Have you ever looked at the ingredients on your microwave meal and wondered what dextrose and sodium nitrite are doing in your dinner?
These are some of the many chemicals used in processed foods - some are found in nature, but others can also be made in a laboratory. They’re used by food manufacturers for many reasons, from making sure rice doesn’t go mouldy, to ensuring yoghurt is low fat. But has the industry gone too far, adding too many synthetics to our food?
Graihagh Jackson meets three food scientists to find out what they're adding to our food, and why. Does it matter whether we use 'natural' or synthetic substances, why are some added ingredients not listed on the label, and how do these scientists ensure they are safe?
Plus, how do you bake cookies at 30,000 feet, and what does space smell like?
(Picture: A scientist picking up a plant leaf. Credit: Getty Images/BBC)
Nobu Matsuhisa: My life in five dishes
Nobuyuki Matsuhisa has more than 40 restaurants spread across six continents, many of them frequented by some of the world’s top celebrities. His business partner and friend is Hollywood star Robert De Niro, and he’s even been in a handful of movies himself.
Nobu, as he's known, is one of the most famous chefs in the world, but his early life and career were marked by tragedy and disaster – his father died in a motorcycle accident when he was eight, and one of his first restaurants burnt to the ground just weeks after opening, leaving him broke and contemplating suicide.
But the sushi master eventually plucked up the courage to give the restaurant business one last shot, and his eponymous restaurant in Beverley Hills, California, was a huge success. He tells Graihagh Jackson the story of his life through five of his most memorable dishes, from the miso soup whose aroma would wake him most mornings as a child, to the dish that caught the attention of Robert De Niro and eventually catapulted him to global fame.
(Picture: Nobu Matsuhisa. Credit: BBC)
Why is wheat making people sick?
Gluten-free is booming – it’s become a multi-billion dollar industry, supermarket aisles are crammed with products, with a number of high-profile celebrities endorsing their health impacts.
But this is much more than a fad diet - doctors are seeing a growing number of patients who have serious problems with this protein, most commonly found in wheat products like bread and pasta. And, an increasing number of these patients do not have coeliac disease - for a long time the adverse reaction most commonly associated with wheat.
So what’s going on? Graihagh Jackson hears about an emerging condition called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, which could be affecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide, and meets the doctors fighting over how best to treat it. She asks why this condition is spreading so fast – could it be something to do with our modern lives and diets? And are wheat and gluten entirely to blame, or could there be dangers lurking in a whole range of other foods?
(Picture: A woman's hand touching wheat in a field. Credit: Getty Images/BBC)
The tipping point
In some corners of the world tipping a waiter or waitress would be considered an insult. In other countries, the exact opposite is true. So why did these dramatically different cultures of gratuity evolve, and how difficult is it to change them?
We speak to two restaurant owners on opposite sides of the world struggling to reverse tipping norms – one restaurateur in New York explains why he eventually had to abandon a ban on gratuity, and another in Shanghai describes how difficult it is to convince Chinese customers that they should pay extra.
But is there any relationship between tips and service quality anyway? One academic who’s spent his life studying the custom has found it to be almost non-existent. So why do customers continue to tip? Apparently, it’s all down to guilt.
(Picture: A waitress refusing a tip. Credit: Getty Images/BBC)
Fantasy, fiction and food
What do Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Lady and the Tramp have in common? Both use food in subtle ways to immerse us in their stories and help us make sense of fictitious worlds - from jumping chocolate frogs to kissing over spaghetti.
The same is true for many novels, where food can be an integral part of building characters, plots, even entire worlds. Graihagh Jackson speaks to three world-acclaimed writers – two authors and one Nollywood script writer and film director - to find out how and why they employ food in their work.
How do you create make-believe foods for a science fiction world, yet still imbue them with meanings that real world listeners will understand? When you’re trying to appeal to multiple audiences and cultures, how do you stop your food references getting lost in translation? And can food be used to highlight or send subtle messages about subjects that are traditionally seen as taboo?
(Picture: Artistic depiction of a woman lying on top of an orange. Credit: Getty Images/BBC)