By Michael Moss |PW - March 8, 2013
10. The inventors of processed food refer to their work as “engineering,” because it involves and incredible amount of laboratory time and high math. When Howard Moskowitz, a legend in the industry, recently engineered a new soda flavor for Dr Pepper, he tested out 61 formulations of the sweet flavoring, each only slightly different from the next, and put these through 3,904 consumer tastings, then applied regression analysis to find the perfect formula guaranteed to be make the soda a hit.
9. Every one of our 10,000 taste buds is wired for sweet taste, but even we can get too much sugar in our food. So what Moskowitz and other food scientists seek out is called the “bliss point,” which is the perfect amount of sweetness, not too little, not too much. With sugar being added to more and more items in the grocery store, there are now calculated bliss points for pasta sauce, bread, frozen pizza, and on and on.
8. In many ways, fat is even more powerful than sugar as an additive to processed foods. It has twice the calories as sugar, but it will sneak up on the brain when you don’t realize you are eating a fatty food. Even more problematic for consumers, the kind of fat that is bad for you, known as saturated fat, is typically solid and really fools the brain. Scientists refer to it as the “invisible fat” because it slips into your diet and body unseen. But boy does it add to the allure. The attraction of fat is known to food companies as “mouthfeel,” like the warm gooey sensation of melted cheese.
7. Salt is valued for what companies call its “flavor burst,” hitting the tongue straight away with a salty taste that races to the pleasure zone of the brain, which in turn compels you to eat more. And salt manufacturers have learned to manipulate the physical shape of salt to most perfectly suit the needs of processed foods, from powdery salts for soups to chunks shaped like pyramids with flat sides that stick to the outside of food and interact quickest with your saliva.
6. Beyond salt, sugar and fat, the snack food companies have perfected other aspects of their snacks to maximize their allure and irresistibility. Take chips. Research shows that noisier chips taste better, so every effort is made to increase the crunch. The industry also refers warmly to the phenomenon known as “vanishing caloric density,” epitomized by Cheetos. When they melt in your mouth, they fool the brain into thinking the calories have disappeared, as if you were eating celery. No calories, no reason for the brain to tell you to stop eating already.