Popular Science

Winter 2021

Popular Science has been demystifying the worlds of science and technology since 1872. Our digital subscription delivers deeply reported stories that explain the inner workings of the phone in your pocket, explore world-changing innovations, and examine everything from the marvels of deep space to the secret lives of staples like bread.

United States
Camden Media Inc.
4 Issues

in this issue

2 min
account for taste

EVERY YEAR, when the PopSci staff gathers to brainstorm our issue themes, there’s one thing the entire crew can count on: One of the dozens of Post-its in my scrawl will bear the word crunch. I always bring it up because of the visceral feeling it evokes. Not only do you feel the snap of a perfectly fried chip, but you also taste it, see it, and hear it. For some, just the word itself is enough to spark cravings for popcorn, gingersnaps, and fried chicken. But when we’re chowing down, crunch brings a sonic experience that we can’t get enough of. Food scientists suspect that we equate that signature bite with freshness (à la an apple plucked straight from the tree) or the caloric lifeblood that is fat—butter-laden cookies and…

1 min
our weird yet extra-tasty food pairings

The perfect combo is Goldfish crackers and a can of cream cheese frosting. Those two cheesy components create the ideal salty-sweet mouthful.Sara Chodosh, associate editorIn Chile, avocados are the ultimate comfort food. The weirdest topping for avocado toast? Strawberries. The tangy sweetness is a perfect complement.Sandra Gutierrez G., associate DIY editorThanks to my mom’s Bengali cooking, I’ll try to add cumin to anything. Grilled pineapple (good), coffee and smoothies (fine), marinara sauce (never again).Purbita Saha, senior editorGrowing up, school lunch on Fridays was always pizza. A bite of a chocolate drumstick ice cream cone always seemed like the ideal topping for a cafeteria slice.Katie Belloff, art directorI don’t think it’s odd, but I always get strange looks when I dip Doritos in salsa. They are literally tortilla chips, but it…

2 min
what makes food tasty?

HUMANS ARE BORN with a love of sugar, but everything else is an acquired taste. As a result, your dietary preferences are largely the product of what you’ve been exposed to. Still, there are some seemingly universal principles of deliciousness: A balance of contrasting flavors makes for yummier food, and ingredients that share similar aromatic undertones can create more subtle, interesting notes—aroma is, after all, responsible for most of what we call flavor. Guiding concepts like these explain why some dishes pop and others flop. Chefs use them to create exquisite meals, but the same rules can elevate even a humble hamburger patty to a thing of beauty. Flavors complement each other Balancing tastes in a dish makes it shine. Umami from the burger patty offers a counterpoint to the saltiness of…

1 min
how to define wine

THERE ARE DOZENS of varieties of vino, but most people find one they like and stick with it—even if they can’t explain why they enjoy it. Describing a crisp chardonnay or hearty cabernet is simple when you understand the complex interplay of compounds that create its flavor, and five basic traits* that define any varietal’s character. Once mastered, that information can broaden one’s palate and even lead to the discovery of new favorites. Here’s how these variables come together in some of the most popular takes on fermented grapes. BODY: A common way of describing how “heavy” or viscous a particular wine feels in the mouth. SWEETNESS: The amount of residual grape sugars remaining in the vin after the fermentation process. TANNIN: A bitter-tasting natural element, important for the drink’s quality and preservation. ACIDITY:…

2 min
your dinner is heating up

THERE’S A REASON oranges grow in Florida and maple trees flourish in Vermont, not vice versa. Every delicious morsel on your plate comes from a locale perfectly suited to producing it. But the climate crisis is scrambling these sensitive environments. Extreme weather, rising temperatures, and withering drought threaten harvests and make many foods harder and costlier to cultivate. These charts show how the next century of planetary warming will change six of our dietary staples. Wine Proximity to a wildfire can contaminate vineyards with “smoke taint” and give grapes a campfire taste, ruining an entire harvest. This emerging problem could become devastating as blazes encroach on the vino-producing regions of California and Australia. Cattle The average cow munches 24 pounds of grass daily, but drought will dessicate the Southwest. Ranchers may have to move…

3 min
where do candy flavors come from?

MODERN CANDY AISLES contain a seemingly endless variety of classic and limited-edition flavor combinations to tempt your taste buds. Alongside fan-favorite concoctions (chocolate and peanut butter! cookies and cream!), sweets companies are shelling out off-the-wall offerings at a clip that feels like the result of a corporate sugar rush. Trend forecasters and market researchers tip off these bigwig confectioners with ideas for delectable new treats. But making a product is more complicated than just throwing some chili oil or BBQ seasoning into the production line. Turning those delicious daydreams into sugary realities falls to food scientists like Daniele Bwamba. A candy researcher at The Hershey Company in Pennsylvania, the shop that supplies some 45 percent of the nation’s chocolate, she experiments with tastes and colors to craft new varieties, including delectables…