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Amuse Bouche: The (bliss) point of no return

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By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

We’ve all done it. We mustered up the willpower to not order that large basket of French fries, ice cream, or rich chocolate cake. But someone at your table does. And what do we always say when they offer us a bite? “I’ll just have one.” Or, “Just one bite then I’m done.” 

But we both know you are rarely done after one.

While you beat yourself up for your lack of willpower, you are unaware that you are also battling something much more powerful than your willpower or abstinence. Something deep in your brain that, once tapped into some decades back, seems to be the human dietary kryptonite.

You are battling something called the bliss point.

Yet, we direct our frustrations for these products overpowering us toward the companies who sell them to us. we curse the marketing departments and blame them for their ability to know exactly what sounds good or what tastes so good. 

Sure, they are more than complicit in getting their product into your shopping cart initially, but they aren’t the ones getting you to make it a staple of your grocery list.

Your long term opponent isn’t a bunch of men and women on the 20th floor of a high rise somewhere sitting around a board table the size of your driveway plotting and planning with charts, graphs and shopping algorithms on how to make that soda, Hot Pocket or cereal so irresistible that “just one bite” seems almost impossible.

It’s the men and women in white lab coats in a test facility with a chemistry degree and clip boards in their hands.

Coined sometime in the 1990’s, the term “bliss point” came from an American market researcher and psychophysicist named Howard Moskowitz. He defined it as such: “that sensory profile where you like food the most.” 

In other words, they know how to make food taste as good as humanly possible.

Our food is saturated with some version of any one of the “big three,” which refers to sugar, salt and fat. Think again about those perfectly fried and seasoned French fries (this is a big one for me).

When two or all three of these culprits are working in unison, your willpower rarely stands a chance. The most glaring example is our obsession with bacon. 

Salt and fat are unctuous. They can make our brains so anticipatory for them that it can cause us to salivate. 

Sugar however, takes it a step further. 

Not only is sugar satiating to the palate and triggers dopamine in the brain, but it also pushes itself to the front of your taste buds like an overachieving student who must have a desk in the front row. Sugar not only does al of the aforementioned—it suppresses other flavors. When your brain recognizes sugar, it pushes most other flavors aside. You do still taste them but they are rarely in the front seat of your brain.

And while a bliss point can be reached in natural foods, scientists have learned through studies in rats that there are perfect combinations and ratios that work the best.

In one rat study, rats had unlimited access to foods with three combinations. The first was a high fat food source, the second was a high sugar food source and the third was a 50/50 combination. 

The first two caused rats to gorge, then stop when satisfied. The third caused the rats to gorge as well, but they were afterwards rarely able to stop until their bodies forced them to.

The takeaway? We need to do our best to never let that food into our cart or in front of us in the first place. 

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is an executive chef, former certified beer judge and currently the multi-concept culinary director for a Bozeman based restaurant group.

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