Ever noticed how the first spring roll seems to taste better than the other five? Or how a fun-sized Halloween candy bar is more satisfying than the regular one? This feeling isn’t necessarily because your stomach is telling you that you’re getting full; rather, it’s your senses becoming accustomed to the flavor. Boredom with flavor is a real sensory phenomenon that develops as you consume food over a period of time. The food is still yummy, but its taste-novelty wears off with every bite, exciting your senses less and less.
A study by Novakova et al. investigated how smell influenced people’s enjoyment of food while eating. Participants were asked to look at, sniff, and chew (taking ten seconds for each ‘step’) ten individual banana slices and then rate their satisfaction on a 21-point scale. Half of the thirty participants had congenital anosmia (loss of smell), while the rest could smell normally. Since taste and smell are intertwined, the idea behind removing the aroma factor was to isolate the food’s flavor and its pleasure effects. Quick semantic note: taste is the way your body interprets a food’s objective flavor.
As expected, the control (‘normal’) group demonstrated a clear decrease in enjoyment as participants made their way through the ten slices. More noteworthy was the fact that the anosmic group continuously gave higher satisfaction ratings than the control group. Not only did they rate that the food tasted better initially, but their pleasure ratings waned to a lesser degree than those of the control. One proposed reason for this is that the absence of the smell lessened the overall habituation effect that normally causes loss of flavor appreciation. Another possibility is that, much like how blind people tend to have better hearing, anosmics have a more receptive palate. In any case, the study shows how our senses influence our perception of flavor and dull to its enjoyment as we eat.
While the effect of prolonged sensory stimulation is really interesting in itself, recognizing it could also be helpful in preventing food waste. For instance, when many people say that they’re ‘full’ from a dish, they mean, “I have satisfied myself with this taste,” rather than, “My stomach has been filled.” They might even proceed to another course, typically dessert, to provide their senses with new delights. This becomes a problem if the initial meal wasn’t finished and its leftovers aren’t saved: food is wasted simply because the eater got bored. However, people who frequently find themselves in this situation can easily resolve it. If, for whatever reason, saving leftovers isn’t an option, simply take less food to begin with. Other options are to share with friends or assemble a diverse plate, full of small portions of unique flavors that will, hopefully, encourage you to finish what you have.
Cherish your food and relish the experience of eating it.