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An image of a mouth, showing the tongue and teethOur physical sensory systems lie to us in all sorts of routine ways, and I like to occasionally share some examples of that.

What’s the big difference between popular chicken-flavoured potato crisps, and unpopular garlic-and-onion flavoured potato crisps?

Just the name, and the packaging.

Without any other preparation, the garlic-and-onion crisps test poorly with focus groups as-described. Those that like the flavour are in the minority.

Grab some different groups and give them the same garlic-and-onion crisps, but labelled “chicken-flavoured” and they’re a hit.

That’s why most chicken-flavouring in savoury snacks is garlic and onion these days (with the usual extra dashes of salt, pepper, MSG and whatnot). Anything actually resembling real chicken flavour doesn’t keep well, or doesn’t taste half as much like chicken as we pretend to ourselves that garlic and onion does.

Likewise, if you take a bunch of chicken sausages and give them a quick treatment with blue and green food colour, hardly anyone will be able to stomach them. Put them side-by-side with identical, uncoloured chicken sausages, and the uncoloured ones will register fine, but the coloured ones will taste “peculiar.”

If you actually try this experiment (and I have), be prepared to eat the leftover coloured sausages. It might help if you turn the light off – but it doesn’t very much, because you’ve already seen them, and that contaminates the flavour somehow. They just don’t taste right.

A very few people are unaffected by such colourful shenanigans, but it isn’t really clear as to why.

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Categories: Culture, Science.

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