Does Popcorn Taste Better When You Eat It with Chopsticks?

A new study suggests we enjoy food more when we consume it in unconventional ways.

Popcorn in a bowl on wooden table

Photo by: Alisa Tsygankova

Alisa Tsygankova

If you’re feeling like the meals you’re eating are the same old, same old, science now has a solution. Nah, don’t bother to change your food – just eat it differently.

Consuming foods and beverages in unconventional ways – like eating popcorn with chopsticks, drinking your water in a martini glass or even eating meals in the dark – can renew your enjoyment of them by helping you re-engage and remember what you liked about them in the first place, a new study has found.

"The more we consume of something, the less we enjoy it," study co-author Robert Smith, assistant professor of marketing at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, explains in a video released by the university. "The first slice of pizza I love. The second one I love it less. The third one, the fourth one I’m pretty sick of it. The fifth one it’s pretty gross."

But if you switch up the way you eat the pizza – folding the first slice and eating the second one with a knife and fork, say – it keeps things feeling fresh and exciting, Smith’s work indicates.

Smith and co-author Ed O’Brien, of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, conducted four studies. In one, participants were asked to eat popcorn one kernel at a time either with their hands or with chopsticks and then to rate their enjoyment. The half who were assigned the chopsticks indicated that they enjoyed the popcorn way more than those who ate it the conventional way, with their hands.

"You pay more attention and you are more immersed in the experience," Smith noted in a university news release. "It’s like eating popcorn for the first time."

But when the participants were asked to repeat the experience, everyone rated the popcorn as equally enjoyable, indicating that it was the newness of eating with chopsticks that made the difference.

Something similar happened in a second study that dealt with water. Participants were asked to come up with "fresh, new and fun" ways of drinking water and then rate their enjoyment. People who did things like drinking it out of a martini glass or lapping it up like a cat rated the experience as more enjoyable than those who drank their water in a ho-hum way. Even drinking water through a straw can help people re-engage with it.

"If you continue to vary the ways you consume" something, Smith said, "you actually don’t satiate. You don’t see that same drop in enjoyment over time."

Try explaining that to the people sitting near you at the multiplex as you go at your bucket of movie popcorn with chopsticks.

Photo: iStock

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