The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker
The surprising new truth about food and flavor
[A good book enlightens us on how artificial flavors foils our food controls]
Obesity is so rampant that it seems contagious. Weight watchers and Overeaters Anonymous were just early tactics in a long war that would go on to include the Pritikin Principle, the Scarsdale Medical Diet, Slimfast, the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, the Zone, the Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, the Blood Type Diet, the Mediterranean Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet, the Paleo Diet and the Raw Diet. American have eaten fat-burning grapefruits, consumed cabbage soup for seven straight days, calculated their daily points target, followed the easy and customizable menu plan, dialed the 1-800 number to speak to a live weight-loss counselor, taken cider vinegar pills, snacked strategically eliminated high-glycemic vegetables during the 14 day induction phase, achieved a 40:30:30 calorie ratio, brought insulin and glucagon into balance, sought scientific guidance from celebrities, abstained from the deadly cultural practice known as cooking, tanned and then bled themselves to more fully mimic the cavemen state, and attended the fat-burning metabolic nirvana known as ketosis. It has been a terrible & amazing failure.
If we regarded smoking the same flawed way we understand food, we would say cigarettes are deadly because they cause cancer. People smoke because they experience a powerful desire to smoke. The problem with obesity is that they eat too much food and they could not resist the desire. And when it comes to wanting, food speaks its own special language: flavor.
Flavor is the aspect of the human environment that has changed. People who ate barbecue chips liked washing them down with soft drinks that tasted like oranges, grapes or lemons, even though these foods contained none of these ‘things’. ‘Things’ were also changing. Fruits, grains, meat and vegetables were themselves losing flavor. Technology helped to grow more of it, but it tasted weaker, like lesser version of itself.
Using the most sophisticated analytical technology of the era, scientists isolated the mysterious chemicals that human experience as flavor and the companies they worked for began manufacturing them and selling them to food companies, which added them to their products.
West genius was one of vision. He stood firmly astride two waves - food getting blander and flavoring getting better - and married them. We like Coke, 7Up, and ginger ale more than plain old sugar water. And we like the flavor chemicals we didn’t even know are being added to apparently wholesome foods, like raw beef, butter, soy milk, yogurt, tea. The deception is so elegant as to be invisible.
Chicken can be changed through breeding. Chicken industry is now split into two distinct halves, meat chicken and egg chicken. Today’s meat chickens are pathetic layers compared to today’s egg chickens, and the reason is that they put all their energy into creating flesh. Poultry geneticists - professional chicken breeders - who went out into the world to make them plumper, younger, more efficient and faster. Today there are three global giants in poultry business: Hubbard, Cobb and Aviagen. Almost no one has heard of these companies. But everyone has eaten their chicken.
Chicken’s price is much less than when compared to 1948. A five pound chicken cost $3(equivalent of $30 in today’s equivalent) and in 2014, similar size chicken cost only $7 (quarter of the price). All of the chickens are all broilers now. Words like ‘fryer’ and ‘roaster’ still appear in cookbooks, but they don’t exist anymore. We eat gigantic babies. As a paper in the journal Poultry Science puts it, if humans grew as fast as broilers, “a 3kg 96.6 lb) newborn baby would weigh 300 kg (660 lb) after 2 months.
British Food Journal compared fruits and vegetables grown in the 1930s and the 1980s. Wholesome things like rhubarb, bananas and parsnips, the study found, contained fewer of the essential micronutrients necessary to human life than they used to. Calcium was down by 19%, iron down by 22%, potassium by 14%, Part of the reason things like broccoli, wheat and corn were losing nutrients was that broccoli, wheat and corn had changed due to careful breeding. Just like chickens, they’d been selected to grow faster, bigger and that was diluting the nutrients.
Second part of the problem was the age of these animals consumed for eating, its youthness. The high-energy diet, with its dusting of essential vitamins and minerals, enabled the production of giant babies. And meat from babies is bland. Veal is blander than beef, lamb is blander than mutton. Sculling pig is blander than mature pork (which most people today never tasted). Part of that is due to water - the younger the muscle, the more moisture it contains. but it is also due to aspects of animal biology that scientists still don’t understand, in large because very few of them are looking.
Flavoring the flavorless is hard work; so, we have pre flavored chicken available from the chicken suppliers where chicken goes through series of flavoring treatments.
Flavor making multinational behemoths are Givaudan, Haarmann & Reimer, and International Flavor & Fragrances. The artificially manufactures flavors are not come closer to originals. For example, Vanilla contains hundreds of other aromatic compounds. Not a single one of these comes anywhere close to the fake vanilla.
When it comes to sensing food aromas, the human tongue is as useful as the human big toe. If you plug your nose and dump an ounce of vanillin on your tongue, you will taste only a very mild bitter flavor. It is not until, you inhale through your mouth and then exhale through your nose and vanillin molecules reach the nasal cavity that the silky tropical scent tingles your brain.
The tongue senses basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter and umami (savory). There are taste receptors on the roof of your mouth and the back of your throat. It might be conceptually helpful to separate ‘taste’ and aroma to understand how flavor works, but it is the combination of the two that we find it so stirring. When a person eats bacon, receptors in the mouth sense saltiness, sweetness and umami while the nose sense its sweet, roasty, smoky, porky volatiles. In the mind, they combine to form a blend that is vivid and inseparable and deeply pleasurable - Bacon.
The multibillion dollar sector of the food business is known as food product development. Every January, McCormick releases what it calls its Flavor Forecast, which is the industrial food equivalent to Vogue's September fashion issue. (http://www.mccormick.com/Flavor-Forecast-2016)
There are synthetic flavor companies like Advanced Biotech, A.M. Todd, De Monchy Eramex, and natural Advantage. These firms are the plankton of the main-made flavor web. They sell to companies farther up the flavor web - Givaudan, International Flavor & Fragrance, Symrise, Firmenich & McCormick. They buy it and precisely blend it, with other flavor chemicals until it bears a stunning resemblance to something real. Eventually that high-precision blend winds up at a food processor, where it is added to food - chicken, pork yogurt, potato chips, fruit drink, candy.
Wilhelm Haarmann founded has an inventory of 50,000 flavorings, the world’s biggest flavor company, Givaudan, has 200 flavor factories and global flavor production is estimated to be more than 1.4 million tons.
Salt, sugar and fat are what psychologists call reinforcers. They trigger bursts of the potent neurotransmitters and activate the same brain circuitry as heroin and cocaine. Sugar is the worst as we are hardwired to love sweet.
If we have spent all this time and money fruitlessly trying to lose weight, would we be better off figuring out to gain weight? One way to get a pig fat is to feed fat, crab & protein. The industry refers to this kind of feed as ‘concentrators’.
The difference between good and bad fruits isn’t the simple story of sugar. it comes down to secondary compounds. For example, Ataulfo mangoes, regarded as king of mangoes, have a density of secondary compounds that is roughly double that of regular mangoes. Generally speaking, the more flavor there is in fruit and vegetables, the greater the density of secondary compounds. It is true of tomatoes, it is true of grapes, it is true of strawberries, it is true of carrots. it is the opposite of dilution.
The oldest thing about human leaf consumption is that some of the leaves were like best are richer in secondary compounds. They are chemical bombs. Humans also seek out rate kinds of bark and seeds that are similarly profuse with plant chemicals. Archaeologists tell us humans have been adding these strange and potent plants to their cuisine for at least six thousand years. Same goes with herbs and spices.
Coriander inhibits pro-inflammatory mediator expression by suppressing NF-kappaB activation and MAPK signal transduction pathway in LPS-induced macrophages. Fennel extract exhibits inhibitory effects against acute and subacute inflammatory diseases. Ginger alleviates nausea and vomiting in pregnant women, kills cancer cells, and can help regulate blood pressure. Dill promotes skin elasticity. Basil kills viruses and prevents inflammation and lowers cholesterol in hyperlipidemic rats; cinnamon decreases blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes, black pepper exhibits antidepressant activity, and elderly Singaporeans who eat curry with turmeric have better cognitive function than those that don’t. It is also thought that turmeric may be antiparasitic and cardioprotective and possess anticancer properties. It can be downright challenging to find a herb or spice that is not a ranging antioxidant and does not have some degree of hostility to cancer cells or bacteria.
Why plants produce secondary compounds? Plants make them so that they can do something to another living organism - kill bacteria, repel goats or insects, attract honeybees, warn a friend and so on.
In a paper published in Nature, Beauchamp postulated that constant low level doses of oleocanthal in the Mediterranean Diet may be responsible for some of its health benefits, such as lower levels of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Fine olive oil is what scientists call a learned flavor preference and what gastronomes call an acquired taste.
The R J Reynolds Tobacco Company publishes list of all the ingredients it puts in its cigarettes. Of the 145 items on the list, 131 (90%) are flavors. Flavoring make the product sell better. Food is becoming more like cigarettes and the result is predictable. Casual food users have become heavy food users. And heavy food users have become addicts.
Do male chickens taste different from females? the answer was yes, they taste stronger. In 1965, it was found that muscle from young and old chicken had similar chemical constituents, but the older ones had larger concentrations.
Kokumi, the little known Japanese taste sensation that improves the continuity, mouthfulness and thickness of salty, sweet and umami even though it has no taste of its own. According to Ajinomoto, one of the most important triggers of the kokumi sensation is a protein called glutathione. As per Xingen Lei, an expert on oxidative stress at Cornell University who studies glutathione, “it is the first line of defense against oxidative stress’. Glutathione is of such fundamental metabolic importance that Dr. lei doesn’t know of a single cell that doesn’t contain it.
Review all the ways the Dorito effect appears to be turning us into nutritional idiots:
- Dilution - as real food becomes bland and loses its capacity to please us, we are less inclined to eat it and very often enhance it in ways that further blunt its nutrition.
- Nutritional decapitation - When we take flavors from nature, we capture the experience of food but leave the nutrition - the fiber, the vitamins, the minerals, the antioxidants, the plant secondary compounds- behind. In nature, flavor, compounds always appear in a nutritional context.
- False variety - Flake flavors make foods that are nutritionally very similar seem more different than they actually are.
- Cognitive deception - Fake flavors fool the conscious mind.
- Emotional deception - Flavor technology manipulates the part of the mind that experiences feelings. Fake flavors take a previously established liking for a real food and apply it, like a sticker, to something else - usually large doses of calories - creating a heightened and nutritionally underserved level of pleasure.
- Flavor-nutrient confusion - BY hijacking flavor-nutrient relationships, fake flavors, by their very nature, set a false expectation. A major aspect of obesity is an outsized desire for food, one that very often cannot be extinguished by food itself. So many food that we consume - refined carbs, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, added fat - would not be palatable without synthetic flavor. We gorge on them because they take like something they are not.
How to live long and eat flavorfully
- Eat real flavor
- Eat like a Utah Goat (eat a variety of real foods, including things you think you might hate)
- Flavor starts in the womb (Moms who eat junk food, tend to have kids who like junk foods)
- Eat for flavor (Eat the best tasting real food you can find. Choose varieties of lettuce that actually have a flavor - darker the leaf, the stronger the flavor. Opt for virgin 9or extra virgin) cold-pressed oils over refined oils. Visit farmers market to find the farmer growing the best tasting food)
- Eat meat from pastured animals (Choose grass fed beef that is at least 22 months old)
- Avoid synthetic flavor technology
- Avoid restaurants that use synthetic flavorings
- Organic may or may not save (An organic label is no guarantee that food will taste better or be better for you. The true test of quality is the way food tastes).
- Eat herbs and spices
- Don’t pop vitamin pills
- Eat dark chocolate and drink wine (And craft beers too)
- Give a child an amazing piece of fruit
- It will be better (if people demand for quality products and initiate a quality movement).
Visit www.markschatzker.com for news on real flavor, like where to find amazing tasty tomatoes or a flavorful chicken near you.
Books mentioned in this book:
The Ideal Cookbook
Mccormick's Flavor Forecast
Allured’s Flavor and Fragrance Materials