Archive for the ‘botanicals’ Category

The Strawberry, a Spy, and a Happy Accident

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Taken, in part, from “Sweet as Sin” (Prometheus, 2016) Strawberry is one of the most popular candy flavors in the nation. It’s in chewing gum, hard candies, jelly beans, taffy, Caramel Creams. Strawberry leaves make a healthy and delicious tea and chocolate covered strawberries are unbeatable. Yet, the most intriguing aspect of the strawberry is its story, involving three continents, international spies, life at the high seas, and science. Humble Beginnings Originally, North American strawberries were tiny little nuggets, a humble yet wild plant. They held special meaning for Native Americans because they were the first to produce fruit in…

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Cinnamon Tree

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What is this gnarled tree? Today we know it well – we use its bark as a flavoring and garnish which we associate with love, comfort and fun. Yet for millennia, it had multifold uses in the Mideast, Mediterranean, and Asia – as a perfume, spice, embalming agent, medicine, appetite stimulator, digestive, and, like so much else,  aphrodisiac. It was transported from Asia through the brutality and currency of the spice trade and has had a a leading player in the American food and beverage landscape since the 1700s.  It’s the cassia, aka cinnamon, tree. “I have perfumed my bed…

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The World’s Sexiest Plant

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What is this winding plant? Hint:  It’s the sexiest plant around and the source of one of the most revered flavorings. It’s the vanilla orchid, known more formally as the Vanilla planifolia. A native of Mesoamerica, it winds its way up other plants, embracing, rather than clinging, as it does. The pod accentuates its intrinsically sexual – and sensual – nature, as it resembles a vagina. Even the name “vanilla” reflects this fact: the Spaniards, who “discovered” the orchid in the early 1500s, compared it to a sheath or “vaina,” derived from the Latin “vagina.” No surprise, the vanilla was…

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The Guy Who Invented Chewing Gum – A Life of Many Firsts

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John Bacon Curtis was the one who started it all – he ushered in the world of chewing gum, bringing the nation a new pastime and treat. In the process, he ignited many other firsts, most so commonplace we forget anyone could be first to do them. Curtis was born in Hampden Maine in 1827. He went to common school for a few years then left to help bring in money for his family. He worked as a farmhand and later a “swamper,” clearing the underbrush and forests to make way for roads. At that time, the Native Americans of…

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So Much Resin, So Much Time: The First Chewing Gums Ever

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Throughout history, people have chewed tree resins: they were the first and longest-standing chewing gum, appreciated for their flavor and medicinal and health value. Amazingly, the shift from gum as a natural resin to a popular industrial wonder spanned a mere 75 years – a fraction of a hiccup in time. Here are some of the originals: Birch: The oldest chewing gum in the world was found by British archeology students on a volunteer dig in Finland. There, they discovered a clump of birch-bark tar, complete with teeth marks. Finish archeologist Sami Viljamaa says the chunk is between 5,500 and…

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