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What are Pimentos, And How Do They Get Inside Olives?

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Pimentos start out in life as a variety of chili pepper called “cherry peppers.” Small and red (hence the name), they are sweeter than bell peppers and very mild, with the lowest Scoville scale rating of all the chilies.

The pimento’s main purpose in life appears to be as a garnish, either in the center of a green olive or mixed into cheese. Green olives fresh off the tree are very bitter in flavor, so they are traditionally cured in brine before packaging. Even then their flavor is more palatable when a touch of something else is added, and in the U.S., the most popular “something” is pimento.

Until the early 1960s, pimentos were sliced and then stuffed into olives by hand (presumably by patient workers with long, taper-y fingers). The Sadrym company of Seville, Spain, introduced the first automatic olive-stuffing machine in 1962, and is the largest manufacturer of such equipment today. In fact, most pimento-pushing machines are still made in Spain, despite the fact that the favorite olive insert in that country is anchovy.

The most modern machines use a mixture of mashed pimentos combined with a gelatin mixture that is formed into large sheets and then sliced into strips and fed into the stuffer on large rolls. The stuffing machine—which must be very precisely calibrated—first cuts a plug the size of the pit in one end of the olive and pushes the pit out using an X-shaped punch on the opposite end of the fruit. Then the pitted olive moves to the next station, where a strip of pimento is cut and injected into the cavity.

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. But how does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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