Decoder Ring

The Blue Steak Experiment

Blue chicken, blue trout, blue vomit.

Illustration depicting a female with a microphone

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Episode Notes

Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every episode, host Willa Paskin takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try and figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.

What took blue food so long to catch on? Today it’s all over the freezer aisle, in candies for kids, in tortilla chips, and novelty foods, but it wasn’t very long ago that food experts agreed: blue food was an impossible sell. Their best evidence was a study from the 1970s in which subjects were served blue steaks to sickening effect. On this episode, we uncover the strange, misinformation-stuffed history of blue food, the rise of blue raspberry, and what to make of the blue-food experiment that made those people sick. It may have something to do with Alfred Hitchcock.

This episode was produced in collaboration with Proof, from America’s Test Kitchen. Proof is a podcast that investigates the food we love. Subscribe to Proof on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify.

Some of the voices you’ll hear in the episode include Bridget Lancaster, host of Proof, from America’s Test Kitchen; Joel Tannenbaum, professor at Community College of Philadelphia and author of “Blue Steak, Red Peas”: Science, Marketing, and the Making of a Culinary Myth;  Carolyn Cobbold, author of A Rainbow Palate, How Chemical Dyes Changed the West’s Relationship with Food; Nadia Berenstein, food writer and historian; and Charles Spence, gastrophysisict and head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford.

Special programming note: Decoder Ring is going seasonal! That means you won’t hear from us for a while, but we’ll be back in 2021 with a bunch of new stories released week by week. Thanks for sticking with us, we’re excited to try something new. We’ll see you soon.

Email: decoderring@slate.com

This episode was produced by Willa Paskin and Benjamin Frisch.

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In each episode, host Willa Paskin takes a cultural question, object, or habit; examines its history; and tries to figure out what it means and why it matters.

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