It’s a rather terrible idea, what these food companies are doing. “What is?” you might ask. Well, let me tell you. In recent times thanks to flavour technology, there has been a massive shift from whole foods to junk food. Evidence has shown whole foods have gotten blander owing to the constant drive over the years to maximise agricultural production.

This begs the question, “Why do you eat certain foods? Better yet, why do you eat what you eat?”

According to human science in simple terms ‘food provides energy to keep us going’ hence the calories are the most important. Vitamins and minerals don’t have anything to do with this. What then are the best ways to maintain a balanced diet? Easy. By eating a variety of different foods we receive all the vitamins and minerals we need. This view explains why people like burgers, ice cream, pizza, and potato chips; they are abundant in calories. If calories were all that mattered, how then do you explain why a good apple tastes so much better than mediocre microwave pizza. What then is the use of flavour in the human diet?

To seek answers to this it will be important to note that the nose and mouth (flavour sensing apparatuses) takes up more DNA than any other bodily system. Another question arises, why is so much DNA dedicated to a sense seen as unnecessary?

Fred Provenza, a behavioural ecologist who studied appetite and food selection in goats and sheep performed research that showed sheep had ‘nutritional wisdom’ i.e. they are instinctively attracted to foods that satisfy their dietary requirements. In this study, he made sheep deficient in phosphorus and then paired maple-flavoured feed with phosphorus. Hence, every time they ate maple-flavoured feed, there would be the absorption of phosphorus in their gut. The sheep as such learned to associate the flavour of maple with the needed nutrient. When they were low on phosphorus, they would seek the flavour of maple.

“Do humans possess this nutritional wisdom as well?”

A British chaplain who wrote about the accounts of sailors suffering from scurvy reported ‘they had intense cravings for fruit and when they were finally able to eat it they experienced emotions of the most voluptuous luxury’. Curious?

About a century ago, Clara Davis, a Chicago paediatrician put fifteen babies on a ‘self-selection’ diet. From a selection of thirty-three foodstuffs, they could eat what they wanted. These babies were found to feed themselves and quite properly at that. One of the infants had a case of rickets (vitamin D deficiency) and with each meal was given a small glass of cod liver oil which is rich in vitamin D. The distaste for cod liver among children is well known, but the child consumed it ‘irregularly and in varying amounts, until he was better, then never touched another drop. These babies had shown themselves to be master nutritionists quite contrary to popular belief. Thus humans indeed possess ‘nutritional wisdom’

             Thus as asked earlier, if calories are all that matter, why do we add spices to food given that spices contain no calories? Is the secret to deliciousness salt, sugar and fat? As an example, consider soft drinks. We are told that we consume them because of their sugar content. Is it really? Do you think a can of soda water with about 9 teaspoons of sugar appeals to you? I doubt that. The flavourings are what animate these drinks. That is why Coke tastes like Coke and Fanta tastes like Fanta, and Fanta apple is better than Fanta orange (don’t argue); it’s all in the flavourings.

According to Harry Klee, the world’s leading tomato expert, love for tomatoes is fuelled by flavour compounds that the tomato synthesises from necessary nutrients- as if the tomato flavour is shouting “This is nourishing!”

             If flavour really plays a role in how the brain absorbs vitamins and minerals, putting flavours into soft drinks, potato chips and candy whilst removing flavours from vegetables, whole grains and meat could be a very bad idea.

 Adapted from ‘Dorito Effect’ by Mark Schatzker.

 Igbo-Obiakor Munachimso