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Dietribes: Raspberries

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• First thing's first: a raspberry is a bramble, or any plant belonging to the fierce-sounding genus Rubus. Raspberries are cousins with other bramble fruits, including blackberries. Also part of the diverse family Rosaceae are roses, strawberries, apples, pears, apricots and peaches.

• Raspberries and blackberries are classified as fruit, but are of a slightly different variety known as aggregate fruit (clusters of individual sections called druplelets, each containing one seed). Over 200 different known species of raspberries, though only two species are grown on a large scale.

• The discovery of raspberries is tied to Greek legend. According to myth, raspberries were discovered while the Olympian gods were searching for berries on Mount Ida. (The Latin name Rubus idaeus means “bramble bush (of) Ida").

• The first writings of raspberry cultivation appear around 4 AD, but the people of Troy (modern day Turkey), were the first to note an appreciation of the raspberry fruit, though the plant itself was more important for medicinal uses long before it became a snack item.

• The raspberry in "Blowing a raspberry," comes from the Cockney rhyming slang "raspberry tart" and ... well, you can figure it out. The act may be vulgar ... unless you turn it into science (like this video of a man blowing raspberry in slow motion).

• The disapproving act of blowing a raspberry also has a connection to the infamous Golden Raspberry (Razzie) Awards, which parody the Oscars by giving awards to the worst films.

• If you like the taste of raspberries, you're in good company: so does the cosmos. According to scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, the Milky Way could taste like raspberries.

• Like many of the foods featured on Dietribes, raspberries have plenty of medicinal benefits on the side. The berries contain minerals like iron, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium which help enrich the blood by carrying iron to and from parts of the body. From English herbalists to Native Americans, there's also a belief that drinking raspberry juice or tea helps relieve nausea, particularly in relation to pregnancy. Gargling with raspberry juice may also relieve a sore throat while rubbing joints with the canes of the fruit might help pain (if you've tried it, let us know!)

• Black raspberries, native to North America, contain an extremely dark pigment that makes them a useful coloring agent. In fact, the USDA stamp on meat was made with black raspberry dye for many years.

• The height of raspberry season may have passed us by (the middle of July, which is when the Minneapolis Raspberry Festival is held), but there's always time to enjoy this tasty fruit. How do you Flossers take your razzies?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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London's Sewer-Blocking 'Fatbergs' Are Going to Be Turned Into Biodiesel
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UK officials can't exactly transform the Whitechapel fatberg—a 143-ton trash mass lurking in London's sewer system—into treasure, but they can turn it into fuel. As The Guardian reports, Scottish biodiesel producer Argent Energy plans to convert parts of the noxious blockage into an environmentally friendly energy source.

For the uninitiated, fatbergs (which get their names from a portmanteau of "fat" and "icebergs") are giant, solid blobs of congealed fat, oil, grease, wet wipes, and sanitary products. They form in sewers when people dump cooking byproducts down drains, or in oceans when ships release waste products like palm oil. These sticky substances combine with floating litter to form what could be described as garbage heaps on steroids.

Fatbergs wash up on beaches, muck up city infrastructures, and are sometimes even removed with cranes from sewer pipes as a last resort. Few—if any—fatbergs, however, appear to be as potentially lethal as the one workers recently discovered under London's Whitechapel neighborhood. In a news release, private utility company Thames Water described the toxic mass as "one of the largest ever found, with the extreme rock-solid mass of wet wipes, nappies, fat and oil weighing the same as 11 double-decker buses."

Ick factor aside, the Whitechapel fatberg currently blocks a stretch of Victorian sewer more than twice the length of two fields from London's Wembley Stadium. Engineers with jet hoses are working seven days a week to break up the fatberg before sucking it out with tankers. But even with high-pressure streams, the job is still akin to "trying to break up concrete," says Matt Rimmer, Thames Water's head of waste networks.

The project is slated to end in October. But instead of simply disposing of the Whitechapel fatberg, officials want to make use of it. Argent Energy—which has in the past relied on sources like rancid mayonnaise and old soup stock—plans to process fatberg sludge into more than 2600 gallons of biodiesel, creating "enough environmentally friendly energy to power 350 double-decker Routemaster buses for a day," according to Thames Water.

"Even though they are our worst enemy, and we want them dead completely, bringing fatbergs back to life when we do find them in the form of biodiesel is a far better solution for everyone," said company official Alex Saunders.

In addition to powering buses, the Whitechapel fatberg may also become an unlikely cultural touchstone: The Museum of London is working with Thames Water to acquire a chunk of the fatberg, according to BBC News. The waste exhibit will represent just one of the many challenges facing cities, and remind visitors that they are ultimately responsible for the fatberg phenomenon.

"When it comes to preventing fatbergs, everyone has a role to play," Rimmer says. "Yes, a lot of the fat comes from food outlets, but the wipes and sanitary items are far more likely to be from domestic properties. The sewers are not an abyss for household rubbish."

[h/t The Guardian]

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Thinking of Disinfecting Your Sponge? It’ll Do More Harm Than Good
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Common house-cleaning wisdom advises you to clean your sponges periodically. Some experts advise running them through the dishwasher, while others suggest microwaving a wet sponge. But a new study says that both of those techniques will do more harm than good, as The New York Times reports.

A trio of microbiologists came to this conclusion after collecting used sponges from households in Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany, a city near Zurich. As the researchers write in Nature Scientific Reports, they asked the 14 houses that gave them sponges to describe how they were used—how many people in the house handled them, how often they used them, how often they replaced them, and if they ever tried to clean them.

Analyzing DNA and RNA found on those sponges, they found a total of 362 different bacterial species living on them. The sheer number of the bacterial colonies was staggering—some 82 billion total bacteria were living in a cubic inch of sponge. (As co-author Markus Egert told the Times, that’s similar to what you’d find in your poop.)

As the researchers discovered by analyzing the bacteria found on sponges whose users said they regularly cleaned them, disinfecting a sponge using a microwave, vinegar, or a dishwasher is worse than useless. It seems that when you attempt to clean a sponge, you kill off some bacteria, but in doing so, you provide an environment for the worst species of bacteria to thrive. Sponges that were regularly cleaned had higher concentrations of bacteria like Moraxella osloensis, which can cause infections in humans. (Though it’s unclear how likely you are to get infected by your sponge.) It’s also the reason dirty laundry smells. By microwaving your sponge, you’re probably just making it smellier.

Sadly, there’s not much you can do about your dirty sponge except throw it away. You can recycle it to use as part of your cleaning routine in the bathroom or somewhere else where it’s far away from your food, but the best way to get a clean sponge, it seems, is to just buy a new one. May we suggest the Scrub Daddy?

[h/t The New York Times]

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