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Simon Egli, WSL

Truffles Grown in Radioactive Soil Are Safe to Eat, Scientists Say

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Simon Egli, WSL

Good news, gourmets: your truffles are probably not radioactive. Scientists say Burgundy truffles found in radioactive European soil are still safe to eat. The researchers published their findings yesterday in the journal Biogeosciences [PDF].

The lumpy, odiferous fungi called truffles are both a delicacy and something of an environmental alarm system. They grow underground, tapping into soil and tree roots through small filaments called mycelia. Nutrients, minerals, and other environmental molecules accumulate in the truffle. When the soil is rich and healthy, this is a good thing.

But the soil in Europe is not entirely healthy. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 released massive amounts of radioactive isotopes like Cesium-137, which quickly spread across the USSR and Europe. Thirty years later, the environment still hasn’t entirely recovered.

"Much of the continent's topsoil layers are still radioactively contaminated," lead author Ulf Büntgen said in a press release. Contamination in the soil seeps into trees and fungi, which are then consumed by animals, disseminating radiation up the food chain. But it seems that some species are affected more than others.

The researchers followed truffle-hunting dogs like Miro (pictured above) through forests and plantations in Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy and Hungary. They were looking specifically for Burgundy truffles (Tuber aestivum), as the truffle’s broad geographic range would allow them to sample the same species in many different locations.

The researchers took their truffles back to the lab. They cleaned the fungi, ground them up, and scanned them for Cs-137. To their surprise, they didn’t find much. “All specimens reveal insignificant radiocaesium concentrations,” the authors wrote in their paper, “thus providing an all clear for truffle hunters and cultivators in Europe as well as dealers and customers from around the world.”

So what’s the deal? Why does T. aestivum get a free radioactivity pass? "We really don't know," Büntgen confessed in the press release. "We will, however, continue to spatially expand our search to include truffles from regions that were so far not considered—the more the better." 

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Thanks to a Wet Winter, New Zealand Faces a Potential Potato Chip Shortage
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New Zealand has plenty of unique and tasty snacks, but kiwis also love potato chips. The universal comfort food is in danger Down Under, however, as an unusually wet winter has devastated the island country’s tuber crops, according to BBC News.

Twenty percent of New Zealand’s annual potato crop was wiped out from a series of major storms and floods that ravaged the nation’s North and South Islands, The Guardian reports. In some regions, up to 30 percent of potato crops were affected, with the varieties used to make chips bearing the brunt of the damage.

Potato prices spiked as farmers struggled, but the crisis—now dubbed “chipocalypse” by media outlets—didn't really make the mainstream news until supermarket chain Pak’nSave posted announcements in potato chip aisles that warned customers of a salty snack shortage until the New Year.

Pak’nSave has since rescinded this explanation, claiming instead that they made an ordering error. However, other supermarket chains say they’re working directly with potato chip suppliers to avoid any potential shortfalls, and are aware that supplies might be limited for the foreseeable future.

New Zealand’s potato farming crisis extends far beyond the snack bars at rugby matches and vending machines. Last year’s potato crops either rotted or remained un-harvested, and the ground is still too wet to plant new ones. This hurts New Zealand’s economy: The nation is the world’s ninth-largest exporter of potatoes.

Plus, potatoes “are a food staple, and this is becoming a food security issue as the effects of climate change take their toll on our potato crop,” says Chris Claridge, the chief executive of industry group Potatoes New Zealand, according to The Guardian.

In the meantime, New Zealanders are preparing to hunker down for a few long months of potential potato peril—and according to some social media users, kale chips are not a suitable alternative. “Chipocalypse” indeed.

[h/t BBC News]

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Food
50 Sweet Facts About Your Favorite Halloween Candies
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It’s no surprise that candy delights kids and adults alike. We love sweets so much that the average American eats about 22 pounds of candy each year. Whether you’re looking to impress your friends or simply brush up on your candy trivia, check out these 50 sweet facts about your favorite candies.

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