COPENHAGEN, DENMARK — Consumers want to know more about the food they eat. Millions of people engage in online conversations about responsible sourcing every day, and the Center for Food Integrity predicts the number of consumers concerned about the origin of their food will hit 50 million by 2021.
Most experts agree interest in transparency and authenticity stems from environmental and social concerns. Knowing the origin of food also makes it taste better, according to researchers at the University of Copenhagen.
Scientists at the school’s Future Consumer Lab found people tend to think food tastes better when they know where it came from and how it was made, even if they don’t think the taste is spot on.
The research was conducted among young Indonesian consumers. Participants tasted five modern and four traditional versions of tempe, a staple of Indonesian cuisine made from beans fermented with a type of fungus. Initially, the modern versions ranked higher on taste. When researchers provided participants with information about the background and different versions of tempe, it changed both the taste and how well they liked the traditional versions.
“When the young people were told that the tempe in front of them was made from local ingredients with traditional production methods, the information made the products taste significantly better,” said Michael Bom Frost, associate professor of food science at the University of Copenhagen.
Traditional tempe is being supplanted by industrially produced versions in Indonesia, researchers said. This may explain why participants originally preferred the more familiar, standardized taste of processed products.
The study builds off previous research demonstrating how the narrative of food influences taste. The results suggest origin and method of production may play an important role in shaping perception.
“Much more than taste and how much we like what we eat affects our behavior,” Mr. Frost said. “There are a lot of feelings about food that are connected to where it comes from.”