Article

“Blue Steak, Red Peas”: Science, Marketing, and the Making of a Culinary Myth

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Abstract

For more than four decades, a strange story has circulated both inside and outside of the academy concerning a 1970s experiment in which foods dyed strange colors were served under “special” lighting that made them appear normal. When the true colors of the meal were revealed, the experimental subjects became agitated and ill. This article explores the origins of the story and its proliferation in prominent newspapers, magazines, and peer-reviewed journals, and speculates as to the nature of its appeal and endurance.

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... But what if the events described by Wheatley (1973) never actually took place? This the discomforting suggestion that has recently been raised in an intriguing article by Joel Harold Tannenbaum, writing in Gastronomica (Tannenbaum, 2020). In a careful historical piece of gastronomic detective work, Tannenbaum has uncovered some facts about Wheatley that suggests it is unlikely that she was the one conducted the original blue steak experiment, if experiment is even the right name for what might more rightly be called an anecdote; An anecdote, moreover, that on subsequent retelling, has taken on something of the standing of an "urban myth" (see Tannenbaum, 2020). ...
... This the discomforting suggestion that has recently been raised in an intriguing article by Joel Harold Tannenbaum, writing in Gastronomica (Tannenbaum, 2020). In a careful historical piece of gastronomic detective work, Tannenbaum has uncovered some facts about Wheatley that suggests it is unlikely that she was the one conducted the original blue steak experiment, if experiment is even the right name for what might more rightly be called an anecdote; An anecdote, moreover, that on subsequent retelling, has taken on something of the standing of an "urban myth" (see Tannenbaum, 2020). We will return later to the question of why this story, in particular, should have resonated down through the following decades. ...
... (Wheatley, 1973, p. 26, 28). Tannenbaum (2020), in his commentary, helpfully provides a little background-Jane Wheatley (a "she" often referred to as a "he" -including by myself mea culpa) was apparently an editorial writer at the magazine in which the article first appeared. 1 Wheatley's name seemingly gets more different spellings than Shakespeare: She becomes "Weathley" in Bruno and Pavani (2018, p. 153), and "Wheately" in Thesen et al. (2004), Kappes et al. (2006), and Schlintl and Schienle (2020). ...
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Eating and drinking are undoubtedly amongst life’s most multisensory experiences. Take, for instance, the enjoyment of flavor, which is one of the most important elements of such experiences, resulting from the integration of gustatory, (retronasal) olfactory, and possibly also trigeminal/oral-somatosensory cues. Nevertheless, researchers have suggested that all our senses can influence the way in which we perceive flavor, not to mention our eating and drinking experiences. For instance, the color and shape of the food, the background sonic/noise cues in our eating environments, and/or the sounds associated with mastication can all influence our perception and enjoyment of our eating and drinking experiences. Human-Food Interaction (HFI) research has been growing steadily in recent years. Research into multisensory interactions designed to create, modify, and/or enhance our food-related experiences is one of the core areas of HFI (Multisensory HFI or MHFI). The aim being to further our understanding of the principles that govern the systematic connections between the senses in the context of HFI. In this Research Topic, we called for investigations and applications of systems that create new, or enhance already existing, multisensory eating and drinking experiences (what can be considered the “hacking” of food experiences) in the context of HFI. Moreover, we were also interested in those works that focus on or are based on the principles governing the systematic connections that exist between the senses. HFI also involves the experiencing of food interactions digitally in remote locations. Therefore, we were also interested in sensing and actuation interfaces, new communication mediums, and persisting and retrieving technologies for human food interactions. Enhancing social interactions to augment the eating experience is another issue we wanted to see addressed here, what has been referred to as “digital commensality”.
... But what if the events described by Wheatley (1973) never actually took place? This the discomforting suggestion that has recently been raised in an intriguing article by Joel Harold Tannenbaum, writing in Gastronomica (Tannenbaum, 2020). In a careful historical piece of gastronomic detective work, Tannenbaum has uncovered some facts about Wheatley that suggests it is unlikely that she was the one conducted the original blue steak experiment, if experiment is even the right name for what might more rightly be called an anecdote; An anecdote, moreover, that on subsequent retelling, has taken on something of the standing of an "urban myth" (see Tannenbaum, 2020). ...
... This the discomforting suggestion that has recently been raised in an intriguing article by Joel Harold Tannenbaum, writing in Gastronomica (Tannenbaum, 2020). In a careful historical piece of gastronomic detective work, Tannenbaum has uncovered some facts about Wheatley that suggests it is unlikely that she was the one conducted the original blue steak experiment, if experiment is even the right name for what might more rightly be called an anecdote; An anecdote, moreover, that on subsequent retelling, has taken on something of the standing of an "urban myth" (see Tannenbaum, 2020). We will return later to the question of why this story, in particular, should have resonated down through the following decades. ...
... (Wheatley, 1973, p. 26, 28). Tannenbaum (2020), in his commentary, helpfully provides a little background-Jane Wheatley (a "she" often referred to as a "he" -including by myself mea culpa) was apparently an editorial writer at the magazine in which the article first appeared. 1 Wheatley's name seemingly gets more different spellings than Shakespeare: She becomes "Weathley" in Bruno and Pavani (2018, p. 153), and "Wheately" in Thesen et al. (2004), Kappes et al. (2006), and Schlintl and Schienle (2020). ...
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Chapter
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Existing research investigating interactions between visual and oral sensory cues has tended to use model food systems. In contrast, this study compared product quality assessments of corn-fed and wheat-fed chicken products among persons recruited in Northern Ireland. Three approaches have been adopted to investigate the effect of colour upon consumer choice of chicken: sensory assessment under normal lighting; focus group discussion; and sensory assessment under controlled lighting conditions. Initial consumer sensory assessment indicated that wheat-fed chicken was perceived to be tenderer and to have a more intense flavour than that which was corn-fed. Qualitative enquiry discerned that this was because consumers perceived the yellow colour of corn-fed chicken negatively. Yellow-coloured corn-fed chicken was therefore again compared with wheat-fed chicken in terms of flavour, texture and overall liking with the flesh colour disguised by means of controlled lighting. Quality ratings for corn-fed chicken were more positive when the yellow flesh colour was disguised, with corn-fed chicken judged to be tenderer than wheat-fed chicken and more flavoursome. This study illustrates the importance of using a combination of methods to gain insight into interactions between different sensory modalities in consumer quality judgements and adds to previous research on the importance of colour upon consumer choice of real foods.
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  Food color additives are vital to how we taste and perceive food, yet they generally remain mysterious to the public. This article examines food color additives from historical and regulatory perspectives. First, it uses recent examples to illustrate the importance of colors to our enjoyment of food. It then recounts the early history of food colors and the emergence of regulation to prevent their unsafe and fraudulent uses. The margarine war of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is described, as well as the 1906 and 1938 Food and Drug Acts. The article then enters the modern era of color additive regulation, beginning with the Color Additive Amendments of 1960. The debate over the Delaney anti-cancer clause is assessed, as well as other recent safety and regulatory controversies. The article asserts that this string of incidents has gained public notoriety for color additives. The article concludes by discussing the future of food coloring and the move towards more natural dyes.
Chapter
Our perception of the objects and events that fill the world in which we live depends on the integration of the sensory inputs that simultaneously reach our various sensory systems (e.g., vision, audition, touch, taste, and smell). Perhaps the best-known examples of genuinely multisensory experiences come from our perception and evaluation of food and drink. The average person would say that the flavor of food derives primarily from its taste in the mouth. They are often surprised to discover that there is a strong “nasal” role in the perception of flavor. In fact, it has been argued that the majority of the flavor of food actually comes from its smell (e.g., Cain 1977; Murphy and Cain 1980; Rozin 1982). Our perception of food and drink, however, is not simply a matter of combining gustatory and olfactory food cues (although this is undoubtedly very important; Dalton et al. 2000). For instance, our evaluation of the pleasantness of a particular foodstuff can be influenced not only by what it looks, smells, and tastes like, but also what it sounds like in the mouth (think, for example, of the auditory sensations associated with biting into a potato chip or a stick of celery; see Spence and Zampini 2006, for a review). The feel of a foodstuff (i.e., its oral–somatosensory attributes) is also very important; the texture, temperature, viscosity, and even the painful sensations we experience when eating hot foods (e.g., chilli peppers) all contribute to our overall multisensory experience of foodstuffs (e.g., Bourne 1982; Lawless et al. 1985; Tyle 1993). Flavor perception is also influenced by the interactions taking place between oral texture and both olfactory and gustatory cues (see also Bult et al. 2007; Christensen 1980a, 1980b; Hollowood et al. 2002). Given the multisensory nature of our perception of food, it should come as little surprise that many studies have been conducted in order to try and understand the relative contribution of each sense to our overall evaluation of food (e.g., see Delwiche 2004; Spence 2002; Stevenson 2009; Stillman 2002). In this chapter, we review the contribution of visual and auditory cues to the multisensory perception of food. Moreover, any possible influence of visual and auditory aspects of foods and drinks might take place at different stages of the food experience. Visual cues are perceived when foodstuffs are outside of the mouth. Auditory cues are typically primarily perceived when we are actually consuming food.
Psychophysics has become a well-defined discipline in science and is undergoing a period of transition from the theoretical and academic to the applied. Certainly the use of magnitude estimation in flavor evaluation is becoming more accepted, and concurrently the food research area is utilizing the colorimetric techniques which are available. However, there has been virtually no investigation carried out on the quantitative relationships which exist between color and flavor in a psychophysical sense. Intuitively, many researchers state the qualitative effect of color on flavor, but the quantification of these techniques is practically nonexistent. This paper will attempt to summarize the psychophysical techniques which are available for such studies, as well as discuss the importance of these studies. Great controversy exists concerning the need for colorants in food. If color does indeed affect flavor quantitatively, it will affect intake and, therefore, final nutritional status of the public in a quantitative manner. This controversy should be resolved in the light of fact, not intuition.
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From birth, nature teaches us to make judgements on our environment based in large measure on color. As such, it plays a key role in food choice by influencing taste thresholds, sweetness perception, food preference, pleasantness, and acceptability. Its role is elusive and difficult to quantify, however, which at times has placed color in a secondary role to the other sensory characteristics, a position not entirely consistent with the facts. Color, in a quantitative sense, has been shown to be able to replace sugar and still maintain sweetness perception in flavored foods. It interferes with judgments of flavor intensity and identification and in so doing has been shown to dramatically influence the pleasantness and acceptability of foods. Studies in the literature have used cross-sectional population panels to study these effects, but a recent investigation of color-sensory interactions in beverages has compared the response of a college age group with the response of a panel consisting of a more mature population. Interestingly, the older group showed significant differences from the college age group in their response to the effects of color on several sensory parameters as well as showing a direct correlation between beverage consumption and color. Color is often taken for granted, but this position must be reevaluated in view of such studies and the need to create more appealing foods for different segments of our society.
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