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Does Eating Yeast Before Boozing Mitigate Drunkenness?

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That's what Esquire's Aaron Goldfarb reports Jim Koch said. As the co-founder and chairman of the Boston Beer Company, Koch could use a trick to avoid getting sloppy at all the alcohol-soaked events he attends. The tip came to him by way of his late friend, beer legend and biochemist "Dr. Joe" —or Joseph Owades, PhD.

Owades speculated that consuming a teaspoon of active yeast per beer—add it to yogurt to make it easier to eat—before a night of drinking will mitigate the effects of the alcohol. Koch claims he's been following this advice with great success for years. The science behind the theory is thus: yeast contains an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenases (ADH), which breaks apart alcohol molecules into carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Normally, this process occurs in the liver as your body metabolizes your favorite adult beverage but the thinking is that with yeast in your stomach, the alcohol will be broken down into its harmless constituents before it reaches the liver, thereby saving your bloodstream and your dignity.

Esquire put this science to a rather, well, unscientific test with several boozy experiments. They concluded that while it's not so good at counteracting the effects of binge drinking, it will keep you lucid (and, later, relatively hangover-free) for a night of "responsible" drinking over many hours.

As an embarrassing lightweight who doesn't drink beer (Amaretto sours are my drink of choice), I decided that rather than test this, I would reach out to some food scientists for an informed opinion. The fine folks at Pennsylvania State University's Food Science Department were happy to help.

For the most part, they took issue with the presumed simplicity of the reaction Koch is counting on. So while Owades' science isn't wrong, per se, he's ignoring other factors, like the stomach environment. But the three professors who weighed in cited different levels of skepticism. First, there was Dr. John Hayes:

It sounds far fetched, and I highly doubt it works. However, until someone does a carefully controlled empirical study, we can't be certain. Still, I personally wouldn’t risk a DUI doing this.

Dr. Ryan Elias was more encouraged, saying, "Brewer's yeast (S. cerevisiae) are pretty good at making the enzyme in question here (alcohol dehydrogenase), as they need it to survive high ethanolic environments (e.g. beer, wine)." He also speculated that the yeast could conceivably "perform their work at a rate that's competitive with absorption in vivo." However, he would only go so far as to grant that "some elements" made sense, stipulating that we need to establish the impact of the stomach's pH level.

In response, Dr. Joshua Lambert offered the context to dismantle Owades' theory:

I don't know what the survival rate of yeast is under stomach pH. Some of it does survive, but I'm not sure it can compete. As for the enzyme, the optimal pH for activity is between 8.6 and 9 (i.e. basic) and it needs a cofactor, which while abundant inside the yeast is probably not readily available in the stomach or small intestine.

But then how does Koch stay on his feet while many beers deep? And how can you drink your friends under the table or, if you're me, maintain your composure after more than one Amaretto sour? Lambert has some thoughts on that as well:

I think it is much more likely that the reason that Jim Koch can drink beer all night without getting drunk is an adaptive response in his own body. Alcohol dehydrogenase and cytochrome P450 2E1, which also metabolizes alcohol, are inducible. The activity of the enzyme goes up after exposure. Regular alcohol consumers have higher levels than those that don't imbibe. It is an interesting story, and scientifically possible, but much less likely than an adaptive response by the drinker's liver.

You hear that? If you want to be able to imbibe like Jim Koch, drink up!

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?
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For carbohydrate consumers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say “stuffing,” though. They say “dressing.” In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. “Dressing” seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while “stuffing” is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it "filling," which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If “stuffing” stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word “stuffing” impolite, so never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

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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Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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