Why You've Never Really Tasted Your 6 Favorite Foods
Ever hear the phrase "You eat with your eyes"? On top of it being a good horror movie premise, it turns out that it's also true. We tend to orient our diets around how our food looks, in lieu of how it actually tastes. And the food industry knows this. Which is why ...
We're Denied Multiple Carrot Varieties Because Of The Dutch
Carrots naturally come in a rainbow of colors, each with their own variety of flavors, textures, and nutrients. White carrots are crisper, red carrots are starchier, and purple carrots have a hint of spice to them. There's so much variety that a talented chef could probably make a decent meal out of just carrots. So why is it that orange carrots have become the worldwide standard, to the point where everything else looks like some toxic mutation? Bizarrely enough, whenever you bite into an orange carrot, you're chewing on a hearty mouthful of Dutch patriotism.
Carrying on a proud and noble tradition.
See, back in the 17th Century, the Netherlands broke away from Spanish political influence to become a nation in its own right. The main driving force behind this was the Dutch royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau. The dynasty was so absurdly popular that the color orange essentially became a trademark of the Dutch -- as it remains to this day. All because it happened to be the surname of a bunch of aristocrats the people really liked.
The Dutch people started wearing orange, painting their houses orange, and planting trees that flowered orange, in what was possibly the most successful political branding campaign of all time. And of course, orange food also became incredibly popular. The most obvious winners were oranges, but orange candies, jams, and liqueurs also cornered the market. It is for this reason that orange carrots vastly outsold every other variety.
The success of Dutch international trade meant that the orange carrot craze eventually infected the rest of the world, and now most people would regard a white carrot as some sort of Powder-esque super albino.
Tomatoes And Apples Sacrifice Taste For Vibrant Color
Tomatoes are an inoffensive filler vegetable. You might slap a couple of slices on your burger or mix it into your pasta sauce with enough sugar and herbs to make it edible, but you'd call someone a freak if you saw them take a bite out of a tomato like they mistook it for an apple. But tomatoes used to taste quite good, once upon a time. Around 70 years ago, the common tomato was sweeter, more aromatic, and generally more flavorful.
So what happened? Put simply, farmers noticed that tomatoes sold better the redder they were, because buyers figured that meant they were ripe. So farmers began to deliberately breed tomatoes to be a uniform red. Of course, most tomato buyers aren't biologists, so they didn't know that the gene that's responsible for holding back the redness of a ripening tomato is also the one that gives it flavor. If you remember the basics of high school biology, you know that the green parts of plants contain the mechanisms (chloroplasts) which turn sunlight into sugars. Deprive a tomato of those, and you wind up with the balloon full of bland pulp that we have today.
Not even this perfectly-lit stock photo can make them look appetizing.
The exact same thing happened to the apple industry. Although it's the most popular apple variety in the United States, the "Red Delicious" is half a lie. What is now a mushy, grainy hunk of wet Styrofoam may have lived up to its title when it hit the market back in the late 1800s, but farmers dedicated the following years to maximizing the redness at the expense of the deliciousness. Over the generations, Red Delicious apples have been bred not only to increase their uniform color and size, but also to give them thicker skin to hide bruises and therefore maximize shelf life. But the name stuck, because "Red It's All Right I Guess" isn't as catchy.
Oranges Need Special Treatment To Become Orange Enough
Oranges are not orange. We know what you're thinking -- whether the color was named after the fruit or vice versa, the fact remains that oranges are the most appropriately-named members of the fruit family. But here's the kicker: When picked from the tree, most oranges look something like this:
Those "oranges" are perfectly ripe, and yellowy-green is in fact the way real oranges roll in nature, just like the aforementioned tomatoes and apples. That doesn't change the fact that we're accustomed to oranges living up to their name, and so we tend to bypass any that aren't as orange as possible. So how do oranges get their customary, unnatural hue?
Virtually all of the oranges you buy from the supermarket have gone through a "degreening" process, which means that they've been bathed in ethylene gas. This bleaches the patchy yellow and green out of the skin of the fruit so that their bright orange innards can shine through. An unfortunate side effect of this treatment is that it reduces the fruits' shelf life. See, the reason a fruit goes from green to yellow or orange in nature in the first place is that it's basically dying. Ethylene works because it's an organic compound that stimulates the rotting process to kill that disgusting healthy green shit and turn your orange into a delectable corpse. So there you go: Oranges aren't orange.
Somewhere, a disheveled Dutch reader is running down a produce aisle screaming, "Everything is a lie!"
Also, your life is a lie. Just a giant lie.
Artificial Colors Dictate Our Food Choices
You're an independent thinker. You're not one of those sheeple who consumes whatever corporate America tells you to consume. You're figuratively wearing Roddy Piper's sunglasses from They Live. You only eat what tastes good to you, not what The Man tells you to slide down your maw. We know this. We're merely saying that what tastes good to you probably has a lot to do with how pretty your food is. And the corporations know it. Oh yes, you better believe they know it.
In a study done by Cornell University, researchers offered participants bowls of Cheetos without their signature artificial orange coloring. Nothing was changed except the absence of the (tasteless) orange dye, revealing the true nature of Cheetos as mostly colorless corn-derivative husks, but participants nevertheless reported them to be bland and unappetizing.
"Gross! If I wanted weird white dust on my fingers, I'd still do coke."
It turns out that your brilliant meat-brain still bases much of its pleasure response on how visibly attractive your food is. And it's taken a little while for corporations to fully understand this. In the early 1990s, Pepsi released Crystal Pepsi, which tasted the same as their regular cola, but was colorless, going on the idea that customers would correlate "clear" with "purity." The product crashed because everyone thought it was nothing but sugary saliva.
"What if we took out the one thing that distinguishes this from plain seltzer?"
"Ship it. Let's go to lunch."
In 2014, Burger King released a burger in Japan that had its bun and cheese dyed jet black, for some reason. It was a hit with the Japanese, because there's a precedent for this there -- squid ink is often used as a dye in some dishes. Meanwhile, Americans reacted to the images with abject horror, declaring that the burgers looked like a cancer lung autopsy.
We kinda glossed over the fact that this is supposed to look like it's covered in octopus jizz.
We Throw Out Perfectly Good Food Because Our Standards Are Insane
As it turns out, the rows of perfectly-shaped, uniformly-colored, virtually identical fruits and vegetables you find neatly laid out in the produce section of your supermarket aren't exactly indicative of the natural order. Nature doesn't give one good goddamn what a fruit looks like, and so much of the annual harvest from your local farm looks like a P.T. Barnum vegetable freak show of bent cucumbers, prolapsed oranges, and Siamese twin carrots.
The poor carrot is doing it's best to entice you with it's seductive leg pose.
Why don't you see these mutants in your supermarket? Because the supermarket thinks that you won't go anywhere near them. Because of this, somewhere between 5 and 30 percent of each harvest in America goes directly into the compost bin before it even hits the shelves. Even though it tastes exactly like a "normal" apple, nobody is going to sell one that looks like the Hulk's testicles.
To be fair, this is probably what happens when you blast fruit with gamma radiation.
There have been rigorous government standards regulating the shape and color of produce in Europe since the '80s. For example, the EU law governing cucumbers states that they can "be bent by a gradient of no more than 1/10," and bananas must be "free of abnormal curvature" and at least 14 cm in length. It wasn't enough for us to give young women a complex with our unrealistic standards of beauty; we had to go and do it to our food, too.
Modern Agriculture Methods Make Our Food More Vulnerable To Disease
People want a banana that looks, smells, and above all tastes exactly the same as the last banana. Unfortunately, nature itself actively fights against this through a process called evolution. Evolution keeps trying to turn fish into monkeys, dinosaurs into birds, and bananas into we don't know what, but probably something you don't want on your cereal.
But long ago, human agriculture found a way to fight back against natural variation. We don't grow fruit or nut trees from seeds anymore - we clone them. We cut the branches off existing trees and replant them, creating a new tree that is genetically identical to the old one and thus eliminate the chances of it producing fruit that is even slightly different in any way. In a way, every apple, apricot, or chestnut tree is kind of the same tree. Imagine if every steak you ever had came from the same gigantic, immortal cow.
"One of these lives, vengeance will be mine."
Huh. When we say it that way, it almost makes it seem weird.
The big problem with this is that nature relies on genetic diversity for a damn good reason: That diversity is the only thing that stands in the way of disease. If every organism is a clone, all it takes is one bad cold to kill everything.
Or worse -- zombinanas.
That's not a hypothetical. It's already happening to bananas. Or rather, it already happened. Bananas are possibly the most inbred fruit on Earth, due to the fact that they don't even have seeds anymore. So by design, every banana you've ever eaten has essentially been the same damn banana -- a cultivar known as the Cavendish. But there used to be another variety. In the early 1900s, the most popular banana was called the Gros Michel, and it reportedly had a bolder, creamier taste. One year, the Gros Michel came down with a fungus called Panama disease, which almost instantaneously wiped out the entire cultivar.
Luckily, we had the Cavendish to fall back on, because the slightest genetic difference from the Gros Michel was enough to save it ... for now. It's only a matter of time before Panama disease comes for the rest of our bananas, as many Cavendish plantations are currently battling against its resurgence. And bananas are just the first victims. Other fruits, such as apples, are also approaching that genetic bottleneck, at which point one opportunistic disease could excavate an entire layer out of our food pyramid.
Man, why couldn't it have been vegetables?
But all of that is worthwhile, so long as we never have to try anything new.
Ricardo likes to tell you things all the time, try to avoid listening. In fact, you should probably avoid him altogether.
Deep inside us all behind our political leanings, our moral codes and our private biases, there is a cause so colossally stupid, we surprise ourselves with how much we care. Whether it's toilet paper position, fedoras on men or Oxford commas, we each harbor a preference so powerful we can't help but proselytize to the world. In this episode of the Cracked podcast, guest host Soren Bowie is joined by Cody Johnston, Michael Swaim and comedian Annie Lederman to discuss the most trivial things we will argue about until the day we die. Get your tickets here!
For more things you didn't want to know about our food, check out 5 Horrifying Food Additives You've Probably Eaten Today and The 6 Most Horrifying Lies The Food Industry Is Feeding You.
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