The Forgotten Senses of Flavor

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This article was published on FoodandNutrition.org.

Chefs rely on frequent tasting of sauces and stews to ensure the flavor of their dishes are just right. While taste is an important aspect of flavor, research shows the keys to a memorable meal go beyond that. How food looks, smells and even sounds can make all the difference.

Sight

People can “see” flavors before actually tasting a food or beverage, says food sensory analysis expert Rena Shifren, PhD, president of ProSense Consumer Research Center in Tucson, Ariz.

To prove her point, she had a room of attendees at an Institute of Food Technologists meeting identify a variety of different-colored jellybeans — first with their eyes open and then with their eyes closed. Flavor identification was easy when they could see the jellybeans, but more difficult when they had to rely solely on smell and taste.

Smell

People first smell the aroma of a food or beverage in anticipation of the flavor they are about to taste. Once consumed, vaporized volatile organic compounds from the food or drink are released and travel up the retronasal passage to the olfactory bulb, where the compounds are translated to flavor by the brain — “I’m eating a strawberry!” the brain thinks. But, if the sense of smell isn’t working — say, due to a cold — that process breaks down and foods can taste bland.

Hearing

While it may seem a bit outlandish, the sounds that a food creates during the process of eating can also enhance or detract from flavor. Just think of the last time you heard a crunch or a sizzle from your food and how it affected your desire to eat it — or eat more of it. Sound gives our brains clues to the texture of a food, which might translate to freshness or quality in our brains. A bite of crisp, juicy apple or one that’s soft and mushy — which would you prefer?

Experimental psychologist Charles Spence, a professor at Oxford University and head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory, believes sound is forgotten as a flavor sense. “What we hear while eating plays an important role in our perception of the textual properties of food, not to mention our overall enjoyment of the multisensory experience of food and drink,” Spence told Food Navigator.

In his laboratory, Spence evaluated how subjects perceived crispness and freshness by manipulating the sounds of noisy foods using headphones. Louder and higher frequency sounds were associated with fresh, crisp foods, while quieter and diminished frequencies were linked to stale, soft foods.

The sound of food is an area that food marketers could take advantage of for improving the overall eating experience, especially for aging adults, Spence advised.

So there’s more to eating than just the taste of food on our tongues. We also eat with our eyes, our noses and our ears! Together the five senses act like a symphony in our brains and make eating a pleasurable act.

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Origin of the Sandwich

If I had to bet on what you ate for lunch today, I’d put my money on a sandwich. After all, 49 percent of U.S. adults eat at least one sandwich per day. And who can blame them? The savory filling between two slices of bread is convenient, satisfying, and customizable.

You may think the creator of such an ingenious meal was a renowned, talented chef, but that’s not the case. As the story goes, a gambler by the name Earl of Sandwich was too invested in his game to break for mealtime so he nibbled on “a piece of beef between two slices of bread” while placing his bets. The name quickly gained in popularity. When you ate two pieces of bread with something in the middle, you were eating a “sandwich.”

Sandwiches first appeared in American cookbooks in the early 1800’s, but recipes called for more than just meat between two pieces of bread. A variety of foods were added to sandwich recipes including cheese, condiments, fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

Today, you can find sandwiches on almost every menu of any restaurant—from fast food to gourmet.

Burgers are one of the most popular sandwiches with 9 billion purchased at US restaurants and other food outlets just last year. As consumers continue to demand high-quality ingredients, terms like “grass fed,” “natural,” and “hormone-free” are common burger descriptions on menus. Although the price of beef is expected to rise, there is no forecasted decline in burger consumption.

Another division of the sandwich category is deli and sub sandwiches. A majority of deli and sub sandwiches are prepared at home, however, they still top the charts of sandwiches purchased at foodservice outlets mostly due to their perceived healthy connotation and customizability. Subway, the leading deli sandwich provider with ownership of over 60 percent of the market, entices customers with a variety of topping allowing people to “eat fresh” on the go.

While burgers and deli sandwiches may have the greatest stake in the sandwich market, breakfast sandwich are expected to create competition. Breakfast sandwiches have displaced bacon in the top 10 breakfast items and are praised for their convenience and portability. McDonalds’, who offers 15 breakfast sandwiches, recently announced a trial in some restaurants to expand the time breakfast is offered so consumers can enjoy breakfast any time of the day.

Whether you have your sandwich for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you are sure to enjoy it with the many toppings, flavors, and dressings offered. I’d bet on it.

References

Technomic Inc. 2014. The sandwich consumer trend report. Technomic Inc., Chicago, Ill.

Datassential. 2014. The keynote report: sandwiches. Datassential, Chicago, Ill.

Taking the Grill Test

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The GrillGrate is a grilling must.

 

This kitchen tool review was published by the Food & Nutrition Magazine May-June issue and on their blog, Stone Soup.

Halftime at my parents’ annual Super Bowl party involves two things: critiques of the over-the-top musical performance and grilling. My dad, husband and uncles usually handle the latter while my mom and I stay glued to the TV for the former. But who says girls can’t grill? This year, using the GrillGrate, I gave it a go. (And you can just imagine how the guys felt about having a registered dietitian in charge of the grill!)

I’m now happy to report that whatever reservations my family had about my grilling abilities are now gone forever after tasting my healthy barbecued chicken. And I owe my rave reviews to the GrillGrate.

Grilling is one of my favorite ways to prepare foods. There’s something about cooking over an open flame that makes flavors come alive, and we all know that taste is the No. 1 reason people choose to eat the foods they do. As a result, grilling makes healthy foods like lean meats and vegetables appetizing without having to smother them in breading or fattening dressings.

The GrillGrate is made of interlocking metal panels with a “raised rail” design. The panels sit on top of any grilling surface and raise food above grill flames to protect from flare-ups and create even heat distribution. According to the manufacturer’s claims, the unique three-dimensional design results in juicier and more tender meats and perfect sear marks. The most innovative component of the GrillGrate is the fork-like spatula that slides smoothly into the ridges of the silver panels, allowing for effortless flipping of grilled food.

For our family party, I went set up a trial: I cooked half of our chicken on the GrillGrate, and the other half directly on the open-flame grill. The GrillGrate meat sliced with ease and exuded succulent juices. My taste buds confirmed what my eyes saw and I enjoyed each and every bite of the flavor-filled chicken. My family agreed that there was no comparison to the traditionally grilled chicken, which was drier, more difficult to chew, and less tasty.

I even made a Grill Grate believer out of my dad. After the Super Bowl ended, he was actually sad to see it packed up to go. But I now know what I’m getting for him for Father’s Day!

5 Steps for Branding Yourself as a Nutrition Expert

Build credibility of the dietitian brand by becoming an expert in your field.

Build credibility of the dietitian brand by becoming an expert in your field. Photo Credit: Flickr

You can also view this article on the Food & Nutrition Magazine blog, Stone Soup.

 

As registered dietitians, we should be seen as the go-to resource for nutrition information. Unfortunately, misinformation about diet and food runs rampant on social media and the Internet, many times promoted by self-professed experts with little to no schooling or training about dietetics.

What can we do about this information gap? By making an effort to brand ourselves as nutrition experts we will increase awareness of the profession and instill credibility in our skills.

We are exposed to brands every day. Whether on TV, billboards, magazines, food packaging, or storefronts, brands identify the product or service of a “seller” and serve to differentiate them from others. While branding on the business level is common, it’s becoming just as important on a personal level, especially when it comes to being recognized as an expert in a field of work.

While branding sounds like it should come naturally, it does take effort. Here are five steps to brand yourself as a nutrition expert:

1. Be Up-to-Date on the Latest Research

Research is continually evolving and it’s our job not only to be aware of new findings, but also to be open to new approaches to diet and lifestyle. More importantly, we must be able to translate new findings into appropriate recommendations for the public. Subscribing to scientific journal newsletters, building relationships with researchers personally or through social media (such as following them on Twitter), or attending nutrition conferences are ways to stay up-to-date on the latest science.

2. Align with Other Professionals in Respected Organizations

It’s not enough just to be a member of professional organizations to build the credibility of your brand — you need to make the next step. Take on a leadership position, commit to attending meetings or mentor other members. A major part of your brand is the people you surround yourself with. Getting involved with your state or district Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics section is an easy way to link arms with like-minded nutrition professionals.

3. Invest in Continued Education

To truly be an expert in your field, you must be willing to continually learn. Make it a priority to attend conferences (such as the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo), listen to webinars and read books about your profession. Equally as important to gaining new knowledge is strengthening basic skills such as writing, public speaking and social skills. If you feel that you lack these skills or they are weak, take a class at a local community college or join an organization such as Toastmasters (a public speaking organization) to sharpen your skills. Knowledge is power for building your brand as an expert in the field of nutrition.

4. Be Present on Social Media

Being present on social media is essential for building your brand. It’s important to respond to messages and requests because they may open the door to new opportunities for growth and development. To be an expert, you must be connected with your community and accessible to those who need your guidance. In addition to a presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, create a “resume webpage” where your credentials and accomplishments can be shared.

5. Find a Mentor

Finding a mentor to impart knowledge and provide guidance can help you make choices that are true to your brand. Reach out to someone you respect and actually ask them to be your mentor (rather than just calling on them when you have questions). Set up reoccurring meetings and come prepared with discussion topics. Advice from someone who is knowledgeable about your career field is invaluable when developing your brand.

The question is no longer if you have a personal brand, but whether you will choose to guide and cultivate the brand or to let it be defined on your behalf by someone else. Start building your brand as a nutrition expert today and be an influential player in the future of the field of dietetics.

When it Comes to Our Kids’ Diets, Let’s Get Real

It takes more than parents to help kids eat real. Photo Credit: Stone Soup

It takes more than parents to help kids eat real. Photo Credit: Stone Soup

Parents want the best for their kids, especially when it comes to their health. While many things can keep kids healthy — like proper sleep and regular doctor visits — what’s on the dinner table may have the greatest influence on a child’s health now and well into adulthood.

That’s why educating parents and kids about the importance of eating balanced meals with “real foods” is one of the focus areas for national Food Day — held October 24th and aimed at inspiring Americans to change their diets and national food policies.

On the front lines advancing this initiative is registered dietitian nutritionist Jaimie Lopez, who meets with families daily to counsel them on gaining proper nutrition. It’s not always an easy task. One of the greatest challenges that parents face, she finds, is the lack of clear, concise information about which foods are smart choices and which should be avoided.

“With so many food products and so much information regarding what should or shouldn’t be consumed, families can feel overwhelmed about how to feed their children a healthy diet,” Jaimie says.

A major part of this confusion comes from food labels. Food packaging is cluttered with claims such as “low-sugar,” “high fiber,” and “good source of calcium,” but a careful review of the nutrition facts panel reveals that the food may not be as healthy as the packaging implies, Jaimie adds.

If food labels can be confusing to a nutritionist, how’s a parent supposed to make the right choices?

Keep reading this article on the Food & Nutrition blog, Stone Soup.

Comprehensive Care for Anxiety: The Role of Diet

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What you eat can influence anxiety symptoms. Credit: Food and Nutrition Magazine

Reaching into the mailbox to find the latest Food and Nutrition magazine at my fingertips is always a special treat. I can’t wait to cuddle up on the couch and dive into the fascinating articles on hot nutrition topics or salivate over delectable recipes. That’s why I am over-the-moon thrilled to share with you my first contribution to the Food and Nutrition blog, Stone Soup, on a topic that affects many people, myself included: anxiety.

Diet is the first line of treatment for many physical health conditions, and with good reason. There exists an extensive body of scientific literature supporting the connection between what we eat and our physical health. But can diet affect mental health?

Mental health disorders or diseases, including anxiety disorders, come in a variety of forms and are thought of mainly as biochemically based or emotionally rooted conditions that can’t be affected by diet. Although this may be true in most cases, these can manifest debilitating physical symptoms — increased heart rate, stomach discomfort, stiff jaw, and muscle tension — exemplifying the undeniable link between mind and body.

Forty million Americans are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. For many, the care plan is limited to psychotherapy, medication or both. However, advances in nutritional neuroscience suggest that what we eat (and what we don’t eat) can influence the onset, occurrence and severity of anxiety symptoms in meaningfully significant ways.

While a majority of the population suffers from nutritional inadequacies, those with mental health conditions are often exceptionally deficient, bringing into question whether or not specific nutrients may contribute to an effective treatment plan for those with anxiety disorders.

To find out which nutrients you should include in your diet to decrease occurrence of anxiety symptoms, continue reading this article on the Food and Nutrition blog, Stone Soup.

Benefits of Coffee Addiction

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If coffee is your addiction, it’s a good one to have.

As I sit in the airport sipping my venti-iced-skinny-vanilla-latte, I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with college girlfriends at Starbucks the week prior.

“Sometimes I have two cups of coffee in one day,” one said with a tone of guilt and embarrassment.

“I’m trying to switch to tea instead of coffee,” added another, going on to say she dislikes feeling “dependent” on the drug-like liquid. “I hate waking up feeling like I need coffee to function. If I don’t have time in the morning, I find a way to sneak out of work to get my fix.”

I chimed in saying proudly that I drink two cups of coffee daily, one on my way into work and the other after lunch. They looked at me—the never-eat-anything-unhealthy nutritionist—in shock. Wasn’t coffee a harmful beverage packed with addictive caffeine?

My theory: If coffee is your addiction, it’s a good one to have.

While excessive intake of caffeine can be harmful (as we’ve seen with teens chugging multiple caffeine-filled energy drinks usually accompanied with alcohol), a cup of coffee has on average 90 milligrams of caffeine. That’s a far cry from the 250 milligrams in some energy beverages.

Beat the brain drain

Caffeine has substantial scientific literature supporting its ability to improve cognitive performance including increased focus and alertness (1). It temporarily blocks the fatigue-inducing neurotansmitter, adenosine, in the brain so you can function optimally. Studies in everyone from athletes to nurses have shown caffeine can improve mental performance.

Caffeine has also been linked to improved memory. A recent study done at Johns Hopkins University found that caffeine enhances certain memories for at least up to 24 hours (2). But its brain health support isn’t just for short-term benefits. Studies also show better cognitive function in older adults who are regular coffee drinkers (3).

Fight free radicals

Coffee beans contain polyphenols—plant compounds that act as antioxidants to neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals, a result of exposure to factors like ultra-violet rays, poor diet, pollution, and cigarette smoke. Polyphenols help protect the body and may play a part in the prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

While many foods and beverages provide polyphenols (including fruits, vegetables, red wine, and chocolate), coffee stands out as one of the richest sources with almost four times the antioxidant content of its greatest beverage competitor, tea (4).

Before you go running to the coffee shop down the street because a dietitian said coffee is good for you, it’s important to note that coffee loses it’s health benefits when it’s diluted with full-fat milk, doused with sugar-laden sweeteners, and topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream. Some drink concoctions on coffee shop menus can run upwards of 500 calories with 30 grams of sugar. This type of coffee addiction can cause damage in the form of an expanding waistline.

The bottom line: there are far worse concerns than a coffee addiction—such as realizing you subconsciously sipped your coffee drink dry while writing an article. Time to get another “fix” before my flight. Cheers.

References

1. Smith A. Effects of caffeine on human behavior. Food Chem Toxicol, 2002;40(9):1243-55.

2. Borota D, Murray E, Keceli G et al. Post-study caffeine administration enhances memory consolidation in humans. Nature Neuroscience, 2014;17:201-3.

3. Vercambre MN, Berr C, Ritchie K et al. Caffeine and cognitive decline in elderly women at high vascular risk. J Alzheimers Dis, 2013;35(2):413-21.

4. Perez-Jimenez J, Nevey V, Vos F et al. Identification of the 100 richest dietary sources of polyphenols: an application of Phenol-Explorer Database. Eur J Clin Nutr, 2010;64(3):S112-120.

A Tasty Night at the Queen Creek Olive Mill

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Olive oil tasting at the Queen Creek Olive Mill

The science behind producing quality olive oil is more than you may think. Everything from the type of olive tree to the time the olives are harvested can influence the taste and quality of oil that is produced.

Cactus Section of Institute of Food Technologists (a club that I am a member of) teamed up with Master Taster, Sommelier, and owner of the Queen Creek Olive Mill, Perry Rea, for an event to learn about the olive oil production process. For more than a decade, Perry and his team has been experimenting with different varieties of olive trees in order to find which ones grow best in Arizona. Currently, the Queen Creek grove is home to 16 different olive trees.

Olive trees grow buds in March and blossom in mid-April. If just four percent of the tiny flowers become olives, it’s a big crop. By May, olives have formed on the trees and they are harvested in the Fall.

The exact time that the olives are harvested significantly effects their taste profile. If they are picked when they are in their green, ripe stage, they will have a grassy, bitter, and peppery taste. Olives that are picked when they are purple in color have a buttery, fruity to flat taste that does not keep well. According to Perry, deciding when to harvest is a key factor in deciding the style of oil they want to produce.

Once the olives are harvested, they are pressed within 24 hours using mechanical machines to extract the oil without the use of heat or solvents, hence the term “cold pressed”. For some of the flavored oils, additional ingredients (such as oranges or lemons) are included in the mixing process to infuse the oil. After the olives have been pressed into a paste and the oil extracted, the oil enters a scientifically designed centrifugal decanter that spins at a high rate which removes any remaining water or debris.  Finally, the oil is transferred to oxygen-free, stainless steel tanks where it is kept fresh and bottled as needed.

After the educational presentation by Perry at the Olive Mill, he guided us through an olive oil taste test. Our taste buds confirmed that Queen Creek Olive Mill truly produces some of the best oils in the world. From bacon to blood orange, every olive oil is sure to make your mouth water.

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To be Vegetarian, or not to be?

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Although I love a perfectly grilled filet minion, I am becoming more and more convinced that a vegetarian diet has astronomical health benefits. A plant-based diet is not only low in cholesterol and saturated fat, it is also high in fiber. Research shows these diet characteristics can greatly decrease the risk for heart disease. The benefits do not stop there; improvements in blood glucose control and weight management can prevent the onset of chronic diseases such as diabetes, respiratory problems, hypertension, and some types of cancers.

The disadvantage of a plant-based diet is that vegetarians put themselves at risk of being deficient in the essential nutrients that come from meat sources including iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, protein, and vitamin B12. The good news is that these nutrients can be provided through foods other than meat. For example, iron, which is found in meat products, can be included in a vegetarian diet through spinach, legumes, broccoli, wheat germ, and dried fruit.

Fabulous Food Find: I discovered a fascinating product for vegetarians during part of my internship with Chef and Dietitian, Michelle Dudash, while I was assisting her with recipe development for her new cookbook, Clean Eating for Busy Families. Nutritional Yeast is a powdery substance that is rich in vitamins, especially B-complex vitamins, and low in fat & salt. At first glance, it has a strange resemblance to fish food; however, I was won over by the nutty cheesy taste. It can be sprinkled on hot popcorn, garlic bread, or added to a stir fry. The brand we used was “Bragg Nutritional Yeast Seasoning” and I found it at Fry’s Marketplace.

nutritional yeast

Other foods that I have greatly increased in my diet to “take the place” of meat include beans, lentils, chickpeas, lima beans, fish, cottage cheese, tofu, and eggs. These foods fill me up, which was my greatest concern when trying to cut out meat. Fiber from the fruits and vegetables also keep me satisfied.

If you are thinking that you want to try a vegetarian diet, I suggest starting off slow. Aim to have at least one meal a day that is meatless. Next, try “Meatless Monday” or “Tofu Tuesday.” Most importantly, choose a vegetarian diet as a means to improve your overall health, not just as a weight loss diet. I have seen too many people who use a vegetarian diet as an “elimination” diet, meaning calories consumed are decreased because they cannot eat meat. This can lead to weight loss, but it is not appropriate motivation. In this manner, a plant-based diet can become a fad diet that could be detrimental to your health. Do the research, know what nutrients you need to supplement in your diet, and think of it as a lifestyle change—not a temporary weight loss diet.

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As most of you know, I am finishing up my dietetic internship this month. For the past two weeks I have been learning from a fantastic chef and dietitian, Michelle Dudash. Yesterday I went with her to the set of Sonoran Living Live (ABC 15) to see her expose some seemingly healthy foods that have hidden sugars. You will be shocked! Check out the video clip HERE!

Also, Michelle’s blog has great recipes and nutrition tips! See for yourself at www.michelledudash.com!!