21 Scientific Facts About Cooking That'll Have You Looking At Your Food In A Completely Different Way

Wood in your cheese, kitchen spices that give you hallucinations, internet-capable tubers?!

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The worlds of science and cooking usually stay separate for those of us who don't have to wear chef's whites or infuse pumpkin spice into every food in the grocery store. So, if you're not in a lab or a professional kitchen, enjoy these fascinating food facts and prepare to never enjoy Skittles the same way again!

1.If you bite into a Life Saver (the hard, minty fresh kind), a faint spark is occasionally emitted. This is because the sugar's rapidly-changed structure releases energy that mixes with the air's nitrogen, causing a small flash of light.

A lifesaver briefly sparks as its struck

Also at play is methyl salicylate, a compound that gives Life Savers some of their flavor. When you chomp down, that methyl salicylate (and the energy released from the candy's shattered sugar crystals) has to return to its ground state after mixing with the air's nitrogen. It's this brief moment as the two compounds return to ground state that they emit light.

Smarter Every Day 2 / youtube.com

2.Ever think that banana candy doesn't taste like actual bananas? Turns out, we just have less flavorful bananas than when the flavoring was first invented.

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Don't worry, this isn't some conspiracy by Big Banana (I'm, like, 70% sure). It all comes down to a banana-killing fungus called Panama disease.

Basically, there used to be a strain of banana called the Gros Michel. It was the banana everyone ate, and it contained a lot of isoamyl acetate. So, when the artificial flavoring for bananas was first created, scientists were sure to include plenty of isoamyl acetate.

Around the mid-20th century, Panama disease wiped out the Gros Michel banana population. The banana industry is worth about $11 billion, so naturally, farmers weren't going to give up on their livelihood. A new banana, the Cavendish, became the norm, and it's still what we enjoy today. The Cavendish doesn't taste much like the Gros Michel, and a big reason for that is lower levels of isoamyl acetate.

So, next time you get some banana Runts, keep in mind that your taste buds are traveling back in time to experience a completely different banana.

Bonus Banana Fact: They are technically berries!

3.Carrots were not originally orange, but white, pale yellow, and purple.

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The mutation into orange occurred a couple thousand years ago as carrots made their way from the Persian Plateau to parts of Europe.

There's a myth out there that carrots were bred to be orange by 17th-century Dutch farmers who wanted to honor their king, William of Orange. But according to John Stolarczyk, it's just not true.

Who is John Stolarczyk, you may wonder? Oh, just the curator of the World Carrot Museum. So, yeah.

4.Cellulose, which is commonly taken from wood, is an ingredient in shredded cheese.

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No need to throw away your mozzarella right away, because cellulose is edible. It's that stringy stuff in celery, though it's usually taken from wood, oat hulls, and peanut/almond skins. Additionally, cheese manufacturers argue that the cellulose is necessary because it prevents clumping in their product.

The thing to watch out for is high levels of cellulose. The FDA allows for 4%, but high levels of the stuff can lead to gas and bloating. Cellulose is high in fiber, so be sure to check that you're not getting too much fiber from your cheese.

5.Rice Krispies make their signature snap, crackle, and pop sound because they are imploding.

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Each of those little puffed rice pieces has networks of tunnels, pockets of air, and a very fragile structure. As they are soaked in milk, the walls holding these various spaces apart break, allowing for air to escape and mini cave-ins. This small-scale carnage is what you're hearing when you pour up a bowl of Rice Krispies cereal.

6.Ketchup was once branded as a catch-all medicine to cure issues like diarrhea.

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A doctor named John Cook Bennett even turned his ketchup recipe into a pill that could cure plenty of ailments. This inspired his competition to come out with their own ketchup medicines with even more incredible claims (such as mending broken bones).

Bonus Ketchup Fact: The original recipe for ketchup was a fermented paste of fish guts and soybeans.

7.Large amounts of nutmeg could make you high.

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Reports of a nutmeg high date all the way back to the 1500s. While some claim the spice can make you hallucinate, most state that they felt they were in a trance-like state, with nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, dry mouth, and anxiety. Basically, I'm saying don't try it at home.

8.What do ranch dressing and coffee creamer have in common with sunscreen, paint, and plastic? Titanium dioxide.

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It's not too comforting to hear that anything inside of plastic and paint — a material we don't exactly associate with good eatin' — would be in tasty ranch or coffee creamer. Why is titanium dioxide in all of these items? Think about ranch, coffee creamer, and sunscreen in particular: They're all white.

Titanium dioxide makes things whiter, and it's a bit controversial as a food ingredient. While the FDA allows it, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has called titanium dioxide possibly carcinogenic. As of 2022, titanium dioxide is banned in the European Union.

9.Almost all ears of corn have an even number of rows.

A young kid explaining his love of corn

What's typically got 800 kernels in 16 rows? It's corn!

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10.You can turn peanut butter into a diamond with the right amount of heat and pressure.

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It's simpler than you may think: Diamonds are made of carbon, and peanut butter has a lot of carbon. This isn't just a theory, either. In 2014, scientists in Germany successfully created a diamond from peanut butter.

11.White chocolate isn't real chocolate. I'm not saying it's gross or anything, it just literally contains zero chocolate.

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White chocolate usually contains cocoa butter, but that's just fat that's been extracted from cocoa beans. In other words, it doesn't contain any cocoa particles. Other ingredients include sugar, milk products, vanilla, and lecithin.

12.Gummi Bears are coated in the same wax as cars.

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Just like with the cellulose in shredded cheese, this isn't a reason to stop eating Goldbears. The wax in question is carnauba wax, which passes through the body without being absorbed. There is also far less of the stuff in a bag of Gummi Bears than on your Toyota.

It gives things a shiny look, which is just what manufacturers need when selling new cars or delicious fruit snacks. But don't think that Haribo is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. They list carnauba wax on their website as an ingredient.

13.Farmed salmon is often deficient in the nutrient that turns their wild counterparts' flesh pink. So, salmon farmers dye their fish pink.

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Wild salmon get plenty of astaxanthin in nature, which turns their skin pink. Farmed salmon, unfortunately, don't receive the same nutrients, so they turn out grey. Since consumers would likely assume grey salmon has "gone bad," farmers have to give their fish astaxanthin supplements.

14.Skittles contained insect-derived ingredients until 2009.

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Any vegans reading this will not be surprised, because gelatin is one of the most common animal by-products in foods (and often candies) you would assume are otherwise cruelty-free. And Skittles did contain gelatin (made from animal cartilage) until 2009, but there were two other ingredients derived from insects.

Red Skittles (the best flavor) contained carmine, a red dye made from the cochineal scale bug. The candy also contained shellac, which is a wax secreted by the Kerria lacca insect.

But vegans rejoice, because as of 2009, Skittles are made without gelatin, carmine, or shellac (note that some special editions of the candy are not vegan-friendly, and it's always a good idea to double-check the label).

15.Potatoes react to wi-fi signals almost exactly the same way as humans.

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Boeing has admitted to using potatoes as substitutes for human bodies when testing out its in-flight wi-fi. This is because Boeing engineers discovered that potatoes' water content and chemistry absorb and reflect radio wave signals similarly to the human body.

I know there's a couch potato joke in here somewhere.

16.Raw oysters are usually still alive.

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Oysters are very simple creatures that have not changed for millennia, so it can be hard to tell whether they're dead, dying, or simply immobile when they arrive on your plate. But odds are, they're still alive when you chow down.

Some believe that this is a food safety measure, with bacteria and viruses having a more difficult time growing in an alive animal than a dead one. But that's not necessarily true. So, if you're wondering why restaurants would serve them live, oyster expert Julie Qiu explains that fresh seafood simply tastes better:

"[T]he actual taste and texture is going to be far superior when it's a fresh oyster."

17.Strawberries aren't berries.

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Botanists are some of the most talented motherfuckers out there. They are the ultimate "technically" scientists. Strawberries aren't "technically" berries, but you know what "technically" are? Eggplants, tomatoes, and avocados.

Let's get into the specifics. To be a berry, it has to be a simple fruit coming from one flower with one ovary. The strawberry is derived from a flower with more than one ovary. A true berry also usually has several seeds.

You may be thinking that a strawberry certainly fits the berry definition in having several seeds, but those specks on a strawberry aren't seeds. They're the actual tiny fruits of the strawberry, and each one contains its own seeds. So, the strawberry is known as an aggregate or multiple fruit, similar to a raspberry.

18.Honey never goes bad.

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Not in the Twinkie, "it's so unnatural and full of preservatives it'll survive a nuke" kind of way. Honey literally never goes bad. In 2015, archaeologists even discovered 3,000 year old honey that was still edible.

Food (when sealed) usually goes bad because of moisture and bacteria. Honey is naturally low in moisture and too acidic for bacteria, so as long as it's preserved, it'll last you as long as you can resist eating it.

19.You have likely never eaten actual wasabi because it's $80 a pound. 95% of "wasabi" at stores and in restaurants is simply dried horseradish.

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Wasabi and horseradish are pretty similar because they both come from the Brassica family of plants. But broccoli and Brussels sprouts are also in this family, so that isn't saying much. There is a distinct difference in flavor between wasabi and horseradish, but you'd have to go to an upscale Japanese restaurant to get the real wasabi.

20.Crackers can be worse for your teeth than candy.

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The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry revealed that, contrary to popular belief, candy doesn't have a monopoly on rotten teeth. Since starchy foods like crackers stay in your teeth for much longer, they can actually be worse for your teeth.

It's true that sugar can be harmful to your teeth, but something like caramel actually dissolves faster than a cracker. And if the crackers are in your teeth for long enough, the enzymes in your mouth will turn the starches to sugar anyway.

21.Chili peppers don't "burn" your mouth, they just trick your brain into thinking it's being burned.

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Capsaicin, the molecule in chili peppers that causes heat, isn't producing actual heat when it hits your mouth. It's triggering receptors that send signals to your brain, telling it that there's some massive heat source in your mouth right now.

This is why drinking water doesn't help as much as you'd think it would when your mouth is on fire, because there's no actual heat in your mouth. Milk is a solid choice because it contains casein, which breaks down the heat-causing capsaicin molecules.

What are your favorite food facts? Let me know in the comments!