Monday, May 6, 2013

Are Foodie Noses Different?

This title caught my eye the other day: “Food neophobia and its relation with olfactory ability in common odour identification.” It’s an article that will appear soon in print in Appetite. [Don’t you mean Bon Appétit?—Ed.] [No, I mean Appetite, the scientific journal. Keep up.]

The paper describes a study by an Italian research group using what looks like a sample of convenience, i.e., they surveyed people at their own research institute and the one next door. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily.

Participants were given an Italian translation of the Food Neophobia Scale, a questionnaire that measures one’s willingness to try unfamiliar foods. Then they were asked to identify three dozen odors drawn from the commercially available Nez du Vin collection of common wine-related scents. [Stimuli of convenience?—Ed.] [Har har.]

Few of the study participants were strongly food neophobic. The relatively more neophobic half of the sample correctly identified 35% of the test odors, while the less neophobic half got 40% correct. Viewed another way, respondents with good odor identification had an average food neophobia score of 35, while the those with poor odor identification averaged 40 (i.e., they were slightly more neophobic).

Neither difference was large but both were statistically significant. This allowed the researchers to summarize as follows:
In the analyses, an advantage in odour identification abilities for non-neophobic people over more-neophobic participants was observed. [...] The results of the present study suggest a connection between the attitude toward the exploration of the chemosensory environment and the ability to identify odours.
I suppose that’s a fair conclusion. The effect size is not overwhelming, but then it was found in a population that was distinctly middle-of-the-road, food neophobia-wise. (The upside of a sample of convenience . . .)

What leaves me feeling somewhat unsatisfied is the circular nature of the larger food neophobia hypothesis. It seems to boil down to “people with broader food selection in their diet tend to be less food neophobic.” But that’s going to be true by definition, isn’t it?

P.S. Speaking of new foods, I had my first Chik-fil-A experience at the AChemS meeting in California. A Spicy Chicken Sandwich at the franchise in Westminster near Huntington Beach. Tasty!

P.P.S. I also recommend the corn dog at Zack’s snack shack at the base of the Huntington Beach Pier. Just the right ratio of corn dough to hot dog. [Quite le bec fin, aren’t we?—Ed.] [I’m an enthusiastic advocate of indigenous American cuisine.]

P.P.P.S. The Main Street Wine Company in HB has a great tasting selection and nice cheese and charcuterie plates to go with it.

P.P.P.P.S. Some friends at the AChemS meeting said “Let’s have dinner at this Mexican place,” so we drove down the PCH to Javier’s in the Crystal Cove Mall in Newport Beach. Holy mole! Javier’s valet parking was full of Maseratis and BMWs and Benzs. Inside were numerous fire pits, masses of burning candles, several water features and a men’s room attendant (the last one I encountered was 15 years ago at the Oyster Bar in The Plaza). The place was full of fabulously coiffed people sporting awesomely good plastic surgery (the ladies too!). It had unctuous waiters and reasonably good food. And all I could think was, “I’m having dinner at Casa Bonita.”

The study discussed here is “Food neophobia and its relation with olfactory ability in common odour identification,” by M. Luisa Demattè, Isabella Endrizzi, Franco Biasioli, Maria Laura Corollaro, Nicola Pojer, Massimiliano Zampini, Eugenio Aprea, and Flavia Gasperi, published online in Appetite on April 27, 2013.

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