Today's fascinating fact:
Vanilla comes from orchids (more specifically their fruit pods). It's native to Mexico, but is now cultivated elsewhere; Madagascar apparently grows a lot. When New Coke was introduced, the economy of Madagascar collapsed, because Coke is the biggest user of vanillin, and they had switched to an artificial one for New Coke.
According to some cookbook I make cakes from, real vanilla extract and the fake phenol-derived stuff are totally indistinguishable to humans. I'm not sure if they're actually chemically different or what. But we're talking the taste experts whose actual job it is to taste things, and identify like fourteen distinct ingredients in the most quotidian mouthful, and eat off gold spoons because regular ones affect the taste for some reason and I guess gold spoons don't.
What other metals would affect the taste of foods, and would this have a positive or negative effect? What about platinum? Electrum? Copper? (Okay, I think copper would oxidize or something, it does that easily, doesn't it? Actually, how the hell do iron and copper pans not just like, turn to rust/whatever the copper equivalent of rust is called? Is it because they're "seasoned," i.e. covered with oils or something to prevent direct metal-to-air contact? The more I find out, the more I wonder! These things are inexhaustible, I think.
Oh, and apparently in ancient Rome people were lead-poisoned in a number of ways. Through the pipes that conducted water, through their drinking vessels, through face-powder that was basically powdered lead, and, most amazingly, through actually sprinkling it into their wine on purpose because they liked the taste.