Science in Action: Flavor-Calorie Learning (simple example)

The Shangri-La Diet is partly based on the idea that we learn to associate flavors and calories. A food’s flavors become associated with the calories in the food. This association makes the flavor more pleasant.

I would like to learn more about this associative process so I have been studying it. Here is a simple example. At intervals of a day or so between bottles, I drank 4 bottles of a lemongrass-flavored soda. I chose that flavor because it was unfamiliar. Each bottle had 50 calories of cane sugar. I rated how pleasant each bottle tasted on a scale where 40 = slightly unpleasant, 50 = neutral, 60 = slightly pleasant, and 70 = somewhat pleasant. I drank the bottles between meals — far away from other food.

Here are the ratings.

The flavor gradually became more pleasant.

7 Responses to “Science in Action: Flavor-Calorie Learning (simple example)”

  1. Timothy Beneke Says:

    Next, try swishing it around in your mouth and spitting it out, and keep assessing for taste pleasure; see if it has a deconditioning effect as one would predict. My experience with “englightened tasting” where I let myself taste but not swallow junk food that I’m attracted to suggests that by the third day, the flavor will be negative again…

  2. peter Says:

    this reminds me of how drinkers “acquire” a taste for scotch.

  3. seth Says:

    Thanks for the suggestion, Tim.

    Peter, you’re quite right. Some of my first studies of this used liquor, such as orzo. I’ve been saving scotch for a later experiment.

  4. Oren Says:

    What do you expect to happen if you switch to lemongrass soda with a low-calorie sweetener?

  5. seth Says:

    I expect the rating would go back down to around 50. I’ve had hundreds of Diet Cokes, almost never with meals. I still don’t like the flavor. I like the carbonation, the thirst-quenching, and the sweetness — whereas the flavor: uh, okay.

  6. Thierry Says:

    I never could enjoy diet cola, but most people I know are saying that they cannot drink the regular stuff anymore. Would you say that this comes from the fact that they have associated the taste with calories from other foods eaten at the same time?

  7. seth Says:

    yes, you are probably right, Thierry