Do Me A Flavor

The craving for strange flavor combinations of food is a well-known stereotype of one of the behaviors of pregnant women and is always good for a smile in a movie. However, flavors from foods are perhaps the most important factor in our ongoing choice of diet. We can work hard to focus on a healthy diet, but sooner or later we start to crave the monosodium glutamate enhanced flavor of some junk food or other.

It’s not even that a particular flavor is automatically universally liked that governs our craving, but just ones that we have learned from an early age. We may think that it was the free toy that got us started, but it probably goes back even further. How far? Back to the perinatal stage in some cases. What our moms were eating before and after we were born is part of our flavor heritage.

When we were weaned, our diet changed dramatically and very often for quite bland foods.  Many of us screamed, threw stuff about and got generally bent out of shape by the whole process.

Do animals have the same problems? Oostindjer et al from Wageningen U have had a look at pigs and fed some sows on a diet flavored with trans-anethol with others on a control diet (1).

Anethol gives a strong anise flavor. It is responsible for the flavor in absinthe and its solubility behavior produces the cloudy appearance when water is added. It also works well as a mosquito repellant which may have been good for the pigs. Note: no absinthe was drunk by the pigs.

Once the piglets were ready to become weaners, they were grouped in pens which had flavored food, just anise smelling air but normal food, or the control food and air. The piglets that had the most fun, playing and getting on with their pen-pals, were those who had the anise flavored air. Having flavor in the food didn’t do that much for them. Just the smell made them happy as Larry. Having just plain old, plain old food and air resulted in a manipulative bunch of squealers.

I guess the message that we can take away is that we need to choose our flavors early but wisely. Living with lots of garlic odor might be a hard choice just to get to happy mealtimes when weaning our kids.


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