Why Some Cold Cuts Make Iridescent Meat Rainbows—and Why They're Still OK to Eat

Kirill Ignatyev, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Kirill Ignatyev, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

We eat with our eyes first, and sometimes what we see on our plate turns us off a meal altogether. Take so-called “meat rainbows”: They happen when a slice of deli meat takes on an iridescent shimmer reminiscent of an oil puddle in a parking lot—a.k.a. not something you want on your sandwich. Despite giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "mystery meat," the odd discoloration is perfectly safe to eat, as physicist Dave McCowan at the University of Chicago explained for The Takeout.

The colorful sheen on a slice of roast beef or pastrami isn’t a sign of spoilage or chemical additives—it’s actually a result of the way the meat is cut. Slicing meat “against the grain” means cutting through, rather than parallel to, the bundles of fibers composing the meat’s musculature. This makes for a more tender bite, and it also leaves a grid of evenly-spaced meat fibers. In the right light, this surface lends itself to something called “diffraction.”

Diffraction occurs when light hits a repeating pattern of nooks and crannies. As the white light bounces off the grooves in the meat, it separates into a spectrum of distinct colors. Some of these colors are amplified, creating a mother-of-pearl appearance when viewed together. This is the same effect we see on the backs of CDs and DVDs.

Another possible culprit behind your rainbow meat is thin-film interference. This is sometimes present in meat with a thin layer of oily fat on the surface. The film affects the light passing through it in such a way that only some of the colors in the spectrum come through, hence the rainbow. This phenomenon produces a sheen closer to that of bubbles or oil slicks than laser discs.

Why do meat rainbows only seem to show up in deli slices, not raw cuts? The answer lies in the curing process. A cured ham is likely greasier than a raw pork cutlet, which makes thin-film interference more likely. The muscle fibers in cured and cooked meats are also more tightly packed together, producing the rigid grid necessary for diffraction.

Color also plays a role. Iridescent shimmers are easier to spot on darker meats like beef and some pork—so if you’re eating a slice of turkey from the deli, it could be covered in meat rainbows you don’t notice. We’ll let you decide if that’s a positive thing.

[h/t The Takeout]

The Disputed Origins of Publix’s Chicken Tender Subs

Josh Hallett, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Josh Hallett, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

After Popeyes released its new chicken sandwich last week, a heated battle broke out on Twitter over which fast food chain offers the best one. Favorites included Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s, and KFC, but the Publix chicken tender sub was mostly absent from the dialogue. Maybe it’s because Publix is a supermarket rather than a fast food restaurant, or maybe the southern chain is too specific to Florida and its neighboring states to warrant a national ranking.

Either way, the chicken tender sub is a cult culinary classic among Publix customers—there’s even an independently run website devoted to announcing when the subs are on sale (they aren’t right now), and affiliated Facebook and Twitter accounts with tens of thousands of followers. So whom do sub devotees have to thank for inventing the Publix food mashup from heaven? A Facebook user named Dave Charls says, “Me!,” but Publix begs to differ.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that in May of this year, a man named Dave Charls posted a message on the “Are Publix Chicken Tender Subs On Sale?” Facebook page recounting his origin story for the menu item, which allegedly took place in 1997 or 1998. At Charls explains it, he and his co-worker Kevin convinced their friend Philip, a deli worker at the Fleming Island Publix location, to assemble a sub with chicken tenders and ring it up as one item—something that deli workers had refused to do for Dave and Kevin in the past. According to Dave, Philip then convinced his manager to make it a special, publicized it via chalkboard sign, and the idea spread like hot sauce.

“You’re welcome,” Charls said. “It was actually Kevin’s idea and Philip brought it to life.”

Publix, however, told the Tampa Bay Times that its recorded documentation for a chicken tender sub recipe and procedure goes all the way back to 1992 or 1993. Based on that information, Publix spokesperson Brian West confirmed that Charls's heroic account of the origin is more fairytale than fact (though West, unfortunately, doesn’t have an equally thrilling origin story—or any story at all—with which to replace it).

Charls didn’t respond to a request from the Tampa Bay Times for comment, so we may never know how much of his claim is actually true. It’s possible, of course, that Publix’s 1992 (or 1993) chicken tender sub recipe hadn’t gained momentum by the time Kevin’s moment of culinary genius struck in 1997 (or 1998), and the lack of date specificity suggests that neither party knows exactly how it went down. What is incontrovertible, however, is the deliciousness of Publix's beloved sub sandwich.

"I'm just happy to live in the same timeline as this beautiful sandwich," says die-hard Pub Sub fan (and Mental Floss video producer/editor) Justin Dodd. “Copyright claims aside, it's truly a wonderful thing."

This London Pub Might Be the Most Ethical Bar in the World

Ridofranz/Getty Images
Ridofranz/Getty Images

Pub owner Randy Rampersad is doing his part for sustainability. In June, he opened the Green Vic—a play on the fictional Queen Vic pub in the soap opera EastEnders—in the East London neighborhood of Shoreditch. The Telegraph reports it’s aiming to be the world’s most ethical pub: Rampersad eschews plastic and paper straws and opts for gluten-free wheat “straws.” He sources the bar's 100 percent recycled toilet paper from green-minded company Who Gives a Crap, and the communal wooden tables are upcycled.

“I wanted to make the world a better place and run my own business, but I was waiting for that eureka moment,” Rampersad told The Telegraph. He discovered no one had done anything like this before.

There’s no meat on the menu—the food is totally vegan, healthy-ish pub grub. You can add CBD oil to the “chkn" bites appetizer, and the burgers are made from ingredients like soy, seaweed, and sweet potato. The beers are produced by ethical brewers, too: Toast Ale uses unsold loaves and crusts of bread; Good Things Brewing crafts its beer from 100 percent renewable energy; South Africa’s Afro Vegan Cider donates money to an organization that funds equal pay for female farmers; and Brewgooder donates to water projects.

In fact, everything the Green Vic does has charity in mind. “We don't care about the money, I’m planet first and profit after,” Rampersad told The Telegraph. Up to 80 percent of its profits will go to charitable causes, including local food banks. As for the staff, one in four are from marginalized groups. The Green Vic plans to operate as a three-month pop-up pub while scouting for longer term investment.

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