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The Science of Spice, Origins of the American Taco, and More Long Reads

Read this week's top food writing.

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Like rainbows and long strings of spaghetti, food origins are often challenging to pin down. This week, read as one writer debunks the precious food origin stories tied to 1904's World Fair, as another discovers that chili powder may have been the catalyst for the development of a modern American taco. Speaking of tacos, Taco Bell is a prime example of a successful "food stunt," and that's apparently rare. It's taken a long time for African Americans behind the bar to be celebrated, and their hospitable endurance in the face of critics is to be lauded. Veterans, also no stranger to immense obstacles, find relief in a Ukrainian pizza shop. Smells abound between herbs and cheeses — but no amount of science will ever explain the round wheels at Murray's to me. Finally, corporations aren't funding that nutritional study in the name of science — but how do those findings advance us in other ways?

The Texan Who Invented Chili Powder Also Accidentally Created the American Taco

Atlas Obscura

The next major step in the development of the American taco was fast food. "Glen Bell, of Taco Bell fame, he got the idea for Taco Bell after watching the McDonald brothers get insanely rich in San Bernardino, California," says Arellano. Bell had a hamburger and hot dog stand right across the street from a popular Mexican restaurant, and by 1951 he had reverse-engineered the taco and began selling it, including the tacos dorados popular in southern California.

The 1904's World Fair: A Turning Point for American Food

Serious Eats

It took place at an important historical turning point in American food culture. While there may not be conclusive evidence that any single food item was invented from scratch on the fairgrounds, American foodways were undergoing a radical transformation. The real legacy of the fair is that, for a few brief months in a single place, it captured an entire culture of eating that was being remade for the modern world.

Why Do Brands Still Bother With Stunt Food?

Eater

Since 2012, the Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos have enjoyed reigning status as the stunt-iest and most successful of all stunt foods. The degree of the present-day success in the Doritos Locos might have seemed impossible back during the initial release. Naysayers cried end of the world, perceiving the combination as the nadir of our cultural forays into lowbrow indulgence. Yet Doritos' infamous cheese-flavored crunchy taco shell filled with the familiar Taco Bell mix-ins soon became the gold standard for fast food perfection.

The Science of Herbs and Spices

Lucky Peach

What does all of this mean for the cook? For one thing, you should think twice before you discard slightly buggy or moth-eaten produce. It may not be presentable as is, but it may have more flavor and nutrition than a perfect leaf. And if you grow plants of your own—even pots of herbs in the window or on the rooftop—you may get more flavor by lacing their drinking water with chitosan.

The Hidden History of African Americans Behind the Bar

Bitter Southerner

Sure, at any time except during the very height of Reconstruction, when equality laws were enforced at gunpoint, a black man would not be served in a white bar. Yet black bartenders in such establishments were not only tolerated but often even celebrated. That had nothing to do with Reconstruction: indeed, it went back to the early days of the Republic.

The Comfort Food Diaries: Love Stinks

Serious Eats

I'll rummage through the jumbled collection of cutlery in my kitchen drawer, searching for the perfect spoon, one that's small but heavy, with a smoothly rounded handle. I'll enter my bedroom and close the door, set the package on my bed, and lift the lid off the round poplar box. Possibly a glowing light will emanate to the tune of an angelic choral ahhhh. The dusky orange rind will part at the lightest touch, exposing a lava-like pool of pale yellow cheese. And then I will lift my spoon, pause to savor the moment, and inhale the entire thing in one fell swoop.

Salvation by the Slice

Roads and Kingdoms

The government has promised the veterans a lot, including free medical treatment and financial help. But to get access, veterans need to battle through another war, in the offices of government institutions. Self-organized unions help their newly arrived comrades navigate the bureaucracy. One of the options open to veterans is a four-week course in starting an enterprise. Leonid Ostaltsev, a pizzaiolo in his former life, enrolled in the course and eventually opened Pizza Veterano.

Why Corporations Make it Hard to Trust Nutrition Studies

Eater

With researchers defending such partnerships, corporate influence in nutrition research is unlikely to stop in the near future. Advocates of industry funding, like Dr. Andrew Brown, a scientist and researcher at the Nutrition and Obesity Research Center & Office of Energetics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, argue that corporate funding is not really the issue on which to focus. "We like to say that with science, there's only three things that matter: the data, the way the data were collected, and the logic connecting the data to the conclusions," Brown said.

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