Monday, August 5, 2013

Rant: Making Food & Drink Taste Better

Wines with corks tend to taste better than wines with screw caps. If you placed the same exact wine into two bottles, one with a cork and the other with the screwcap, the wine with the cork will more likely be preferred by wine lovers. The explanation has nothing to do with the amount of oxygen that reaches the wine. The reason for the taste difference is not restricted to wine closures, but affects many different foods and drinks.  

Here are a few examples of similar situations. Saying grace, a blessing, before dinner will tend to make the food taste better. Having someone else pour your cup of Sake, the custom of oshaku, tends to make it taste better. Selectively choosing which body part of a gingerbread man to eat first tends to make the cookie taste better.

What is the common element in all of these situations? These are but a few examples illustrative of a greater principle, showcasing the power of ritual.

"Rituals have a surprising degree of influence over how people experience what comes next."

In the July 17 edition of the journal Psychological Science, Kathleen Vohs, Yajin Wang, Francesca Gino, and Michael I. Norton published the results of a study based on four experiments analyzing the effect of rituals on food and drink consumption. Their experiments involved items including chocolate, lemonade and carrots, though they believe their results extend to all types of food and drink.

They concluded that: "Rituals enhance consumption enjoyment due to the greater involvement they prompt in the experience." In addition, personal involvement in the specific ritual generally garners more enhanced pleasure than merely observing the ritual. That provides a fascinating insight into our eating and drinking habits, one which I believe has validity.

Removing a cork from a wine bottle is a long standing ritual, and people emotionally react to the pop of the cork once it is finally removed. Opening a screw cap lacks that same ritual, and thus the wine may not taste as good due to the lack of such ritual. There is less personal involvement in opening a screw cap. You could try to make the opening of a screw cap more ritualistic, but it might take time before people accept the validity of such a new ritual.

Taste does not contain only a sensory aspect. Part of our appreciation of the taste of food and drink is psychological. It is why eating and drinking with friends is usually better than doing it alone. It is why wine you drink on vacation can sometimes taste so much better than the same wine you later have at home. It seems logical then that rituals, which can build a deeper emotional connection, will make food and drink taste better. Such rituals involve you more closely to the entire experience, investing yourself deeper into everything. And rituals are often easy to do, requiring only a little time and effort.

What food and drink rituals do you perform? What is your favorite ritual?


Michael Kaminski said...

I agree 100%!
I also feel that rituals can change - they are not perpetual. The stelvin closure is better than cork. It is a marketing descision. Suppose that Apple knew that 4% of iphones would fail because of the package they were shiped in. That would suck.
Change the ritual. Unscrew the cap. Stick your pinkey out. Place your tray for the cap. Pour a taste - the bottle may have been stored on top of a radiator for all the guest knows.
I adore ritual, but I know that it evolves.

Andrew H. said...

Whereas I disagree. Maybe it's because I don't give too much credence to ritual. Combine that with experience and I feel this isn't true. I've had the opportunity to taste identical wines side by side with the only difference being type of closure used. Australians are big on stelvins yet will also bottle under cork for certain clients when requested. They tasted exactly the same to my palette. Obviously with age a cork can allow slight oxidizing and add complexity but the threat of a corked wine (which doesn't happen under stelvin) could lead one to conclude wines aged under stelvin can actually taste better than wines under cork with age.