Exploring the food-mood connection

by Monica Watrous
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Ready-to-drink beverages for sleep and relaxation
Functional ingredients linked to stress reduction, including herbal adaptogens like ashwagandha and holy basil, are popping up in ready-to-drink beverage formulations.
 

LAS VEGAS — Americans, arguably more overwhelmed and overstimulated than ever, seek comfort from the food and beverage products they buy. Fifty-four per cent of U.S. consumers who struggle with sleep said they use or would be interested in using a beverage to help them sleep, and 62% of salty snack consumers agreed snacking is a stress reliever, according to Mintel International.

Jennifer Zegler, Mintel
Jenny Zegler, global food and drink analyst at Mintel

“Consumers are seeking relief from stress and opportunities for relaxation in a lot of different categories,” said Jenny Zegler, global food and drink analyst at Mintel. “We are seeing some products and brands that are responding to this.”

During a presentation at IFT17, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition, held June 26-28 in Las Vegas, Ms. Zegler and Stephanie Mattucci, associate director, food science at Mintel, discussed food and beverage products developed and marketed to provide stress relief and relaxation.

Functional ingredients linked to stress reduction, including herbal adaptogens like ashwagandha and holy basil, are popping up in food and beverage formulations. A familiar format, such as a ready-to-drink tea, may help introduce consumers to such ingredients.

Stephanie Mattucci, Mintel
Stephanie Mattucci, associate director, food science at Mintel

“There are many ways that mood and food are related, especially when it comes to your mental and emotional health,” Ms. Mattucci said. “One way is looking at neurotransmitters, which influence the way we think and feel, and those might be affected by what we eat.”

Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, are synthesized from amino acids and nutrients in food and may stimulate or calm the brain. Walnuts, for example, help generate serotonin and are said to improve mood. Prebiotics and probiotics may play into mental health, too, Ms. Mattucci said.

Tea for sleep and relaxation
Fifty-four per cent of U.S. consumers who struggle with sleep said they use or would be interested in using a beverage to help them sleep.
 

“There is a lot of interesting research going on about the gut-mind connection, how what’s going on in our gut is communicating with our brain and how that works together to make us who we are,” Ms. Mattucci said. “There have been some studies about prebiotics and probiotics and the role they play in mental health in addition to digestive health and immune health. One of the ways of looking at that is how they influence the neurotransmitter production.”

Brands also may feature nostalgic flavors or packaging to establish an emotional connection with the consumer. An example comes from the Snoqualmie Ice Cream, Snohomish, Wash., which last year introduced a crispy marshmallow treat frozen custard inspired by “childhood memories of making homemade rice crispy treats.”

“Additionally, foods that are high in fat and sugar can also impact your mental state through that comfort food, giving that feeling of security or playing on your emotions from a nostalgic side by playing on your memories from the past,” Ms. Mattucci said.

Snoqualmie crispy rice treat ice cream
Brands may feature nostalgic flavors or packaging to establish an emotional connection with the consumer.
 

Forty-seven per cent of U.S. consumers said what they eat affects their emotional well-being, she said. Kokumi, an emerging Japanese taste concept, is said to replicate the sensation of slow-cooked cuisines with a rich and hearty taste. Scientists have linked the kokumi flavor to a group of molecules called gamma-glutamyl peptides.

“Basically, kokumi is a sister word to umami,” Ms. Mattucci said. “They’re not the same, but they are similar in the fact that kokumi can work synergistically with umami, boosting umami flavors and mouthfeels. It was actually found that those compounds related to kokumi can improve the taste of low-fat foods by making them oilier or richer…

“We see different products talk about rich, warmth and comfort in various ways. Hearty stews are a great example of comfort foods.” 
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