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Here are the Ingredients of the Perfect Romantic Meal

June 25, 2019DMT.NEWS

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Food and Mood

If you were asked to visualize your favorite meal, would you picture a perfect piece of steak, or the dark wooden columns in your favorite steakhouse?  Would you describe your favorite dessert as a slice of apple pie delivered to your brightly lit, red and white checkered table clothed booth at your neighborhood diner, or your Aunt Sally´s home made apple pie served warm at her kitchen counter?

As you might expect, creating an enjoyable meal involves much more than food selection.  It includes cultivating an appetizing environment.  Whether planning the perfect dinner party or surprising your spouse with a candlelight dinner for two, the perfect meal involves a combination of mood and food. 

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Source: Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Ambiance and Appetite

Have you ever noticed that food often tastes better in a restaurant than if you make the exact same dish at home?  (If you haven´t, you are already on your way to creating the perfect meal).  If not, before you knock your cooking skills, it turns out there might be a partially scientific explanation for this phenomenon.  One in which you can use to your advantage.

Stated plainly, ambiance impacts appetite. Dining in softly lit surroundings to the tune of pleasant music enhances the dining experience.  Eating under glaring fluorescent lights on a metallic table vibrating to the beat of loud music does not.  Research corroborates these observations.

A study by Brian Wansink and Koert Van Ittersum (2012) demonstrated how restaurant music and lighting may have a positive impact on customer satisfaction and satiation. In a piece entitled "Fast Food Restaurant Lighting and Music Can Reduce Calorie Intake and Increase Satisfaction," they demonstrated how altering the atmosphere of a fast food establishment affects patron food consumption.[i]  

Interestingly, in the study, notice how they switched it up. They did not blare rock music or install flashing lights.  Instead, they found that softening both the music and the lighting led to people eating less, rating their meal as more enjoyable, and (to the delight of the establishment no doubt) spending just as much money.  They note that their results suggest that satisfaction increases while consumption decreases in a restaurant that provides a more relaxed dining environment.  

Other research that demonstrates how music impacts dining focused on dessert.  Carvalho Reinoso et al. in a piece entitled “Smooth Operator” (2017) revealed that music played while eating chocolate impacts the perceived taste.[ii]

When participants were presented with identical chocolate samples, a “creamy” soundtrack enhanced the perception of both sweetness and creaminess of the chocolate, compared with a “rough” soundtrack.  Interestingly, these perceptions did not impact the overall enjoyment of the chocolates—which goes without saying for most chocolate lovers. 

So you plan to accent your prepared dinner and chocolate cake for dessert with soothing music and soft lighting.  The next question is, what beverages do you serve with each course? Sure enough, research reveals the impact on appetite of different food pairings.

Pairings to Please the Palate 

To showcase your perfect steak, do you open a bottle of red wine or crack open a beer?  The answer might be important, depending on what you are serving.  In choosing beverage selections to accompany your meal that are both appetizing and appealing, research confirms the power of pairings.  

Guilia Buodo et al. (2019) examined how food-drink pairings impact the appeal of food.[iii] Specifically, they studied how cultural conventions about food-beverage pairings impacted behavioral, subjective, and neural responses to meat, pizza, and dessert. They discovered that conventional pairings were more appetizing than unconventional appetizing for pizza and dessert, but not for meat.  

Overall, conventional pairings (red meat with red wine) elicited a higher degree of arousal, pleasantness, and appetite than unconventional pairings (red meat with beer).  Despite these findings, the motivational value of the food was unaffected.  

On a subjective level, Buodo et al. note that it was only pizza and dessert that were sensitive to the impact of cultural conventions. Meat was rated as equally appetizing, arousing, and pleasant in both pairing conditions.

Regarding attention, unconventional pairings prompted longer viewing times, which the authors note suggest that people pay more attention to unusual or unfamiliar combinations of food and drink.   

The takeaway?  If you want to create a memorable dining experience, the perfect meal enhances  appeal and appetite through ambiance, which involves scene selection and pairing strategy.  Bon appetit. 

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Research reveals how a memorable meal involves much more than food
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[i]Wansink, Brian, and Koert Van Ittersum. "Fast Food Restaurant Lighting and Music Can Reduce Calorie Intake and Increase Satisfaction." Psychological Reports 111, no. 1 (2012): 228-32.

[ii]Reinoso Carvalho, Felipe, Qian (Janice) Wang, Raymond van Ee, Dominique Persoone, and Charles Spence. “‘Smooth Operator’: Music Modulates the Perceived Creaminess, Sweetness, and Bitterness of Chocolate.” Appetite 108 (2017): 383–90. 

[iii]Buodo, Giulia, Rino Rumiati, Lorella Lotto, and Michela Sarlo. “Does Food-Drink Pairings Affect Appetitive Processing of Food Cues with Different Rewarding Properties? Evidence from Subjective, Behavioral, and Neural Measures.” Food Quality and Preference 75 (2019): 124–32. 





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