Monthly Archives: July 2011

Taste with Your Ears


In watching too much cooking shows, the likes of Master Chef and Top Chef, I’ve grown accustomed to the style and techniques those chefs perform to perfect their dish and save them from the cut. One thing I’ve noticed from them, is that in cooking, it’s not just the taste or the aroma that matters. Aside from adding in the necessary herbs, spices, and other seasoning, they make sure that the colors pop and that the texture complements the dish. They do all these to enhance its taste. Through their food, they try to win over the gustatory, olfactory, visual and tactile senses of those meticulous chef judges.

Top Chefs adding taste, aroma, color and texture to their dish

Just like those judges, all those senses are activated whenever I am savoring my food. For a food enthusiast like me, I appreciate those dishes which are neatly presented with nicely contrasting colors. I also enjoy those food that perfectly stimulate the walls of my mouth with its crispy and crunchy texture. Of course, its taste and aroma are what sells me out to the food. For me, all these qualities affect my eating experience. But are they the only things that affect my perception and appreciation of the food? Is sound not a factor in all these?

Apparently, sound does play a part in our food perception as explained by Woods and his colleagues (Woods et al, 2011).  In their study, Woods et al have designed two experiments to assess the effects of background noise on the perception of food saltiness and sweetness, food crunchiness and food liking.

How does that strawberry sound..err taste like?

In the first experiment, participants were asked to assess a foodstuff, that is either crunchy or soft,   in terms of sweetness, saltiness and liking while subjected to quiet and loud background noise. For the second experiment, the same procedure was done but slightly modified by asking the participants to report the crunchiness of the food, aside from its perceived flavorsomeness and liking. Also, the relationship between the liking of the background noise and the liking of the food was determined.

From the two sets of experiments, three different effects of noise on food perception was observed. First, noise decreases the perceived intensity of food attributes. Relative to quiet background noise, the reported sweetness and saltiness of the food are reduced while listening to loud background noise. Noise was also found to enhance the intensity of sound-mediated food cues. With noise on the background, food was perceived more as crunchy. Lastly, the liking of the noise was found to be correlated with the liking of the food.

These findings have solidified how much food experience involves a crossmodal perception. All our senses, from the sense of taste, smell, touch, sight and hearing, interact to affect our perception of the food that we take in.

This study has given me an idea on how I can modify and enhance my food experience. The next time I eat my favorite herb marinated chicken, I’m thinking of reducing the volume of the radio next to me for me to be able to savor the real tang of rosemary, thyme and sage. This would also prevent me from going overboard by sprinkling in more salt to my already tasty dish. Or maybe I can listen to that song that’s always on loop in my mp3 player while savoring my food. Speaking of, maybe you would also like to hit that play button below while you munch on your favorite dish.

Hope you’ll enjoy your food more!


Wood, A.T., Poliakoff, E., Lloyd, D.M., Kuenzel, J., Hodson, R., Gonda, H., Batchelor, J., Dijksterhuis, G.B., & Thomas, A. (2011). Effect of background noise on food perception. Food Quality and Preference, 22, 44-47.


Just Keep Chewing, Chewing Chewing!


I have recently found myself unable to stop eating, especially at home when you can just grab snacks anytime I want. Well, besides genetics (my lame excuse for not exercising anymore), I also blame the delicious world of food for my gaining of weight. Who could say no to the rich flavors out there just waiting to be tested by us?

Well, maybe not that rich. Sometimes we just stick to one snack for a long time until we finally get sick of it and switch to another snack. I personally pick “junk food” as a favorite. It’s the perfect solution to keep me awake when studying, or the missing ingredient to a relaxing movie break.   It must be that cheesy or salty flavor. Or the MSG.


Monosodium glutamate or MSG is pretty famous to food lovers. It gives it the distinct taste, since it has the ability to evoke the umami taste by interacting with the different receptors in the taste buds, specifically the metabotropic (mGlur) and ionotropic (iGlur) glutamatergic receptors ( Scinska-Bienkowska, Wrobel, Turzynska, Bidzinski, Jezewska, Sienkiewicz-Jarosz & Bienkowski, 2006).  These receptors allow us to taste that distinct flavor we look for in food, and are even probably responsible why, “once we pop, we can’t stop”. According to Bellisle (1999) and Brand (2000), MSG enhances the detection of amino acids, aspartates and nucelotides in food (as cited in Scinska-Bienkowska et al., 2006).

The low nutrition values junk food posses does not really answer to our body’s needs. It is high in salt, sugar, and other unhealthy food additives (really, check the labels). That’s why one keeps on eating and eating them, it is not the right food our bodies are looking for. And they are cheaper than the healthy fruits and vegetables. One could go to the store across the street to grab a bag of chips for ten bucks. That’s happiness in a few coins. You just have to tear and enjoy. Preparing a delicious and healthy snack takes time! In the fast paced world we live in now, things have to be available in an instant.

Still, not everyone may find the taste of MSG as pleasing. Scinscka-Bienkowska and colleagues (2006) studied the individual differences in the amount glutamate concentration in the whole saliva and its effect in the taste response to MSG. Their findings showed that both groups (high and low in glutamate) found the taste of MSG as unpleasant, with those low in glutamate showing greater distaste for the said substance. But didn’t I just say that a lot of people actually can’t stop snacking on food with MSG?

Like in the study, there are probably a lot more factors that affect our preference for food. There may be other components in our bodies that affect how we perceive food. And besides, the MSG presented to the participants in the study was in the form of a solution. There were no other ingredients with it, which probably resulted into a rather unpleasant taste. Come on, chips taste great! And MSG is actually found in a whole other lot of food, such as burger patties in fast food restaurants, seasoning for different dishes, and others. What can stop us from nibbling on those salty slices of potato?

Perhaps nothing..

I’m just saying, food is great. And we should not really see MSG as the villain here. Although there have been many accusations that monosodium glutamate induces asthma, headache, and such, there are no sufficient studies to prove this. It is possible that those who experience migraines are mistakenly associating it with MSG (Williams Woesnner, 2009). Eating is not bad! Most times it’s our fault that our bodies are not getting the proper nutrition, or the right amount of food we get to eat. One has yet to find the urgency to take care of it more.

As much as I would like to keep on chewing, though, I think it would also be wise not to wait for our bodies to fail before I start living a healthier lifestyle. I think chewing on good advise wouldn’t be so bad, too (aww shucks).

I should just try to drool over something else besides food, eh? Or at least other kinds of food.


Scinska-Bienkowska, A. A., Wrobel, E. E., Turzynska, D. D., Bidzinski, A. A., Jezewska, E. E., Sienkiewicz-Jarosz, H. H., & … Bienkowski, P. P. (2006). Glutamate concentration in whole saliva and taste responses to monosodium glutamate in humans. Nutritional Neuroscience, 9(1/2), 25-31. doi:10.1080/10284150600621964

Williams, A. N., & Woessner, K. M. (2009). Monosodium glutamate ‘allergy’: menace or myth?. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 39(5), 640-646. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2222.2009.03221.x

Fight the Temptation!


I’ve considered a number of tips to limit my junk intake, but never have I actually succeeded in doing so. To add to that, these ads and pictures I encounter on a daily basis don’t make it easier.

To eat or not to eat?

Must resist...

...the temptation!

It’s quite obvious that the more accessible a stimulus is, the higher the probability one will attend to it. I guess the same goes for food: The more bags of chips and cookies you see around the house, the more hours you’ll spend at the kitchen gobbling them up, or at the couch, nibbling on them while watching TV. And every time a commercial about the new KFC TOWER BURGER comes on, you want nothing but to grab the phone and dial for a delivery. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

Apparently, Geyskens, Dewitte, Pandelaere and Warlop suggest that this isn’t necessarily true. These food temptations we encounter everyday don’t necessarily increase our food consumption. Yes, exposing ourselves to temptations such as these may actually decrease our food intake!

But then again, not all kinds of food temptations can do so. According to their study, there are two kinds of food temptations: nonactionable and actionable. Nonactionable food temptations would include the ads we see on TV or on the newspapers, while actionable food temptations would include actual food presented right before us (Geyskens, et al, 2008). Their research shows that prior presentation of actionable food temptation DECREASES the activation of an eating goal by INCREASING self-control, eventually leading to reduced consumption.

In layman’s terms: being exposed to actual food before eating can lead to lower food intake…less calories.

On the other hand, prior presentation of nonactionable food temptation INCREASES the activation of an eating goal by DECREASING self-control, leading to increased consumption.

In layman’s terms: Blame KFC’s advertisements for the extra lbs.

In order to come up with these conclusions, the researchers conducted a total of 3 studies to prove 3 supporting hypotheses. The first study revolved around the ability of food temptations (actionable and nonactionable) to activate a food restriction goal. Geyskens and his colleagues hypothesized that as long as one is exposed to food temptations prior to eating, food consumption will increase. The second involved the presence of an “eating opportunity” after being presented with an actionable food temptation. They hypothesized that this temptation will suppress the eating goal by being given the opportunity to control the conflict imposed by it. These two studies supported their third study which focused on the ability of actionable food temptations to suppress the effect of food cues (that lead to increased consumption because of the power of salience), and the effect of nonactionable food temptations to do the opposite (Geyskens, et al, 2008.).

After performing the studies, they found out that all these hold true.

The researchers attribute their findings to the presence of an internal conflict whenever presented with a stimulus concerning food. This conflict would involve the satisfaction of an immediate desire (ex. pleasure of eating the food) vs. damaging a long-term goal (ex. reducing food consumption because of desire to stay healthy) increasing your self-control. The conflict between the two was what the researchers called “temptation” (Geyskens, et al, 2008). Whenever these temptations are presented to us, we call to mind several problem-solving strategies.

Now, we don’t approach the same problems the same way. A concept called “critical level” model indicates that these problem-solving strategies arise only when problems are in need of immediate attention, and crossing this “critical level” would trigger that response (Geyskens, et al, 2008). In our case, being presented with actionable food temptations exceeds the critical level, and therefore stimulates our self-control as a means of “solving the problem”- the conflict imposed, or what they would call the “temptation”.

Although, this is not applicable to nonactionable food temptations essentially because no conflict is imposed by the presentation of these. Meaning, since you can’t eat it readily, your mind easily settles on “There’s nothing to eat,”. If actual food is right in front of you, you’d think, “Yeah, I can eat that. But what about the extra calories? The love handles? The flabby arms? The chubby cheeks? Guess not.” You are presented with a conflict, making you think twice about subsequently eating food.

Bottom line is: those posters and TV ads are at fault. Don’t blame KFC for their fattening, high-calorie and oily food that you just can’t get enough of- I mean it’s not their fault their stuff are so ridiculously addictive. Blame their marketing giants, coz they know how to get you started on the grub. The same goes for the junk-once you pop, you just might not stop.



Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sneak those in there.


Geyskens, K., et al. (2008). Tempt Me Just A Little Bit More: The Effect of Prior Food Temptation Actionability on Goal Activation and Consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 35 (no issue number), p.600-610.

The Fast and The Salty


I grew up enjoying home cooked meals or the traditional lutong bahay Filipino dishes such as sinigang, bulalo and adobo. However, being raised in a fast changing world, with high technology gadgets popping out from nowhere, I guess I eventually grew up eating another kind of food- fast food. There’s no denying that fast food had been and is a great part of one’s life or my life for that matter. Having my 1st birthday at Jollibee, celebrating my subsequent birthdays eating pizza at Shakey’s, collecting all the Happy Meal toys, enjoying my “I don’t want to cook, I’ll just call 8-6236” dinners and hell week snacks, having barkada or org lunches at KFC, and so much more instances, I think that these could be proofs on how fast food became a big part of my eating lifestyle.

Fast food restaurants are truly popular around the world. Multinational companies claim to serve billions worldwide, from giant burgers, crispy fried chicken, extra large fries, and supreme pizzas. People are turning to this kind of food that is convenient and cheap. Through the years, the hazardous effects of fast food had been exposed to the public. The most prominent of which is its high calorie and fat content, which may result to serious health problems. But unfortunately, this is not the only effect of the ever-popular fast food.

Fast food’s high sodium content also has several effects to a person’s biological system. According to a study by Kim and Lee in 2009, excessive exposure to high-salt food such as fast food may enhance one’s preference for salt taste. This may change taste-perception that may result to overconsumption of sodium.

Although this may seem like a complicated study, it was very interesting in the sense that I immediately got to relate with it. Their study was set in South Korea, a fellow Asian country that loves to consume dishes with high amounts of seasoning. Their study involved 70 adolescents that reported their preference for salty dishes, and frequency of consuming Westernized fast food items such as ramyeon, hamburgers, pizza, fried chicken and pork cutlets. In order to measure their taste-perception, the detection threshold for NaCl and preferred salinity of a beansprout soup was determined.

Their findings were equally interesting. The participants who eat in fast food restaurants more than once a month have significantly higher preference for salt taste. Those who like pizza, or hamburgers, and those who frequently eat them preferred soup with a higher level of salt. And, those who reported eating fast food less frequently have a lower threshold for NaCl, which means that they are more sensitive or can detect the salt taste easier.

The study provided concrete manifestations on how fast food “invaded” the lives of teenagers. Being accustomed to the salty taste could be a serious issue that might become worse as one gets older.

Through Kim and Lee’s study, I got to think that if I had a chance to test my salt taste sensitivity, I might be like the participants who prefer salty food and are less sensitive to the salt taste. However, cultural factors may also come into play since Filipinos are accustomed to add seasonings like patis to daily dishes.

Nevertheless, may it be a factor of culture or not, it is in actuality that frequent consumption of fast food is dangerous to one’s health. This could be a wake-up call to most of us fast food babies. We might as well go back to the comfort of lutong bahay dishes and sacrifice the convenience of entering the 24/7 restaurants and calling the 24/7 delivery service.

Kim, G. H., & Lee, H. M. (2009). Frequent consumption of certain fast foods may be associated with an enhanced preference for salt taste. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 22(5), 475-480. doi:10.1111/j.1365-277X.2009.00984.x

Four for you, Glenn Coco! You go, Glenn Coco!


Let’s face it, food is awesome. Personally, i think it’s like the best thing that we “need” to have all the time. Eating alone can be pleasing at times. But eating with the people you love? Priceless.

Try to close your eyes and think about the best moment in your life. Most probably, it involves you being surrounded by great people and good food. If not, i’m sure you would’ve celebrated that moment by having a sumptuous meal afterwards. It may even have become the “cheat” day for all of you guys who are on a diet. You might even had spent money you didn’t really have just to make sure you make this moment count. See what I’m getting to here? Food is that powerful. It makes relationships grow stronger and good moments become great ones. 🙂

However, there is another way to look at food. It can be an avenue for bullying and isolating social others. The best way to represent this is through the movie “Mean Girls”.

In this movie, it was obvious how discrimination occurred in the school setting, especially towards the unusual students. One of the people groups who got much negative attention were the overweight students. As a result, these students receive mean words from their peers such as being called “fat virgins”.

But how much does social influence really hold on our food consumption? Does our food intake increase when in presence of social others? Do we eat worse when people surround us in a banquet? Do we mimic others’ behavior when it comes to eating?

The answers to these questions were provided by this study of Mcferran, Dahl, Fitzsimons & Morales(2009) entitled: “I’ll Have What She’s Having: Effects of Social Influence and Body Type on the Food Choices of Others”

I think it is a known fact that whether your companions are overweight or skinny and how much they put on their plates can greatly influence how much you eat. However, what was interesting in this research is that it shows if we eat with skinny people, we tend to mimic their food portions, regardless of how much they take. However, if we eat with overweight companions, we generally try to adjust our portions to be different.

“Weight and portion sizes are linked together in people’s minds,” says Associate Professor Andrea Morales, one of the authors of this new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. “When our overweight companions take a large portion, we usually take less food to eat. However, it may surprise people to know that when overweight eating partners take small portion sizes, we still try to differentiate ourselves by taking larger portions.”

In one set, college students were invited to a lab supposedly to watch a movie. When they checked in, they were joined by a research assistant who was introduced as just another study participant. The assistant weighed 105 pounds and wore a size 0. However, during some of the sessions, she wore an obesity prosthesis that made her appear to weigh 180 pounds and wear a size 16.

Both the student and the accomplice were offered a snack to enjoy during the movie. When the assistant appeared to be thin, the study participants took a snack amount and variety similar to hers, but when the assistant wore the prosthesis, the students adjusted. If the “overweight” accomplice took 30 candies, then the study participants selected less. If the accomplice took just two candies, then the participants went for a larger portion. Also, if the “overweight” accomplice ate MnM’s, the study participants ate granola bars. Likewise, if the “overweight” accomplice ate granola bars, then the participants chose to eat the MnM’s.

It was a really fascinating article. What makes this more interesting is the interaction between the body type, portion sizes and food preference. It’s not just whether the other person is thin or overweight. In fact, if you frequently eat with skinny people who take large portions and eat unhealthy food, then that could prompt you to gain weight.

Moral of the story? Just don’t eat with ’em skinny kids. They gon’ bring you hell in the gym. Naaaah. Just kidding. Even though I know that this social influence could be very powerful, I always believe that the person chooses what he/she becomes. All the things you do are of your choice.(Your music.Myx. HAHA) If you have enough willpower, then who knows? Maybe you could still achieve a “zero to hero” act even if around the most gluttonous skinny people you will meet.(which is still the most unfair thing in this world, by the way.) :)))

Mcferran, B., Dahl, D., Fitzsimons, G., & Morales, A. (2009). I’ll have what she’s having: effects of social influence and body type on the food choices of others. Journal Of Consumer Research. 36(6),  1-15. DOI: 10.1086/644611

All This Talk of Getting Old…


Health must always be kept in mind, especially for the elderly.

My sister just recently graduated from pastry school, and so now our house is constantly stocked with baked goods like cream puffs, éclairs, banana bread, and various kinds of cakes and tarts. With her endless experiments in the kitchen, there is plenty enough to go around reaching even the homes of my cousins and my grandparents. With my grandparents, however, we are always careful not to give them the very sweet desserts because we feel that it would be bad for their health.

People say that when you grow old, you have to be extra careful of eating foods that are rich in sugar or salt, or anything in excess for that matter, because it will have a larger detrimental effect to your already poor health. But at the same time, old people are said to have poorer sensory detection of tastes and smells. Well then, that’s kind of sad, isn’t it? Not being able to taste the food you eat, but not being allowed to enhance flavors because it will be bad for you. Does that then mean that elderly people generally do not enjoy the food they eat anymore?

Do old people still enjoy their food?

A study done by Kremer et al (2007) looked into food perception of the elderly as compared to younger people, as well as its relationship to pleasantness of eating. Their experiment assessed intensity and liking ratings of custard desserts, in which flavor enrichment, textural change, and oral irritant addition were incorporated as compensatory strategies for sensory losses associated with increasing age.

Their results show that with texture perception, younger people are expectedly more efficient in chewing. This may then be a factor that affects texture perception because dental integrity of an individual plays a part in masticatory or chewing efficiency and sensitivity. As for flavor perception, the findings agree with previous literature that the elderly do indeed perceive flavors as less intense. This may again be associated with the physical condition of the individual because more complex intraoral food manipulations cause more intense perceptions of flavor. With regard to the irritant addition, the results actually show that the elderly have a good discrimination for capsaicin stimulation.

In general, however, these compensatory strategies were not considered preferable. The results show no direct relationship between poor sensory performance and preference for flavor-enhanced foods. These compensatory strategies are thought to increase liking for food, which may help solve nutritional problems in old people. However, the elderly also vary in health status and sensory acuity, and so “whereas some elderly might consider an applied compensatory strategy as a product improvement, others might consider it as an unnecessary and even unwelcome product change.” (Kremer et al, 2007, p. 600) In addition, although perception of textures and flavors varies between the elderly and the young, hedonic experience of eating seems to remain essentially the same with increasing age.

I enjoyed reading the study, first off because their research design seemed so interesting to a psychology major like me. More importantly though, I saw how our Psych 135 lessons can actually be applied in real life. By knowing about food perception and preference, researchers can learn more about dealing with dietary behavior of elderly people, especially in a third world country like the Philippines. More research can then be done on why the elderly have decreased appetites and how these health-related problems can be solved. Aside from that, I guess Kremer’s findings also somehow provided me some comfort – both in knowing that my grandparents still enjoy the food that they eat, and in knowing that I can still enjoy my sister’s almond covered dark chocolate truffles in the future.

At least I'll still get to enjoy this in the future.

Kremer, S., Bult, J.H.F., Mojet, J., & Kroeze, J.H.A. (2007). Food perception with age and its relationship to pleasantness. Chemical Senses, 32, 591–602.