Fancy Tea Bags Could Be Contaminating Your Cup With Billions of Microplastics

muzzyco/iStock via Getty Images
muzzyco/iStock via Getty Images

When it comes to good consumer habits, numerous (and often conflicting) reports have people questioning everything from their coffee drinking to their phone usage, but until recently, curling up with a warm mug of tea seemed OK. A new study may change that. As the CBC reports, certain types of tea bags could deposit billions of microplastic particles into your tea.

Nathalie Tufenkji, who teaches chemical engineering at McGill University in Montreal, was inspired to investigate the plastic content of tea after ordering the hot beverage from a coffee shop one day. Instead of a classic, compostable paper tea bag, her tea leaves came bundled in a pouch made from a silken material. The item was actually made from plastic, and it was an example of the "fancy" teabags made from nylon and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) that are gaining popularity with certain tea brands.

So what does that mean for your morning cup of tea? According to the researchers' study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, steeping one of these bags in hot water can release up to 11.6 billion microplastic particles and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles into your drink. Microplastics are miniscule plastic bits no biggest than a dust mote, and nanoplastics are even smaller. Even with billions of them swirling in your teacup, the particles add up to a total plastic content of just one-sixtieth of a milligram.

Microplastics aren't limited to fancy tea bags. Seafood, table salt, and even tap water all contain tiny pieces of plastic. We consume so much of it that one study found we're excreting 20 particles of the stuff per every quarter pound of waste. But even in a world where microplastics are unavoidable, the numbers in this recent study are noteworthy: Tea made from the plastic tea bags studied contains thousands of times more plastic that what has been observed in other food products.

The study indicates that the plastic content of some teas is high, but it doesn't say what that means for your health. That's because no evidence yet shows microplastics are harmful to humans when ingested. It's possible that the adverse health effects will become more apparent as the current population ages, but it's also possible that the human body deals with microplastics the same way it deals with other environmental toxins.

The tea bag study also comes with some caveats: The researchers looked at only four tea bags (and an additional four were used as controls), so a larger sample size may have revealed that this level of microplastic content isn't found in all tea made from plastic-based bags. If you'd still prefer to avoid mixing plastic with hot beverages, look for tea brands that use biodegradable paper and steer clear of pyramid-shaped bags and other pouches made from silky mesh material. Not only are paper bags lower in plastic contaminants, but they also add less waste to the environment.

[h/t CBC]

9 Surprising Things You Can Make in Your Instant Pot

There might be fresh bread in there. Or wine.
There might be fresh bread in there. Or wine.
Instant Pot, YouTube

For years now, Instant Pot enthusiasts have been spreading the word about the magical kitchen appliance that seems to be able to cook just about anything. If you’ve mainly been using yours for stews, soups, and other traditional pot-related meals, there’s no time like the present to branch out into uncharted territory. From fresh bread to DIY lip balm, here are nine surprising things that you can make right in your Instant Pot ($79).

1. Bread

Everyone seems to be jumping on the bread-baking bandwagon these days, but many have yet to discover the wonders of making it in an Instant Pot. This recipe on the I Don’t Have Time For That! blog calls for just five ingredients—water, yeast, flour, sugar, and salt—and you’ll also need a 6- to 8-inch cake pan (as well as an Instant Pot large enough to fit a cake pan of that size). From start to finish, the process takes about three hours—two to let the dough rise, 45 minutes to bake, and 15 minutes for the Instant Pot to naturally release the pressure—but you can cut the rise time to 45 minutes if your pot has a “yogurt” setting. No yeast? Find out how to grow your own sourdough starter here, as long as you have lots of flour and a little patience.

2. Jam

Since you’ll need something delicious to spread on your fresh bread, here’s Tastes Better From Scratch’s recipe for strawberry jam, which requires strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, corn starch, and water. If your jam looks like runny soup before you pour the cornstarch in, don’t worry—it’s supposed to. And if you’re trying to satisfy your sweet tooth without indulging in too much processed sugar, here’s a similar recipe for blueberry jam with directions for substituting honey instead.

3. Dog food

Meal-prepping for your fluffy best friend is as easy as tossing all the ingredients in your pot, cooking for a little over an hour, and ladling the stew into containers. You can, of course, come up with your own recipes based on what you have in your pantry and what nutrition your dog needs in its diet, but feel free to try this chicken-and-vegetable mixture from Rover.com.

4. Vanilla Extract

Normally, making your own vanilla extract entails soaking vanilla beans in vodka for weeks—if not months—but your magical pressure cooker can accomplish the same thing in less than an hour. For this classic recipe from Tidbits, all you’ll need are vanilla beans, vodka, and a Mason jar. It will smell pretty strongly of alcohol right when it’s finished, but that will gradually lessen as it ages, and the vanilla aroma will get stronger.

5. Hard-Boiled Eggs

Boiling eggs on the stove is rarely as straightforward as it seems, but your Instant Pot can make it an exact science. With the 5-5-5 method, as seen in the video above, you cook on high pressure for five minutes, let your Instant Pot naturally release for five minutes, and then give your eggs a five-minute ice bath. If you’re partial to soft-boiled eggs, here’s a recipe for those from A Mind “Full” Mom.

6. Wine

While concocting wine in an Instant Pot definitely takes some time, it’s a lot quicker than founding a winery—and you’ll still get the satisfaction of having turned water into wine, so to speak. This recipe calls for grape juice, sugar, and wine yeast (as The Manual explains, you can technically use regular yeast, but the alcohol content and flavor of your wine will be pretty subpar). It will take 48 hours to cook and at least 10 days to finish the fermentation process. After that, be sure to raise a glass to your incredible Instant Pot.

7. Lip balm

Making your own lip balm gives you the opportunity to customize it with essential oils, vitamin drops, and flavors of your choice, and making it in an Instant Pot turns it into a kid-friendly DIY project that doesn’t involve a child standing on a chair near the stove. The Awe Filled Homemaker blog, run by a licensed cosmetologist, uses beeswax, mango butter, coconut oil, and more in this recipe.

8. Cheesecake

For anyone who has (or is willing to purchase) a 7-inch spring-form pan, Amy in the Kitchen’s Instant Pot cheesecake could be your new go-to crowd-pleaser. To prevent lumps in your filling, make sure you let your ingredients warm to room temperature before you start mixing them, and to prevent cracks, avoid over-mixing. If the center still looks jiggly after it’s cooled on the counter, you’ve done it right—it’ll solidify more once it’s been refrigerated.

9. Humidity

There’s a reason (or rather, reasons) why humidifiers have been a mainstay product on the market for years—a little humid air goes a long way for people with dry skin, allergies, congestion, and more. (And even if you don’t have a chronic issue, a humidifier can help you breathe and ease your dry cough if you happen to catch a cold or other respiratory virus).

According to Ginger Casa, you can use your Instant Pot to add humidity to the air by heating water on the “sauté” setting and then flipping it to “warm” for a while. Just don’t leave it unattended, and make sure you don’t let the water level drop beneath about halfway full, to be safe. If you like the humidifying effect and want to invest in something a little more self-sufficient, check out this humidifier from Amazon—it costs $70, lasts for 50 hours, shuts off automatically when it runs out of water, and even includes a tray for essential oils.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

The Reason Americans Buy Refrigerated Milk and Europeans Don't

Buying cold milk is a very American phenomenon.
Buying cold milk is a very American phenomenon.
ziggy1/iStock via Getty Images

Nothing goes better with cookies or cereal than a cold glass of milk. (Or almond milk, if that’s your preference.) Few people in the United States pull cartons of milk from their cupboard. Milk is sold and stored cold, but America is a bit of an outlier in that regard. So what gives? Why do we buy milk chilled while Europe and other parts of the world stock and store it outside the refrigerator?

It comes down to different pasteurization methods. In the U.S. and Canada, milk manufacturers make use of high-temperature short-time pasteurization, or HTST. Able to kill bacteria in large batches, HTST is efficient but results in milk that expires relatively quickly—about seven to 10 days after opening. That’s because the temperature used (about 161°F for 15 seconds) is enough to kill most bacteria, but some will proliferate if the milk hangs around long enough.

In Europe and other parts of the world, another technique called ultra-heat-treated pasteurization, or UHT, is used. Milk is exposed to higher temperatures of 284°F for three seconds, decimating virtually all the bacteria and making it shelf-stable for about six months if left unopened. (Once opened, it has to be refrigerated.) Because it’s “cooked” at high heat and burns off some of the sugar, UHT milk also has a slightly different flavor.  

Pasteurization is named after Louis Pasteur, a French scientist in the 1860s who realized heating beer could kill bacteria. Decades later, German agricultural chemist Franz von Soxhlet applied the principle of high heat to milk, since dairy products had a nasty habit of harboring contaminants that could cause diphtheria or tuberculosis. HTST and UHT methods followed, and Europe picked up on the promise of UHT producing milk that wouldn’t spoil quickly.

Even though companies have tried getting Americans to warm to shelf-stable milk—the Parmalat company tried a marketing campaign with Luciano Pavarotti in the early 1990s—it may simply be too late. The idea of purchasing milk in the middle of a grocery store, unrefrigerated, is something that doesn't fit with U.S. food storage habits. While UHT milk is still sold in the U.S., it’s primarily for portable cartons thrown in lunchboxes or for people who want to have milk on hand in a backpack. For most Americans, however, cold milk is the only milk worth considering.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]

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