Science

Why popcorn tastes better when you eat it with chopsticks, according to science

It's all about creating unusual first-time experiences.

Finding new and exciting ways to eat regular meals could help break through the boredom and make it more enjoyable, a new study suggests.

Researchers have found that unconventional consumption methods – such as eating a popcorn with chopsticks – changes the experience and gives the impression that the food is being tasted for the first time.

Robert Smith, assistant professor of marketing at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business and co-author of the study, said: “When you eat popcorn with chopsticks, you pay more attention and you are more immersed in the experience.

“It’s like eating popcorn for the first time.”

The researchers liken the experience to dining in “pitch black” restaurants where people eat in complete darkness.

Mr Smith said: “It may not be anything special about darkness that makes us enjoy food more.

Eating popcorn with chopsticks.
Trying old favourites in new ways can increase enjoyment, researchers say (Ana Livecchi/The Ohio State University)

“It may be the mere fact that dining in the dark is unusual.”

To learn more about the phenomenon, the team conducted several experiments, some of which involved eating popcorn in different ways.

In one of the tests, 68 participants were divided into two groups. The first group ate 10 kernels of popcorn using their hands, while the second were given chopsticks but managed to eat only half the amount.

The test subjects were asked to rate their experience, based on how much they enjoyed the popcorn, how flavorful the snack was and how much fun it was to eat.

According to the researchers, people who ate the popcorn using chopsticks reported enjoying it more than those who used their hands.

The experiment was repeated with the same volunteers and, this time, the team found that, regardless of how they ate it, everyone enjoyed the popcorn equally.

The Fairly Oddparents Popcorn GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Mr Smith said: “This suggests chopsticks boost enjoyment because they provide an unusual first-time experience, not because they are a better way to eat popcorn.”

The team also performed similar experiments with water, telling participants to drink it using different methods, and found that those who drank water in novel ways enjoyed it more than those who consumed it normally.

Mr Smith said the findings could be applied in everyday meals by, for example, finding different ways to consume more vegetables.

He added: “It may be easier to make it feel new than you might think.

“It is also a lot less wasteful to find new ways to enjoy the things we have rather than buying new things.”

The results are published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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