Secrets from planes

Red oreos for St. Valentine’s day

Here’s a tasting report on the limited-edition flavor

The limited-edition flavor will arrive in stores on Feb. 2 — just in time to be a part of the Valentine’s Day flood of red and pink foods — and sell for $4.49 for 6-8 weeks, or until packages run out.

We know that red velvet is heavenly in cakes, whoopie pies and even hot chocolate. But an Oreo? To find out, we let our staff of eager taste-testers sample and rate the new cookies:

The Design: It’s a standard Oreo set-up: Two cookie wafers with a sweet, white cream in the middle. The cookie bookends are chocolate flavored — like a traditional red velvet cake base — and dyed red (ingredient “red 40 lake” makes a not-so-surprising appearance on the back of the package). The filling is a “cream cheese flavored crème.”

The Scent: Opening the package for the first time, we smelled that unmistakable scent: cake. Specifically, it reminds us of those super-sugary, frosted confections that “you buy at the grocery store and serve at birthday parties at a bowling alley,” said one tester.

The Taste: When we pulled apart the cookie layers (like any good Oreo eater should do) and tasted the cookie wafers on their own, we found that they tasted just like regular chocolate Oreos, because, you know, they basically are — just with some red dye mixed in. The cream cheese center, however, is not-so-delicious on its own. It “very closely resembles the flavor of concentrated canned frosting,” said one staffer. Said another tester: “It’s not tangy, it doesn’t taste like cream cheese,” (probably because the ingredients don’t actually include any dairy) and it “leaves a very sweet, cloying taste in your mouth” when sampled solo.

When we put the sandwich back together, though, the crunchy chocolate cookies “balance out that sugary filling” said a staffer. It’s still a super-sweet bite — even more so than regular OREOs — but, “when the flavors combine, it’s yummy,” and certainly qualifies as a tasty guilty-pleasure treat.

The Verdict: It does not taste like real red velvet cake — did we really think it was going to? — but the flavors do work together. A 20-cookie package is worth the $5, if just so you can taste the novelty. Any Oreo fan will love dipping this new red treat into milk — but, said one tester, “If you’re an Oreo hater, these definitely won’t become your new favorite dessert.”

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Pumpking oreos

Gather round, all ye basics, because we’ve got some very exciting news for you. In just a few weeks, you’ll have pumpkin spice Oreos to dip into your pumpkin spice lattes.

We know what you’re probably thinking: enough with all the pumpkin spice flavored things! Plus, it’s not even technically autumn yet! Here’s the thing, though: these Oreos are actually pretty good. Though they don’t hit shelves until Sept. 24,

They feature Oreo’s “golden” vanilla cookies with a layer of pumpkin spice creme in between. The pumpkin flavor, however, is pretty subtle — you definitely get more of the “spice” aspect, namely cinnamon and a little nutmeg. The whole thing, of course, is very sweet.

Among American people, responses were largely positive.

“It tastes like fall!” one exclaimed in delight. “It tastes like a Yankee candle!” Another agreed that the cookies were “amazing”and another, initially a bit skeptical, said, “I’ve had far worse.” One reporter said they tasted just like pumpkin pie, and another said they reminded her of chai lattes. If you want to find out for yourself, they’ll be available at retailers in the USA beginning Sept. 24 for 6-8 weeks, or until supplies last.

Most agree that these were good, but not transcendent — and probably not good enough to become as much of a cultural sensation as the iconic Starbucks drink. As one reporter said, “I prefer this in latte form.”

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Stinky protection

Scientists from the University of Exeter say that a compound found in the smell of rotten eggs and human flatulence might some day be useful in mitigating the cell damage responsible in part for certain diseases.

The study, published in a recent issue of the journal Medicinal Chemistry Communications, examined the impact of hydrogen sulfide gas—which humans produce in small amounts during digestion—on cells’ mitochondria. Although the gas is noxious in large doses, scientists found that cellular exposure to smaller amounts of the compound may prevent mitochondrial damage. This could have future implications in the prevention of strokes, arthritis, heart disease, among other things, the researchers say.

When disease stresses the body’s cells, the cells draw in enzymes to generate “minute quantities of hydrogen sulfide” that protects mitochondria, the scientists says. Mitochondria essentially act as generators for cells’ energy output, and protecting against mitochondrial damage is central to preventing certain diseases. “We have exploited this natural process by making a compound, called AP39, which slowly delivers very small amounts of this gas specifically to the mitochondria,” University of Exeter Professor Matt Whiteman said in a statement. “Our results indicate that if stressed cells are treated with AP39, mitochondria are protected and cells stay alive.”

While this experiment was limited to cell exposure in a lab—as opposed to humans inhaling the scent of rotten eggs—the University of Exeter researchers say that they are “working toward advancing the research to a stage where it can be tested in humans.”

Dr. Mark Wood, another one of the Exeter researchers, went so far as to call the compound a “healthcare hero with significant implications for future therapies for a variety of diseases” in a university press release.

This research is interesting but preliminary. While no conclusions can be made at this time, may this news let you wince just a little bit less the next time you’re assaulted by a rotten-egg smell.

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Beer-man

The human body contains roughly ten trillion cells — and roughly 100 trillion bacteria. These bacteria — life forms in their own right — constitute as much as 2% of our body mass. Most of the bacteria operate, effectively, independent of us, having little to no effect on our health or well-being. Some are actually symbiotic, likely aiding in the digestion of food and perhaps even making us smarter (although that study is controversial). Others are harmful — one type may make depression symptoms worse while others cause illnesses such as strep throat.

And others turn our stomachs into breweries. Well, once at least.

Sometime in the late summer or early fall of 2013, a 61 year-old Texas man walked into an emergency room drunk out of his mind. Nurses administered a Breathalyzer exam and determined that the patient’s blood-alcohol level was a 0.37 (which can lead to serious impairment). Normally he’d be given some time to sober up. But there was one weird variable in this case: the man hadn’t been drinking. And to make sure that he wasn’t sneaking a shot or two, doctors searched him for booze and, finding none, stuck him in a hospital room, alone, for 24 hours. He was given food like any other patient — a normal diet, no vodka or anything like that — as medical professionals kept monitoring his blood alcohol level. While most people would sober up, the man actually got more drunk. His blood alcohol level went up 12%.

The cause was a bacteria known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, more commonly known as “baker’s yeast” or “brewer’s yeast.” As the Environmental Protection Agency notes, not only is the microorganism typically harmless, but it’s also particularly useful. It has been used for centuries as a leavening agent for bread and a fermenting agent for alcohol. Saccharomyces cerevisiae infections are unheard of, too, as the bacteria almost always pass through the human body without issue.

But in this case, something was amiss. As NPR reported, a significant amount of Saccharomyces cerevisiae had taken residence in the patient’s gut. The reasons why were unclear at best, but the result — termed “auto-brewery syndrome” — was striking. Whenever the man ate anything starchy — “a bagel, pasta, or even soda” are the examples NPR gave — the man was also feeding the Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The bacteria churned through the carbohydrates and released ethanol as a byproduct. The man was brewing beer in his own stomach — and getting drunk off it, too.

The two doctors who discovered this curiosity published a paper on the topic in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine, but as others have pointed out, the doctors weren’t performing a controlled study nor did they have more than one person — and therefore more than one data point — to work off of. Why the Saccharomyces cerevisiae took root in the man’s stomach remains unknown, but it’s treatable — an antifungal medicine called fluconazole will kill off the intrusive microbes. (But sorry, it won’t help you sober up after a night out.)

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