Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why Do We "Love" Certain Foods?

Why do we love certain foods? Or as someone once asked me:

Q. My friend claims he was “born” eating doughnuts. Is he exaggerating?
A. Possibly not by much. German researchers conducted a taste test at the Frankfurter Messe, a trade fair drawing participants from all over the world to Frankfurt. They gave subjects two samples of ketchup, one an ordinary ketchup, and the other a mixture of ketchup and a trace amount of vanilla, not enough for the vanilla to be detected.

Tasters who had been breastfed as babies preferred ordinary ketchup, and tasters who had been given formula preferred the blend of ketchup and vanilla. The reason for this is that infant formula usually contains vanilla, whereas breast milk does not. The researchers also found that people who had been given vanilla as babies tended to be afraid of high-calorie foods, but people who had been breastfed did not. There are individual exceptions to the rule, of course, but if you like vanilla, chances are you dislike caloric foods—and you tend to eat a lot of them.

This assortment of insights about doughnuts can help you make strategic choices about food. When you want to scarf something down because it’s “good for you” but you don’t like it, serve it on a round plate or in a round bowl. When you want to savor the taste of food, try angular serving plates and bowls. Don’t be afraid to use a modicum of sugar, butter, cream, and salt, unless you have very specific (and very unusual) health reasons for not using them, to make healthy foods more palatable. As you read later in this book, sugar, fat, and salt can be a small part of a healthy diet. Don’t be taken in by “Mom’s” or “homestyle” foods, but make foods a part of happy personal and family memories.

The foods you will eat in old age are the foods you associate with happy memories now. Eat breakfast foods for breakfast, lunch foods for lunch, and dinner foods for dinner. The fact that certain foods are traditional for certain times of day has as much to do with physiology as culture. Keep you kitchen clean, remember that the food you taste first tends to be the food you taste last (as an aftertaste), and that the foods you resist, persist.

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