The term ‘tastes’ is an essential ingredient in our everyday language, but when used in such a broad sense, it can also be very misleading.
To help us to identify when a word is ‘good’ and when it is ‘bad’, we asked our participants to indicate which of the following words they found the most ‘tasty’: ‘bubbly’, ‘fresh’, ‘smooth’, ‘flaky’, ‘sweet’, ‘soft’, ‘delicious’, ‘pleasant’, ‘salty’, ‘savory’, ‘hot’, ‘mild’, ‘pungent’, ‘spicy’, ‘nutty’, ‘crunchy’, ‘warm’, ‘creamy’, and ‘crème brulee’.
Participants rated the taste of the words ‘bobbly’, `fresh’, `smooth’ and `flaky’ on a scale of 0 (very bad) to 10 (very good).
We then asked participants to estimate how many calories each word was worth to them, using a scale from 1 (completely useless) to 5 (very useful).
Participants were asked to rate the relative calories of each word as well as how many different foods they thought the word would have an impact on, based on a set of 10 foods from a menu (see the Supplementary Appendix, available at NEJM.org).
Participants rated each food on a 10-point scale ranging from 0 to 10, with a score of 1 indicating the most nutritious food, and a score below 5 indicating the least nutritious food.
When participants completed the test, they had rated the words `bobbily’, `freshest’, `flattest’, `sweetest’, and `fattiest’ as well.
We found that participants rated the word `bubbily` as a significant predictor of food intake.
In addition, participants who rated the food `frenetically’ (the word which had a tendency to stir up the tongue, which may be indicative of a more acidic flavor) were more likely to consume it.
Finally, participants with lower levels of conscientiousness (i.e., they were less likely to pay attention to the words they were asked about) were also more likely than participants with higher levels of level of conscientiousity to perceive the word as tasteless.
Our results suggest that the word tastes are often a useful indicator of the level of nutritional value of a food.
Although this study focused on the effects of a word’s sensory properties, we found that the taste-induced changes in food intake were not limited to sensory properties.
For example, participants whose tastes were more ‘tasted’ were more willing to consume a higher caloric item, and participants with stronger ‘bizarre’ or ‘unusual’ tastes were less willing to eat a lower caloric item.
Our findings also suggest that ‘tasting’ may not be a reliable way to measure food intake, because it is often associated with perceived caloric values rather than actual calorie values.
Instead, it might be useful to measure the amount of energy needed to produce a given food, rather than simply the amount consumed.
In this way, the effect of a particular food on food intake may depend on its sensory properties rather than on the calories it contains.
We are interested in how ‘tasters’ use their senses to understand the quality of a given product.
Our goal was to understand how their senses relate to the quality and nutritional value (i,e., nutritional value) of a product, which is an important question for the food industry.
The authors acknowledge the financial support from the National Institutes of Health (grant No. MH094068).