Familiarity breeds flavor: When we know where our food comes from, it tastes better

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — If you find yourself constantly ordering the same dishes at restaurants, it turns out there is a good why: food we are familiar with naturally tastes better. That’s one of the findings from a new study conducted by the University of Copenhagen. Additionally, researchers found that the more we know about where a food comes from and how it is made, the more likely we are to enjoy it, even if the taste isn’t exactly what we expected.

The research took place in Indonesia and involved both modernized and traditional versions of tempe, a traditional Indonesian snack made up of fermented beans and fungus.

In all, 165 young Indonesians were asked to rate the taste of five modern versions of tempe and four more traditional tempe recipes on two separate occasions. The first time, participants were given no information on how the food was prepared, but the second time around they were supplied with insight into the types of beans used, whether they were local or imported, and whether or not the food had been produced using traditional or modern methods.

After each tasting session, the young adults answered questions regarding how much they enjoyed each tempe variation, what it tasted like, the food’s overall characteristics (familiar, authentic), and what type of emotions the food evoked (pride, enthusiasm).

During the first tasting session, the study participants overwhelmingly preferred the more modern version of tempe that was more familiar to them. Interestingly, after being provided with information and background on all the different types of tempe, participants reported liking the traditional versions more and even said they tasted differently.

“When the young people were told that the tempe in front of them was made from local ingredients with traditional production methods, the information made the products taste significantly better,” explains researcher and associate professor Michael Bom Frøst in a release.

Modern tempe is much more common today in Indonesia, and is typically produced in factories for a more standardized taste.

“We know from other research that we really like the taste of something we can recognize, and therefore it is not surprising that the young Indonesians like the modern versions of the tempe best, as it is simply these versions that they know best,” Frøst continues.

This isn’t the only study to find that being presented with more information and background on a food can influence how we perceive its taste. However, researchers observed that the young Indonesians enjoyed the traditional tempe more after learning of its strong ties to their cultural heritage and local ingredients. That’s a noteworthy finding, and the first of its kind.

“Much more than taste and how much we like what we eat affects our behavior. Here it was clear that other elements of the experience, such as the pride of eating food made from local produce and using traditional production methods, significantly changed the perception of the food. There are a lot of feelings about food that are connected to where it comes from,” Frøst concludes.

The study is published in the scientific journal Food Quality and Preference.

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