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10 Turkey Myths, Debunked

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Let's talk turkey—specifically, turkey myths.

1. SPECIAL AMINO ACIDS IN TURKEY MEAT MAKE PEOPLE SLEEPY.

The essential amino acid L-tryptophan is present in turkey, yes. The human body uses tryptophan to make the key neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin. These neurotransmitters have a soothing effect. However, to get enough tryptophan in your system to lull you to sleep, you’d have to consume nothing but pure tryptophan on an empty stomach. If you feel a nap coming on, most likely it’s your body reacting to a daylong splurge of eating and drinking.

2. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN PUSHED FOR THE TURKEY TO BE OUR NATIONAL SYMBOL.


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Ben’s proposed national seal involved Moses parting the Red Sea. Two years after the approval of the now-familiar seal with the bald eagle, Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter, containing the passage in which he grumbles about the bald eagle being a bird of “bad moral character.” The bulk of the letter had to do with a military fraternity Franklin disapproved of, and in that context, Franklin’s supposed championing of the turkey makes little sense. You can read more here.

3. ALWAYS RINSE THE BIRD UNDER COLD RUNNING WATER BEFORE COOKING.

Ah, salmonella. This relentless bacteria has ruined the fun of cooking poultry. Rinsing the carcass sends those buggers down the drain, right? Not really. It only spreads them all over the bird (and possibly the sink and countertop, too.) Your best bet is to skip the rinse. Molly Stevens, author of the James Beard Award-winning cookbook All About Roasting, advises salting the skin, then leaving the bird uncovered in the fridge for up to two days, allowing its skin to dry out and become taut; this results in crispier skin after roasting.

4. ALL TURKEYS GOBBLE.


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Actually, it's only the males who gobble. Turkeys have a whole range of sounds: hens make high-pitched yelps, and strutting toms produce a non-vocal thump, like a bass drum. Males and females alike sound a choppy series of honks as an alarm when they suspect predators. Want to hear for yourself? Check out this turkey soundboard.

5. NATIVE AMERICANS INTRODUCED PILGRIMS TO TURKEY AT THE FIRST THANKSGIVING DINNER.

European colonists were already old hats at turkey farming and cooking. Spanish explorers brought domesticated turkeys back home from the New World, and turkeys started appearing on English menus by 1527. Soon there were so many different European breeds that most of today's dinner table turkeys have ancestors from Holland or Austria.

6. TURKEYS HAVE COLORFUL PLUMAGE.


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Some do, but nearly all of the turkeys raised for consumption today don’t. These birds are Broad Breasted Whites, a breed developed to convert feed to flesh in the most efficient manner possible. Their feathers are mostly white; after dressing, their carcasses are pale, without the tiny spots that turkeys with darker feathers sometimes have.

7. THOSE PLASTIC POP-UP THERMOMETERS TELL YOU WHEN YOUR TURKEY IS COOKED.

Nope. They let you know when your turkey is overcooked. The USDA recommends cooking turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Single-use thermometers are calibrated to pop at 180 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit, pointlessly ruining your bird. Instead, use a simple instant-read probe thermometer (a decent one costs five to ten bucks) and take multiple readings, sterilizing the probe after each, for greatest accuracy.   

8. TURKEYS CAN'T FLY.


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Sure they can! They’re just not great at it. Turkeys evolved to spend the majority of their lives on their legs, pecking about for food. Wild turkeys can fly up to 100 yards, but they don’t very often. The broad-breasted breeds developed for industrial agriculture can’t fly, because their strength-to-mass ratio is too out of whack.  

9. WHITE MEAT IS BETTER FOR YOU.

Boneless, skinless white meat does contain fewer calories and fat than boneless, skinless dark meat, but the nutritional differences between the two are small. Dark meat offers a greater density of nutrients like B vitamins and iron, so don’t feel guilty if you’re a fan of drumsticks or thighs.

10. TURKEYS ARE SO STUPID THAT THEY DROWN IN THE RAIN.


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While turkeys do in fact sometimes look skyward for no apparent reason (poultry scientist Tom Savage identified this condition as a genetically-caused disorder), cases of them drowning while doing so are rare. As for stupidity, turkeys can be intelligent and personable; factory-farmed turkeys aren’t bred for brains, though, and their ungainly, top-heavy frame doesn’t help their public image much.

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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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holidays
10 Things You Might Not Know About Chinese New Year
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Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning February 16, China will welcome the Year of the Dog, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. THE HOLIDAY WAS ORIGINALLY MEANT TO SCARE OFF A MONSTER.

Nian at Chinese New Year
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As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A LOT OF FAMILIES USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CLEAN THE HOUSE.

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While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. IT WILL PROMPT BILLIONS OF TRIPS.

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Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SUPERSTITIONS.

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While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. SOME PEOPLE RENT BOYFRIENDS OR GIRLFRIENDS TO SOOTHE PARENTS.

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In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. RED ENVELOPES ARE EVERYWHERE.

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An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. IT CAN CREATE RECORD LEVELS OF SMOG.

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Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. BLACK CLOTHES ARE A BAD OMEN.

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So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. IT LEADS TO PLANES BEING STUFFED FULL OF CHERRIES.

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Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand—last year Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. PANDA EXPRESS IS HOPING IT'LL CATCH ON IN THE STATES.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
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Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

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