Aug 02, 2013

    Take a pic to make food tastier

    ALEADING psychiatrist may have cast doubt on the sanity of people who obsessively take photos of their food before they eat, but a study last month said that such "ritualistic" behaviour could make it taste better.

    Researchers from the University of Minnesota found that performing a ritual before eating makes you more mindful of what you're eating, which enhances the taste of the food.

    Examples of such rituals include uncorking a bottle of wine, clinking glasses, singing a birthday song or taking photos.

    In one experiment, researchers asked a portion of participants to eat a chocolate bar following a strict set of instructions: "Without unwrapping the chocolate bar, break it in half. Unwrap half of the bar and eat it. Then, unwrap the other half and eat it."

    Other participants were just told to scoff down the candy any way they liked.

    Those who ate the chocolate the "ritualistic" way said that they enjoyed it more than those who ate the chocolate without ceremony. The "ritualistic" participants also took longer to eat it and said they would pay more for the chocolate.

    Even vegetables, such as carrots, fared better in taste when subject to similar treatment, the study published in Psychological Science on July 17 said.

    But this works only if the diner is personally involved in the ritual, researchers said. Watching someone else perform it before eating a food item has no effect.

    The actions also have to be deliberate, or "repeated, episodic, and fixed", as random movements do not produce a tastier meal. The study revealed that a longer delay between ritual and consumption bolstered the positive effects. The anticipation of eating following a ritual actually improved the food's taste.

    This gives the legions of food photographers some ammunition after being told that their behaviour could be a sign of an unhealthy obsession with food as suggested by Dr Valerie Taylor, chief of psychiatry at Women's College Hospital at the University of Toronto, at a May conference on obesity in Vancouver.

    It could also give pause to some restaurateurs who have banned food pictures, including Michelin-starred establishments like Momofuku Ko in New York.

    But the implications of the study may extend beyond food to other areas of medical research.

    Lead researcher and psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs said: "We are thinking of getting patients to perform rituals before an operation and then measuring their pain post-operatively and (observing) how fast they heal."