Why Do Some People Tolerate Spicy Food Better Than Others? (Food)

You’ve probably noticed that people have widely different tolerances, when it comes to spicy food. Your friend can eat an entire bowl of chilli doused with extra hot sauce, while you say or me, maybe we have to send that bowl back to the kitchen and order something little less spicy. Well, scientists don’t know for sure what allows some people to gulp down habanero salsa.

For one thing, some people may simply be born with less sensitivity to spice. That’s because spiciness is detected by a sensory receptor called TRPV1, is a little protein that opens up in response to physical temperature, but also when fiery molecules like capsiacin bind to it which is why a bite of jalapeño will make your tongue feel like its on fire.

Scientists know that gene sequences that produce the TRPV1 Protein vary from person to person so it could be that certain versions of the receptor are more or less responsive than others. There’s also the matter of how much you use your TRPV1 receptors.

Lots of studies have documented a kind of desensitization effect, where people who eat alot of capsiacin — the compound that makes hot peppers spicy —will have to eat even more capsiacin in order to taste the same level of spiciness. So people might have higher spice tolerances because as they eat spicy food more regularly, they literally aren’t feeling as much burn.

Another theory suggests that its not that spicy food burns less for some people, instead, its that some people like the burn. If you can grow up eating tamales or curry, it could be that you simply learn to enjoy the sensation because of repeated exposure or the burn itself could be the real draw.

After all, ask any chili-head if they can feel the heat and they most certainly tell you that they can.. One psychologist calls this phenomenon benign masochism.

One study has even linked this to personality type. Among a group of mostly white college students, people who reported liking spicy foods were more likely to be sensation-seekers.

So, if you have a high spice tolerance, it could be partly because of your genes or because you’re on a constant diet of tabasco sauce that lowers your sensitivity. But, its most likely to be because you’ve simply learned to enjoy that tongue-tingling.

Why Doesn’t A “Reverse Microwave” For Cooling Food Exist? (Physics)

Most kids are full of questions: Why is the sky blue? Why do we have eyebrows? Why can’t we feel the planet spinning? Your grownup curiosities probably became more advanced, but if you’re like us, a few of those questions from childhood never got answered. Like this one: Why isn’t there a “reverse” microwave for cooling food? The answer is more complicated than you might think.

It’s easy to heat food in a microwave. When you pop in a bag of frozen veggies and press the start button, the microwave sends a specific frequency of radio waves into the food to excite the water molecules within. The activity, or energy level, of a group of molecules is essentially a measure of its heat: the more excited the molecules, the hotter they are.

But there’s no frequency of radio waves that can calm molecules down to make them colder. Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation: an umbrella term that includes visible light, infrared, and X-rays, all of which are a form of energy. Energy excites molecules, and excited molecules are hotter.

But excited molecules aren’t just hotter — they’re also in a state of higher entropy. Entropy is basically a scientific measurement of disorder, and according to that old chestnut known as the second law of thermodynamics, any process in a closed system progresses toward increasing disorder. That’s why it’s so much easier to heat food up than it is to cool it down: You can’t reduce entropy, and cold things are at a state of lower entropy than hot things.

When you put a lukewarm ice tray in your freezer, for instance, heat flows from the water to the colder air of the freezer. That may sound like decreasing entropy, but not if you take the entire fridge into account: It’s using a ton of energy to take heat out of the things inside and transfer it into the surrounding air (feel how warm the back of your fridge is!). That’s an overall increase in entropy. Meanwhile, the cold air is a poor conductor, meaning it doesn’t do a very good job at removing heat from the water. That’s why you have to wait for hours before you have solid ice cubes.

There are certain materials that can cool quickly, but they don’t lend themselves to eating. A gas cools by expansion, which is why a freshly sprayed aerosol can feels so cold. But gas isn’t all that filling, compared to solids or liquids. (Our all-helium diet is failing us, but we sound hilarious.)

There are also other cooling methods: Conduction can make heat flow from food onto some colder surface, like oysters served on ice, and convection transfers heat from one place to another in a fluid, which is how you can thaw frozen meat under running water.

But barring some dangerously cold substance like liquid nitrogen, nothing can instantly cool food the way a microwave can instantly heat it. When it comes to popsicles freezing and beer chilling, you’ll just have to wait.

According To Science, Coffee And Donuts Really Are Soul Mates (Food)

There’s a good reason coffee and garlic bread never took off. Okay, there are a few reasons we could rattle off, but the main one is this: science, baby! Trade that savory starch stick for a donut and you’re in business. Chemistry has your back on why these two are a caloric match made in caffeinated, sugary heaven.

An August 2017 study published in the Journal of Food Science confirmed what we’ve all known from square one: coffee and donuts is a damn-near holy combination. The study, conducted by Cornell University researchers, found that caffeine temporarily messes with your taste buds in a way that makes food and drinks taste less sweet. Caffeine effectively suppresses adenosine receptors, which promote sleepiness and relaxation. As caffeine does its job to wake you up in the morning, the blocking of these receptors also decreases your ability to taste sweetness.

Senior author Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science, said, “When you drink caffeinated coffee, it will change how you perceive taste — for however long that effect lasts. So if you eat food directly after drinking a caffeinated coffee or other caffeinated drinks, you will likely perceive food differently.” Because caffeine suppresses the sweet tastes, this could just make you want a cruller even more.

In the blind study, participants were either given decaffeinated or regular coffee (not telling them which they were drinking) with sugar added. Participants who drank the caffeinated brew rated it as less sweet than did the ones with decaf.

In a secondary part of the study, participants had to rate their level of alertness after drinking their cup of joe and guess how much caffeine they had just consumed. They were unable to determine whether or not the drink was caffeinated, but they all reported the same increase in alertness. “We think there might be a placebo or a conditioning effect to the simple action of drinking coffee,” said Dando. “Think Pavlov’s dog. The act of drinking coffee — with the aroma and taste — is usually followed by alertness.”

The First Ultra-Hot Neptune, LTT 9779b, Is One Of Nature’s Unlikely Planets (Astronomy)

About 1 out of 200 Sun-like stars has a planet with an orbital period shorter than one day: an ultrashort-period planet. All of the previously known ultrashort-period planets are either hot Jupiters, with sizes above 10 Earth radii (R⊕), or apparently rocky planets smaller than 2 R⊕. Such lack of planets of intermediate size (the ‘hot Neptune desert’) has been interpreted as the inability of low-mass planets to retain any hydrogen/helium (H/He) envelope in the face of strong stellar irradiation. In a new paper, an international team of astronomers, including a group from the University of Warwick, reported the discovery of tht first Ultra Hot Neptune planet, “LTT 9979b”, orbiting the nearby star LTT 9779.

LTT 9779 is a Sun-like star located at a distance of 260 light-years, a stone’s throw in astronomical terms. It is super metal-rich, having twice the amount of iron in its atmosphere than the Sun. This could be a key indicator that the planet was originally a much larger gas giant, since these bodies preferentially form close to stars with the highest iron abundances.

Data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite revealed transits of the bright Sun-like star LTT 9779 every 0.79 days. This ultrashort-period planet has a radius of 4.6 R⊕ and a mass of 29 M⊕, firmly in the hot Neptune desert.

Although the world weighs twice as much as Neptune does, it is also slightly larger and so has a similar density. Therefore, LTT 9779b should have a huge core of around 28 Earth-masses, and an atmosphere that makes up around 9% of the total planetary mass.

The planet’s mean density is similar to that of Neptune. With an equilibrium temperature around 2,000 K, it is unclear how this ‘ultrahot Neptune’ managed to retain such an envelope.

Calculations by Dr. King confirmed that the atmosphere of LTT 9779b should have been stripped of its atmosphere through a process called photoevaporation. According to him, “Intense X-ray and ultraviolet from the young parent star will have heated the upper atmosphere of the planet and should have driven the atmospheric gasses into space.” On the other hand, Dr. King’s calculations showed there was not enough X-ray heating for LTT 9779b to have started out as a much more massive gas giant. “Photoevaporation should have resulted in either a bare rock or a gas giant,” he explained. “Which means there has to be something new and unusual we have to try to explain about this planet’s history.”

While, as per planetary structure models, the planet is a giant core dominated world, but crucially, there should exist two to three Earth-masses of atmospheric gas. But if the star is so old, why does any atmosphere exist at all? Well, if LTT 9779b started life as a gas giant, then a process called Roche Lobe Overflow could have transferred significant amounts of the atmospheric gas onto the star.

Roche Lobe Overflow is a process whereby a planet comes so close to its star that the star’s stronger gravity can capture the outer layers of the planet, causing it to transfer onto the star and so significantly decreasing the mass of the planet. Models predict outcomes similar to that of the LTT 9779 system, but they also require some fine tuning.

Since the planet does seem to have a significant atmosphere, and that it orbits a relatively bright star, future studies of the planetary atmosphere may unlock some of the mysteries related to how such planets form, how they evolve, and the details of what they are made of.

References: Jenkins, J.S., Díaz, M.R., Kurtovic, N.T. et al. An ultrahot Neptune in the Neptune desert. Nat Astron (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-020-1142-z link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-1142-z

New Theory Predicts Movement Of Different Animals Using Sensing To Search (Biology / Animals)

Northwestern University research team has developed a new theory that can predict the movement of an animal’s sensory organs while searching for something vital to its life.

Whether its us, or an animals, or birds or an insect, we are relied on our senses that help us to navigate and survive in our world. But what drives this essential sensing?

Unsurprisingly, animals move their sensory organs, such as eyes, ears and noses, while they are searching. Take an example of cat, she swivel her ears to capture important sounds without needing to move its body. But the precise position and orientation these sense organs take over time during behavior is not intuitive, and current theories do not predict these positions and orientations well.

Now, the researchers in the current study developed a new theory called ‘energy-constrained proportional betting’ which provides a unifying explanation for many enigmatic motions of sensory organs that have been previously measured.

They applied this theory to four different species which involved three different senses (including vision and smell) and found the theory predicted the observed sensing behavior of each animal. The theory could be used to improve the performance of robots collecting information and possibly applied to the development of autonomous vehicles where response to uncertainty is a major challenge.

The algorithm that follows from the theory generates simulated sensory organ movements that show good agreement to actual sensory organ movements from fish, mammals and insects. The algorithm shows that animals trade the energetically costly operation of movement to gamble that locations in space will be informative. The amount of energy (ultimately food they need to eat) they are willing to gamble, the researchers show, is proportional to the expected informativeness of those locations.

The study focuses on South American gymnotid electric fish, using data from experiments performed in MacIver’s lab, but also analyzes previously published datasets on the blind eastern American mole, the American cockroach and the hummingbird hawkmoth. The three senses were electrosense (electric fish), vision (moth) and smell (mole and roach).

The theory provides a unified solution to the problem of not spending too much time and energy moving around to sample information, while getting enough information to guide movement during tracking and related exploratory behaviors.

The algorithm is a modified version of one Murphey and MacIver developed five years ago in their bio-inspired robotics work. They took observations of animal search strategies and developed algorithms to have robots mimic those animal strategies. The resulting algorithms gave Murphey and MacIver concrete predictions for how animals might behave when searching for something, leading to the current work.

References: Chen Chen, Todd D Murphey, Malcolm A MacIver, “Tuning movement for sensing in an uncertain world”, Computational and systems biology (eLife), 2020. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.52371 link: https://elifesciences.org/articles/52371

Now We Know, Where Chromium Steel Was First Made (Archeology)

For more than a century, evidence for the production of crucible steel in Central and Southern Asia, prior to the European Industrial Revolution, has fascinated and challenged material scientists, historians and archaeologists. At the same time, chromium-alloyed stainless steel was developed in the early 20th century, building upon 19th century experiments with low chromium steel.

Now, Rahil Alipour and colleagues demonstrated new evidence of the intentional addition of chromium to steel nearly a millennium earlier, as part of the Persian crucible steel (pulad) tradition including the production of low-chromium crucible steel in early 2nd millennium CE Persia.

Crucible slag adhering to the interior of a crucible sherd. Credit: Rahil Alipour, UCL

They analysed archaeological finds from the 11th c. CE site of Chahak in Iran showing the intentional and regular addition of chromium mineral to the crucible charge, resulting in steel containing around 1 wt% chromium.

A contemporaneous crucible steel flint striker held in the Tanavoli Collection is reported to also contain chromium, suggesting its origin from Chahak. They argued that the mysterious compound ‘rusakhtaj’ from Biruni’s (10th – 11th c. CE) recipe for crucible steel making refers to the mineral chromite. Additional historical sources up to the mid-2nd millennium CE refer to crucible steel from Chahak as being particularly brittle, consistent with its increased phosphorus content.

References: Rahil Alipour, “Chromium crucible steel was first made in Persia”, Journal of Archaeological Science, 2020, 105224 doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2020.105224 link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S030544032030145X?via%3Dihub

Watching How Candy Canes Are Made Is As Mesmerizing As It Is Delightful (Food)

This How it’s Made video from the Science Channel shows the candy-cane making process from start to finish. Buckle up for a Willy Wonka-esque ride, and keep scrolling to read about what’s happening.

Candy canes? How Its Made

The process starts with the candy cane’s key ingredients: sugar, water, and corn syrup, which all blend into a big syrupy blob. Separately, starch and peppermint flavoring mix together to help the flavor bind to the starch. This flavored mixture then goes into the syrup blob, which then goes into a machine that repeatedly folds the mixture to distribute that minty flavor evenly.

Here’s where it gets good: the automated pullers. Two prongs twist our taffy lump around a metal pole in a strangely satisfying dance. This process aerates the candy, which turns it white. Rollers then mold it into a fat, pliable log, which they decorate with a fat stripe of red-tinged candy dough. Altogether, this minty brick weighs 100 pounds (45 kg)!

The remaining parts of the process convert the mixed, stretched, pulled candy into its final cane form. The log runs through a series of rollers and wheels that stretch it into a long, slithering snake of something that looks not unlike toothpaste. The snake is then twisted, cut into individual pieces, and wrapped in cellophane.

Then comes the final step. Before these stick-straight candy canes cool, a machine bends the tops over to form the canes’ signature crooks. It takes about a half hour for a factory to churn out a box of a dozen candy canes. Next stop: your sticky little fingers.

Despite the ubiquity of candy canes around the holiday season, we have no idea where they came from. There’s one theory that maintains the red and white colors of the cane represent Jesus’ purity and blood, and the shape mimics a “J.” There’s no evidence to back up this story, so it’s probably baloney.

Here’s another theory: a choirmaster in Cologne Cathedral in the 17th century shaped these candies to symbolize a shepherd’s staff. He would then give the canes to children to keep them quiet during the Christmas Eve Nativity scene reenactment. Well, there’s no evidence to support that story either. One thing we do know about candy canes? Watching them being made in a factory is pure delight.

You Can Dine Completely Naked At These Unusual Restaurants (Amazing Places)

“No shirt, no shoes, no problem” is one thing. But at a few unusual restaurants around the world, patrons are encouraged to bare all before they dig in. Why not? After all, going out to eat naked saves you the time it takes to pick an outfit for date night.

For whatever reason, 2016 and 2017 were big for public nude dining. In that time, the world saw the successful run of one pop-up naked eatery and a few permanent birthday-suit restaurants. The fact that stripping down every once in a while may be good for your health could explain the phenomenon, but it’s probably just the human curiosity for the risqué. Would you eat at any of these revealing spots?

In November 2017, Paris opened its first nude restaurant, aptly named O’Naturel. The spot fits 40 diners and offers meals for around $35. Guests are asked to remove all of their clothes upon entering, and ditch them in the restaurant’s wardrobes. The inside of the restaurant, which understandably received immediate support from the Paris Naturist Association, is hidden from street view. It only makes sense in the city that, as of August 2017, boasts a “nudist zone” in its largest public park.

In January 2017, Innato Tenerife became the first nude restaurant in Spain. We can safely say this one is less based on the health benefits of being naked, and perhaps more on what the owners call its “orgasmic atmosphere.” The island restaurant serves up an “aphrodisiac menu” that’s served on the nude bods of male and female models. A popular item is the “happy endings,” which is not what you think: the models smother themselves in chocolate so diners can dip strawberries off them. No room for shyness here.

The Bunyadi was the British pop-up restaurant that generated serious buzz in 2016. According to the owners, the restaurant came about to offer guests the chance “to experience true liberation.” While the concept initially rose a few eyebrows, the wait list to dine at the restaurant quickly grew to more than 50,000 people. Who knew so many wanted to be nude?

In July 2016, the Amrita opened its doors, becoming Japan’s first nude restaurant. If the Spanish spot is sexy and the French spot is natural, this eatery would best be described as exclusive. Besides having a hefty price tag on its meals (we’re talking up to $563 per person), the restaurant gained itself quite the reputation for one particular rule: “We ask anyone more than 15 kg [33 lbs] above the average weight for their height to refrain from making a reservation.” If you’ve got a fat wallet and a slim bod, you may still be rejected if you have any tattoos and are outside the 18-60 age range. In that case, just order delivery and let your hair down at home.

Here’s Why Its Rodolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (Animals / Culture)

Reindeer are real animals (they’re related to deer, elk, and moose), but they only became synonymous with the holiday season after two Christmas poems in the 1800s and two department-store campaigns in the 20th century.

You know how the classic Christmas poem goes:

“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!”

But why reindeer? Well, reindeer, also known as caribou, live in cold climates, and they often pull sleighs. Their noses can even turn red in cold weather (looking at you, Rudolph). That’s probably why William Gilley included them in the story he published in an 1821 children’s booklet: “Old Santeclaus with much delight, his reindeer drives this frosty night.” He was inspired by the reindeer from his mother’s homeland in the Arctic. After that, Clement Clarke Moore authored the famous poem “The Night Before Christmas.” His poem was originally called “A Visit From St Nicholas” and described Santa’s sleigh as miniature, lead by “eight tiny reindeer.” Because how else would he fit down those chimneys?

The way reindeer became commercialized is a somewhat less wholesome story. Entrepreneur Carl Lomen was known as “The Reindeer King” of Alaska because of his part in the development of Alaska’s reindeer industry — an industry that was definitely not about the animals pulling sleighs, if you catch our drift. To make reindeer (and by proxy, reindeer meat) more popular, he teamed up with Macy’s in 1926 to really bring the now-famous Christmas lore of reindeer to life.

The department store featured perhaps the first holiday display containing Santa, a sleigh, and real reindeer. In 1939, an advertising copywriter named Robert L. May worked with his four-year-old daughter Barbara to tell Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer’s story for the old Montgomery Ward department store’s promotional coloring book handouts. The story was almost shut down because May’s boss thought Rudolph’s “red as a beet … twice as bright” nose implied he had been drinking.

In reality, caribou and reindeer help keep their faces warm while rooting for food in the snow by activating extra capillaries in their noses — capillaries that are 25 percent more numerous than those in humans. So not only are reindeer real, but Rudolph is too. Sort of. And the size of the reindeer? While they’re not “tiny,” they are getting smaller. Maybe one day they’ll be able to fit down your chimney, after all.