Dietribes: Lima Beans

• Though we have come to pronounce them differently, Lima beans were indeed named for the capital of Peru where they have been growing for over 7,500 years. Through trading and cultivation, limas became popular throughout the world, spreading across central America and the United States to Europe and Africa via Spanish and Portuguese ships!
• Lima beans also have a dark secret: raw limas should never be consumed because they contain a cyanide compound that is part of the plant's defense mechanism. Cooking the beans uncovered and draining the cooking water lessens the risks.
• What are Lima beans so defensive about, anyway? When the beans are under attack from spider mites, they release chemicals to attract natural predators of the mites as well as warn nearby plants. Amazingly, if the plants are damaged by an agricultural tool or, say, a wayward cow, they emit different stress signals that are ignored by their neighbors.

• You may be surprised to learn that one of the largest centers of Lima bean cultivation was Beverly Hills, California. Before it became a renowned affluent neighborhood, Beverly Hills was better known for its limas. The same is true, incidentally, for LAX.
• Limas also happen to make beautiful art, from a wreath to the inspiration for industrial art.

• Limas are good for science projects: just ask 18 year old Lise Desquenne of Rhode Island, who was able to determine blood type using an extract of lima beans. Her process is also more economical than the blood serum technique discovered in 1900 by Nobel Prize winner Karl Landsteiner!

• The Lima bean has also found its way into pop culture merchandise, as well as local food fare merchandise like baseball hats, bird houses and even pottery in Cape May, New Jersey during their annual festival.

• If you initially turned your noses up at the idea of limas, it's probably because of the horror of recipes like this 1974 Molded Vegetable Salad with Lima Beans. But like Brussels sprouts, there are right and wrong ways to treat this food! (And when it goes right it goes oh-so-right!)
• Personally, I have always been a huge fan of what we in the South call a butter bean (and that my local Publix refers to as a "baby lima"). Large limas are known to have a creamy texture and earthy flavor (like chick peas), but butter beans (or baby limas) are smaller with a creamier and more delicate taste. Buttery, in fact! And delicious.
• How do you Flossers take your Limas? (or Butter beans?) Did you have an aversion to them in your youth but have come around? For me the butter bean is an essential part of a comfort meal. And adding extra butter certainly never hurt …

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

Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice

Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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