Nothing says bon appétit quite like the prospect of sitting down to a sumptuous feast served on a tray made out of the ossified pelvis of your now-vanquished foes. And while we all agree that the darker the bruising, the sweeter the human flesh, up until now there has been little explanation as to why the secret sauce for almost all square meals is a basin chock-full of honeyed tears.
Well, get ready for your sadomasochistic tendencies to reach heretofore unforeseen levels, because a study recently published in the research journal, Appetite—yes, that's the real name—examines the Charlie Sheen of behavioral psychology. I'm talking about the tangible correlation between Winning! and our perception of taste.
In the study, 550 rabid Cornell men's hockey fans were asked to taste two foods: salted-caramel pretzel ice cream and a lemon-lime sorbet. Academia is such a sticky, sordid affair, right?
So, aside from reenacting some of the more mind-deadening hockey scenes from The Love Guru, what exactly did the researchers set out to do?
"We determined how emotions arising from the outcome of college hockey games influenced the perception of sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (savory) taste, … in addition to hedonic (liking and disliking) responses to real foods," said co-author and assistant professor of food science at Cornell University, Robin Dando.
The scientists knew that normally, fans much preferred the salted-caramel ice cream over the sorbet. Duh. That's sort of like saying you knew people would choose not to suck on gutter pennies given the choice, but let's just roll with it.
Anyway, here's the rub. If the home team won, the fans rated the less-favored sorbet higher than they did when the home team lost.
The researchers' conclusion? "Sweet [flavors] displayed a positive association with the fan's satisfaction with the result." The same was not found when the researchers tested salty, umami, or bitter flavors—no win/loss change there.
Strangely—or maybe not strangely at all—sour tested the opposite of sweet. When fans were unhappy with the result of the game, it left a sour taste in their mouth. Literally. Sour tasted more sour to fans if their team lost. You can't make this stuff up, interwebs.
In short, emotions change "the hedonic experience of less-palatable food." Emotion and food experience are inextricably linked.
And while the researchers called the subjects' enjoyment of the sorbet "hedonic," personally, I'd say there needs to be a hell of a lot more spork speculums and fuck swings made of licorice before we really get this bacchanalian food orgy kicking.
So in the future, remember to take a page from our intrepid researchers. Next time you're making some dashi and reach for that kombu, what you should really be using is the sun-bleached skin scroll of that tennis opponent you laid flat last weekend.
Make it a win-win situation.