Rituals Make Our Food More Flavorful

Posted on August 13, 2013

Do you always fold a New York slice in all its oily glory? Is a whole lobster best relished in this order: legs, claws then succulent tail? Do you eat Oreos middle first? Or dunked in milk?

Far from being mere quirks of personality, rituals like these may actually enhance how much people savor what they eat or drink, new research shows. Flavor is intensified. The meal is enjoyed more. It may be one reason why birthday cake is savored more than the stumbled-upon 4 p.m. brownie, because of the singing and candle blowing that precedes it.

The researchers found that even simple rituals, which they defined as “a series of behaviors that are seemingly irrelevant to the act that follows,” like scraping wooden chopsticks together or tapping a soda can before pulling the tab, raised participants’ interest in what they subsequently ate or drank. And rituals appeared capable of enhancing the enjoyment not just of treats like chocolate or lemonade but even baby carrots.

Culinary rituals have long been studied by anthropologists and sociologists. But this study, a series of four experiments published recently online in Psychological Science, actually tested the notion that ritualized gestures enhance ensuing consumption. The experiments were carried out at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and Harvard University.

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Source material from New York Times