Snack Food Scientists Have Been on a Quest to Conquer Your Brain

Categories: Food News

Julian Borsotti Meatballs 021.jpg
Who knew when I made Julian Barsoti's meatballs, I was saving myself from eating a candy bar's worth of sugar?
This weekend's New York Times Magazine has a long piece on the science of processed-food addiction. It's the most fascinating piece of food journalism I've encountered in some time, and a must-read for anyone who has ever grabbed a bag of potato chips. (That would be all of you.)

It's relatively common knowledge that big brands have significantly invested in efforts to get us to buy more snack food. Michael Moss' piece illuminates just how big (and conniving) those investments can be.

Frito-Lay had a formidable research complex near Dallas, where nearly 500 chemists, psychologists and technicians conducted research that cost up to $30 million a year, and the science corps focused intense amounts of resources on questions of crunch, mouth feel and aroma for each of these items. Their tools included a $40,000 device that simulated a chewing mouth to test and perfect the chips, discovering things like the perfect break point: people like a chip that snaps with about four pounds of pressure per square inch.

It's not just about the crunch though. These same scientists coined the phrase "vanishing caloric density" to describe the way snacks melt in your mouth. They noticed that snacks that seem to disappear while you're munching make your brain think they are less caloric. That's exactly how you devoured an entire bag of Funions while zoning out to Oprah, and still somehow ended up hungry.

The article details tons of other tricks that are making you fat. For instance American consumers are subconsciously addicted to sugar. That's why Prego packs more than two teaspoons of sugar into half-cup serving of its traditional spaghetti sauce. Consumers don't know why they like it, they just do.

Meanwhile the recipe I use for tomato sauce has zero teaspoons of sugar. I'm troubled that according to these scientists the average consumer would not find "bliss" in my preparation, but at the same time I am spurred to cook even more of it. Not only am I reducing my own sugar intake with every batch I make, I'm also reducing my brain's mindless efforts to consume too much of it.




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13 comments
looptwelve
looptwelve

The average tomato contains 5-7 grams of sugar. One teaspoon of sugar contains slightly over 4 grams of sugar. Therefore, unless your tomato sauce is made of the anti-tomato, your tomato sauce has a quantity of sugar greater than zero and in all likelihood, greater than one teaspoon. Do some research before you beat your chest, Scott.

adkim
adkim

i will add sugar to my sauce if there is too much bitterness and acid from the tomatoes.  

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

The commenting software really needs a lot of work, especially with regard to iPhones. The past two days it records posts 3-5 times. Sometimes it seems not to record at all, hours later the post reappears 3-4 times, sometimes associated with the wrong article.

The writer should have permanent editing privileges and a delete feature dedicated to the author/inputting device is a necessity if you can't fix the multiplier problem.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

I agree about the sugar in marinara. It is an ingredient in countless recipes but I prefer the unadulterated sauce. If added sweetness is desired, I would suggest some minced carrots and onions (don't overdo the onions).As for the scientists conquering our palates, they have been victorious for quite some time and now are consolidating their gains.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

FirePage or whatever it is called is a pain.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

I agree about the sugar in marinara. It is an ingredient in countless recipes but I prefer the unadulterated sauce. If added sweetness is desired, I would suggest some minced carrots and onions (don't overdo the onions).As for the scientists conquering our palates, they have been victorious for quite some time and now are consolidating their gains. As for the food manufacturers, they have already conquered and are merely consolidating their gains.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

Sugar's appeal is an evolutionary mechanism put in place so we can survive. In nature sweet equals calories, nutrition, and probably-not-poisonous-and-won't-kill-you. We're made to seek out sugar. It's not an American thing, it's not a new thing, it's a human thing. Sweet means you stay alive another day.

It's only in the past century we've advanced our technologies and manufacturing to the point where that is both really, really easy to satisfy and can be exploited subconsciously.

Nictacular
Nictacular

So where'd you find this recipe, Reitz?

scott.reitz
scott.reitz moderator

@NictacularWe don't have the resources to test recipes here, but I did work up a post with some tips Julian and I compiled together. Read through them and apply the tips you'd like to make your own meatball recipe better.

http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/cityofate/2012/10/tips_for_making_the_best_meatb.php

If you're interested in Julian's recipe, the DMN published a version here.

 http://www.dallasnews.com/lifestyles/food/latest-recipes/20120418-recipe-carbone-s-italian-american-meatballs.ece


And my sauce recipe is from the French Laundry Cookbook. Tucked between recipes for pigs heads and fancy soups is a simple tomato sauce that's so simple and so delicious I've never tried another for years now.

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