Why Are Some Foods So Delicious?

For some people food is just fuel, for most of us it is more, sometimes a lot more. Throughout most of our history our primary drive has been to seek out and acquire food. We have a built in mechanism to sustain this drive – our reward system. Whenever we eat food and sometimes when we just think about it, chemicals in our brain stimulate certain brain ares that give us a sensation of pleasure.

Certain foods are more rewarding than others. Scientists call this quality “palatability”. When we say that a food is palatable, oftentimes we are referring to its taste. Here though, palatability refers to a food’s ability to stimulate our appetite and prompt us to eat more. Palatability of course involves taste, but it primarily involves our motivation to pursue certain foods. It’s the reason that when it comes to certain foods, we just can’t stop eating.

What makes a food palatable? A food’s palatability is largely dependent on the food’s ability to engage all of your senses. This experience is called your perception and is a subjective experience for all of us. It explains why you may like certain foods but your friend may not. We all have different perceptions on how something tastes, smells, looks or feels which in turn creates an experience that is unique to you. Food that stimulates all of senses has the potential to create intense memories. This was the basis for one of the most famous books of all time, Swann’s Way, usually called “A Remembrance of Things Past” by Marcel Proust.

When we describe food, people usually talk about taste. When it tastes really good we say it is “delicious”. But when we eat, taste is only one of the senses that use. We also describe the SMOOTH, CREAMY pleasure of our favorite chocolate cake, the RICH AROMA of our favorite coffee, or the CRISPY texture of our favorite fried shrimp. Any food writer knows the importance of highlighting these characteristics to make the food seem more desirable and appetizing.

The food industry knows exactly how to create this experience for you, and they do everything in their power to provide a bite that will MELT in your mouth. Here is a short description of an entree that I picked up at a restaurant recently:

“Juicy fire–grilled chicken breast drizzled with our Jack Daniel’s® glaze and some crispy Cajun–spiced fried shrimp with dipping sauce. Our creamy mashed potatoes and veggies seal the satisfaction. “

Now you may not be hungry, but just reading that will definitely tickle your taste buds. Just the words on the page will create a picture in your mind of what this dish would look, taste, smell and feel like in your mouth. All of this is packaged together to create a perception of the experience we would have if we could eat this meal right now. This perception sends massive anticipatory reactions to the pleasure centers of your brain and you say “ That SOUNDS scrumptious, I think I’ll have that!”

It is this anticipation of stimulation which motivates you to eat long after your physical drives for food have been satisfied. It is why you can’t stop thinking about desert even though you have just started to eat your main course, because you know how delicious desert will be. Humans like to be entertained and have pleasure. The way food is presented to us in today’s society, entertainment and pleasure can easily be satisfied by simply going to your local restaurant.

So the next time you call something “creamy and moist”, realize that you are probably not eating to satisfy your physical hunger, but instead to delight your senses.