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Stronger smell linked to smaller bites, vanilla-custard study says

March 21, 2012|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Postal carrier Joe Roscigno takes a bite of his Whopper at a Burger King restaurant in Lake Worth, Florida. A new study finds that more aromatic food may encourage people to take smaller bites.
Postal carrier Joe Roscigno takes a bite of his Whopper at a Burger King restaurant… (Mark Elias / Bloomberg )

Want to reduce your portion size? Try eating food that smells good.

A study published Wednesday by the new journal Flavour has found that people took smaller bites of vanilla custard when it was accompanied by a more intense aroma.

"Smaller bite sizes are known to elicit weaker food sensations, lower flavor release and more satiation," writes lead auhor René de Wijk of the Netherlands' Top Institute Food and Nutrition. Smaller bites, then, could help make people more satisfied with their meal – and want to eat less. Moreover, he adds, "bite sizes become smaller as the consumer becomes satiated." Perhaps there's a virtuous cycle at work.

With this in mind, the researchers asked subjects to consume vanilla custard through a pump, allowing them to control each dose, or “bite,” that they delivered to themselves. Each bite was accompanied by a slight cream odor, a stronger cream odor or no cream odor at all. They found that the more aromatic the food, the smaller the bite – and the effect lasted beyond the first morsel.

If people ate around 5% to 10% less in each bite (as they did in the study when they had an aromatic bit of pudding) but kept the overall number of bites the same, it would be a significant cut to the meal size, they say.

But here's a twist: The researchers found that current bite size was affected by the smell from two bites before – and it had the opposite effect. A morsel from two past bites that had no smell would cause the person to take a smaller bite in the present; that same past bite with any aroma (weak or strong) caused a person to take a larger bite in the present.

"This study design is not able to provide explanations for this unexpected reversal, but it demonstrates that bite size control is a complex process," the study says. Now there’s something to chew on.

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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