You should read this! 2: Comments by Erminio Monteleone on “The psychology of food choice: some often encountered fallacies”

Egon Peter Köster, The psychology of food choice: some often encountered fallacies. Food Quality and Preference 14 (5-6), 359-373, 2003. 448, 2003.

Comments by Erminio Monteleone (June 2024)

Background. Sensory Food Science is defined as a disciplinary field dealing with human sensory perceptions of and affective responses to foods, beverages, and their components, deriving research questions from food science (Tuorila & Monteleone, 2009), which is also a disciplinary field.

From an action-oriented perspective, we may say that in Europe, food science research questions primarily stem from research policies initiated by trans-national bodies (such as the EU Commission) or national governmental institutions. They typically result from integration processes aimed at interpreting demands from economic and social inputs, as well as the needs of industries, social communities, and vulnerable populations and have had a huge impact on the way food science and, of course, sensory food science has been shaped in Europe.

During 1990-2006, the European Commission indirectly recognized the need for sensory food studies and financially supported research programs in which the collection of sensory and hedonic responses to food was central. The need to improve the sensory and nutritional quality of products, along with product diversification for specific consumer segments (e.g., children, elderly, overweight), drove the interest of sensory scientists toward investigating influences on food liking, preference, and choice. At the time, a general enthusiasm among sensory scientists was generated by the availability of new efficient methods to explore consumer hedonic responses (see MacFie, 2007), or to study the influence of extrinsic properties of products on consumer perception and hedonic responses to food products (e.g., the role of expectations), and by relevant findings relating to sensory perception and nutrition (see de Graaf, 2005) or sensory perception and hedonic responses in the elderly and children.

Why important. Within this positive framework, in 2003 Ep Koster published in Food Quality and Preference a paper titled “The psychology of food choice: some often encountered fallacies”. The article is an opinion paper that lists important aspects in sensory and consumer food science that were at the time neglected or ignored. He highlighted five frequent fallacies that limited much of the scientific production:

  1. the idea that people are uniform,
  2. that they are consistent,
  3. that they make rational choices,
  4. that their perception is more important than their memory of sensory impressions, and
  5. that situations are characterized by objectively measurable context variables.

For each point Köster gave directions and suggestions to sensory scientists based on solid scientific evidence.

What followed. In the last twenty years, the demand for rigorous sensory research has increased even further in Europe. Research programs such as HORIZON 2020 and HORIZON EUROPE (2014-2027) with respect to the food area have mainly focused on solutions to facilitate dietary shifts towards sustainable and healthy nutrition. This contributes to the transformation of food systems, and some of the EU research calls explicitly utilize keywords like sensory characteristics, food preferences, culinary acceptance, taste, diversity, accessibility, affordability, and attention to vulnerable populations, etc.

In an effort to develop new, more sustainable, and healthier food products while simultaneously ensuring their success and adoption, a new generation of sensory scientists is utilizing innovative tools to measure sensory and affective responses (see Meiselman et al., 2022). These scientists also consider various psycho-cognitive factors that act as barriers or facilitators to the acceptability of new products, and they strive to operate under conditions as close as possible to actual consumption scenarios. In this trend, which yields varying degrees of success, it would be very appropriate to heed Ep Koster’s warning against neglecting aspects of human behavior that underlie food preferences.

The intra- and interpersonal variability in affective responses, the role of memory in guiding preferences, the necessity to combine implicit and explicit measures and the attempt to reduce the context to physically manipulable conditions are still critical aspects of sensory research that make Koster’s work incredibly modern and relevant. This is an essential reading that should not be missed!

References

de Graaf, C. (2005). 7 – Sensory responses, food intake and obesity. In D. J. Mela (Ed.), Food, Diet and Obesity (pp. 137–159). Woodhead Publishing. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1533/9781845690540.1.137

MacFie, H. (2007). Preface. In H. MacFie (Ed.), Consumer-Led Food Product Development (pp. xvii–xviii). Woodhead Publishing. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-1-84569-072-4.50027-4

Meiselman, H. L., Jaeger, S. R., Carr, B. T., & Churchill, A. (2022). Approaching 100 years of sensory and consumer science: Developments and ongoing issues. Food Quality and Preference, 100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2022.104614

Tuorila, H., & Monteleone, E. (2009). Sensory food science in the changing society: Opportunities, needs, and challenges. Trends in Food Science and Technology, 20(2), 54–62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tifs.2008.10.007

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