agitates pain sensors on your tongue responsible for sending out warnings about temperature. It’s not physically hot on your tongue, but to your brain, which simply receives pain signals from receptors all over your body, there is no difference.
- •“Why does cilantro sometimes taste like soap depending on the ethnicity of your ancestors?” —tracyw41ee2db9fSome, but not all, preference for cilantro is genetic. That explains why people of certain ethnicities are more likely or less likely to find cilantro to be a nasty repackaging of soap taste in plant form. Scientists know that a gene named OR6A2 helps make a receptor that senses a group of chemicals known as aldehydes. Aldehydes are also found in soap. Coincidence? Probably not!
- •“Why does fish smell so strongly?” —quincygroveeThat fishy smell comes from a nasty chemical called trimethylamine and it also causes bad breath and vaginal odors. Fish and other sea creatures produce more of this chemical because they naturally contain a precursor version of it that helps them lower the freezing point of their bodily fluids. But it occurs pretty much anywhere in nature that plants or animals are decomposing.
- •“Why do taste buds seem to change over time? In other words, why do people grow out of hating a certain food [and into] loving it?” —kad93As you age, your taste buds do actually begin to diminish, Dr. Scott P. Stringer, chairman of the otolaryngology department at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told the New York Times. But Stringer actually said that most of what we think of as taste comes from our noses’ smell receptors. As you age, it gets harder for your body to replace those receptors when they die off. As a result, people in old age are sometimes less sensitive to taste.
- •“Why does an egg become solid if you cook it?” —snowflakesEggs are made up of tiny globs of molecules called globular proteins. Without exposure to heat or air molecules, weak chemical bonds keep them together in nice and compact balls. When cooked, those bonds weaken and the molecules turn into a tangled fucking molecular mess. The tangled molecules are what make it turn solid and opaque, not an actual chemical change.
- •“Can you un-boil an egg?” —pippoppopcornTECHNICALLY yes…but not really, no. Scientists HAVE come up with ways to untangle the chemicals in an egg after it is cooked, but the process adds chemicals you wouldn’t ever want to eat. From a practical standpoint, BuzzFeed Science still considers eggs to be un-un-boilable at this moment.
- •“How do they make seedless grapes?” —HomestuckFangirlSeedless grapes are simply the clones of random genetic mutants that grew up without ever developing seeds, or of grapes that were selectively bred over time to have very few or very small seeds. Unlike animals, many plants are easy to clone because they can reproduce asexually. The plant tissue is capable, under certain conditions, of generating an identical version of itself.
- •“Who were the first people to actually try [cheese]?” —stephaniew4ffda3d9fThere is pretty clear evidence that people were milking their animals and then processing that milk in the Middle East as far back as 7000 BCE. Thomas Levy, an archeologist at the University of California, San Diego, told BuzzFeed Science that evidence for this comes from the remains of churns with dairy residue in them. Traditional societies around the world use churns to process dairy into yogurt and cheese, he said.
- •“Why do beans make you fart?” —EMILYDORJA bean’s delectable sweetness comes from a bunch of large, gangly sugars called oligosaccharides, and our own digestive system doesn’t know what the fuck to do with them. Badasses that they are, the sugars just pass right through the small intestines unaltered and arrive at the large intestines unscathed. But then they totally get nommed on by some bacteria. The bacteria break down those bean sugars and produce a bunch of nasty and smelly sulfur and methane gases as a waste product.
- •“Why does asparagus make your pee smell weird?” —sarahk47a9d6456There is an acid called asparagusic acid. Not shockingly, it is a chemical found only in asparagus (as far as we know). It breaks down in your urine, forming a series of sulfur compounds that smell real hard.
- •“Why do we sometimes have brain freezes and sometimes we don’t?” —tisclaireBrain freezes are not 100% understood, but an explanation put forward by a number of headache researchers is that your body is trying to hard to warm itself up in response to cold by sending a bunch of warm blood rapidly to the area. The change in blood flow and constriction of veins might cause pain. The fact that you might not always have them could stem from the temperature around you.
- •“Why does alcohol affect your brain functioning?” —Bethany WollBooze messes around with a neurotransmitter called GABA to make its effects more pronounced. GABA helps organize and differentiate thoughts and can also promote a sensation of calm. The second thing it does is it blocks another neurotransmitter called glutamate. Glutamate is an extremely important brain chemical, and it helps promote memory and learning functions. Needless to say, your brain’s processing power is pretty reduced when a lot of glutamate is blocked.
- •“How does blue cheese trigger headaches?” —Gabrielle HouckAs neurologist David Buchholz of Johns Hopkins University explained to NPR, aged cheese such as blue cheese contains a chemical called tyramine. Although it is clearly not the case for everyone, numerous studies suggest that this chemical can trigger headaches in some people. So that sucks.
- •“Why is it bad to mix alcohol?” —emoz3When you drink something with lower alcohol first, Kevin Strang, Ph.D., faculty associate in the Dept. of Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Medical School, explained, you get used to drinking and getting drunk at that rate. When you switch to something harder, you tend to remain used to the earlier rate of drinking and intoxication — and as a result you take in the booze faster, which can make you sicker.
- •“Does it really matter if sugar comes from an apple or a Snickers? Does it react the same in the body?” —Carly GintzSugar without fiber or protein will cause an “exaggerated glucose response.” That means your blood sugar levels are raised rapidly and your body to freaks out and sends in the insulin cavalry to get that sugar away from the blood. That insulin response causes fat storage, Dr. Holly Lofton, the director of the NYU Medical Weight Management Program said. That can cause sugar crashes, irritability, etc. If you eat sugar that is combined with fiber or protein, you will avoid that surge of insulin.
- •“Why do we crave carbs when we’re sad but also all the time?” —BuzzFeed Food InstagramAccording to Lofton, eating carbs triggers your body to release serotonin, a “feel-good hormone.” Serotonin plays a big part in regulating mood. If you are sad, maybe that bump in serotonin gets you through it. If you are not sad, you still probably like feeling good, and your body knows that carbs are a good way to get a quick fix of that sweet carby happiness.
- •“Why does food that’s unhealthy taste better than healthy food?” —hannahs48f3cc167“Evolutionarily, it behooves us to take in calorie-dense foods, as it increases chances of survival,” Lofton told BuzzFeed Science. Those calories are now all too readily available and we don’t burn as many calories looking for that food. Doesn’t matter: Our evolutionary programming still tells us we need to pig the fuck out whenever we get the chance.