Thinly sliced: Washington state researchers use “electric tongue” to detect spiciness level of food

This is the web version of a list we publish twice-weekly in our newsletter. It comprises the most noteworthy food stories of the moment, selected by our editors. Get it first here.

Russiagate. During the ongoing trade war, Chinese imports of American soybeans have plummeted. Without that regular source of feed, the world’s largest pork producer is turning to Russia, which is pledging to ramp up production to fill the void left by the U.S., Bloomberg reports. That’s a heavy lift: Russia currently exports only a tiny fraction of what we Americans do. Once it starts selling those soybeans, maybe voters in Iowa and Ohio will finally start caring about the whole Russian thing.

Are taste buds electric? In the future, on top of those storied flying cars, we’ll have robots that tell us if our cheese is too spicy. Scientists at Washington State University, home of the popular Crimson Fire cheese, are using an “electronic tongue” to evaluate different levels of spiciness, because human taste buds wear out too quickly, and need to wait at least five minutes between bites. A recent graduate tells that the machine is “really helpful” for cheesemakers trying to dial down the fire.

Curdled. Wisconsin’s dairy industry is in free fall. Two-and-a-half dairy farms in the state close every day. And for the third straight year, America’s Dairyland leads the nation in farm bankruptcies. There’s a structural explanation—the worldwide glut of milk is driving down prices. And then there’s the on-the-ground reality—farms that have been in families for generations are getting sold off, cow by cow. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel visits a farm in Belleville, Wisconsin, where even the fast-talking auctioneers have had enough: “It ain’t fun anymore.”

Beer brawl. Does anybody remember the Super Bowl, way back in February? A couple of teams played football; one of them emerged triumphant. However, in a feud between rival beer giants Anheuser-Busch and Miller-Coors that started over a Super Bowl commercial (see our coverage here), the victor is less clear. In a legal ruling over whether AB can slam MC’s use of corn syrup in commercials, a Wisconsin judge just issued an injunction stating a) Anheuser-Busch would need to stop using “corn syrup” without context in some ads, but b) the original Super Bowl ads could remain. A rep from Anheuser-Busch emailed NFE this weekend, framing the ruling as a victory.

Sir, this is an Arby’s. You may have cocked your head to the side like a golden retriever when you first heard about Burger King’s answer to the Happy Meal: “Real Mood” meals, in Blue, Salty, Pissed, DGAF, and YAAAS varieties. Besides a weird attack on McDonald’s, what’s actually going on here? In The New York Times Magazine, Lauren Oyler makes a case that this is the logical next step for the creepy faux-sentience of brands, in a timeline where Sunny Delight can put out a call for help on Twitter and Vita Coco can threaten to send urine to its haters. TLDR? Gross, cut it out.

Hot air. What happens when an ultra-Instagrammable, super-trendy restaurant opens in what’s otherwise in a fairly low-income neighborhood? Surprise: The people who live and work nearby often can’t try the food. Los Angeles Times columnist Frank Shyong braved the hours-long lines at Howlin’ Ray’s in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood and brought Nashville hot chicken to local senior citizens and wage workers. This one is worth reading, if only for the spicy range of reactions from locals.

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