Frankenfoods: Six Snacks Prepared In The Lab

1. Carbonated Fruit

FizzyFruit.jpgWhile enjoying a nice, crisp apple or a ripe, juicy pear, do you ever think to yourself, "This would be so much better with a little carbon dioxide"? Well, apparently you aren't the only one. Fizzy Fruit, the world's first carbonated fruit, is now hitting grocery store shelves near you.

Neurobiologist Galen Kaufman got the idea for carbonating fruit when he bit into a pear that had been hanging out in a cooler filled with dry ice. The carbon dioxide from the dry ice had mixed with the water content of the fruit, resulting in a carbonated effect. Together with the Food Innovation Center, a research facility at Oregon State University, Kaufman developed this idea into Fizzy Fruit. It's been a hit at pilot schools across the country and is now served in more than 600 school districts. And if the carbonation in the fruit doesn't have enough fizz factor for you, maybe you should think about adding your fizzy fruit to your fizzy yogurt"¦

2. Carbonated Yogurt

Fizzix.jpgFirst came drinkable yogurt. Then Go-Gurt, in tubes. Now, carbonated yogurt? Yep. It's called Fizzix and it comes in flavors that sound suspiciously like Pop Rocks, including Blue Raspberry Rage, Strawberry Lemonade Jolt and Fruit Punch Charge.

Brigham Young food scientist Lynn Ogden came up with the idea similar to the way Fizzy Fruit was conceptualized "“ after adding dry ice to yogurt it was filled with CO2 when the ice broke down. He and his students messed around with the idea for years before perfecting the technique (yogurt is prone to exploding when carbonated) and receiving a patent. Ogden started selling "Sparkling Yogurt" on the BYU campus and eventually sold the idea to General Mills in 2006. Although kids apparently love Fizzix, it didn't win any fans when Fortune magazine did a taste-test on the product "“ one tester referred to Fizzix as "Yuck-plait."

3. Caffeinated Donuts

If your idea of breakfast is more along the lines of a jelly donut and a Diet Coke or three, soon you can cut combine the two. Dr. Robert Bohannon, a molecular scientist who graduated from the Baylor College of Medicine, is the brains behind Encaff, an additive that inserts caffeine into everyday foods while hiding the bitter caffeine taste. Bohannon has already developed Buzz Donuts and Buzzed Bagels and is working with companies to inject Encaff into gum, breakfast bars and smoothies. Food that has been Encaffienated will contain somewhere between 50 to 100 mg of caffeine, which is a pretty typical amount "“ a standard cup of coffee contains about 50 mg.

4. Caffeinated Beer

B2E.jpgOne area of the market Bohannon can't corner, though, is beer. Caffeinated beer has been on the shelves since 2005, when Anheuser-Busch launched BE (pronounced "B to the E"). BE contains 54 mg of caffeine and smells like "blackberry and a little bit of cherry", according to the creator of BE, Nathaniel Davis. But one bartender says it tastes like tangerine. I guess it's one of those things you will just have to try for yourself "“ that is, if mixing a stimulant and a depressant doesn't concern you at all. BE "“ also known as Bud Extra "“ is now just one of many caffeinated beers available to consumers, including Labatt's Shok (60 mg of caffeine), and Molson's Kick (55 mg of caffeine).

5. Bacon-Flavored Salt

baconsalt.jpgBacon Salt is a product that was just launched by self-titled "Bacontrepreneurs" Justin Esch and Dave Lefkow. It's a zero-calorie, zero-fat, zero-carb, zero-meat seasoning that tastes just like bacon. It's even kosher. Justin and Dave came up with the idea while discussing their mutual love for bacon, and shortly thereafter, Bacon Salt was born. They held a taste-test amongst friends early in 2007 and received rave reviews, except for the maple-flavored bacon salt. However, the original, hickory and peppered flavors were big hits. Justin and Dave say that Bacon Salt is delicious on everything from grilled meats to veggies to, yes, bacon. Dave's father-in-law claims to like it on ice cream and a Bacon Salt fan sent a picture of Bacon Salt on watermelon. If anyone tries Bacon Salt on ice cream, be sure to let me know.

6. Sliced Jelly

pjsquares.jpgSliced jelly is for those days when you really don't have the energy to open up a jar and get out a knife to make your PBJ. John M. Codilis is president and CEO of P.J. Squares LLC, a company that makes a sandwich slices with strawberry or grape jelly on one side and peanut butter on the other. Hungry consumers just have to unwrap a slice, throw it on some bread and enjoy. No jars, no knives, no muss, no fuss! Although it might sound a little unnecessary and, OK, more than a little lazy, it does have practical origins: the inventor of peanut butter slices (plain peanut butter without a side made of jelly), John Bogan, was watching his young son attempt to make himself lunch. He was completely destroying his slices of bread in the peanut butter spreading process, so Bogan thought he would invent something easy for small kids to use. Codilis says about 40 percent of P.J. Squares buyers unwrap the slices and eat them solo, no bread required.

I'm sure these few examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bizarre products on the market. What have you seen? Better yet, what have you tried?

You'll be seeing a lot more Weird Science here on the site, including a series of posts from Senior Weird Science Correspondent Chris Weber.

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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iStock
A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
iStock
iStock

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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