In his book "The
Dorito Effect - The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor,"
award-winning journalist and author, Mark Schatzker,
investigates the introduction of flavor into the industrialized food
journalist by profession, Schatzker's curiosity about flavor led him
to eventually write two books addressing this issue.
The first, "Steak
- One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef" was,
as the title implies, about steak.
"I got deep into the science of
flavor [and] the science of how we perceive flavor. But I also
[asked a] question that we rarely ask, which is 'Why does food
We think it's all very simple. We
take for granted of the fact that apples taste like apples and
steak tastes like steak. But then when you start to get inside
it, it becomes very interesting,"
"I would visit a ranch and there
would be a field of pregnant cows and a field of steers. The
rancher would say, 'Oh, the pregnant cows are in a field of
clover because they need a lot of protein [when] they're
Cows don't even know what protein
is, so how does a cow know what to eat?
The answer is flavor feedback.
They seek out the flavors that bring their bodies what they
need. It's something we are certainly very alienated from…
We tend to think there's an
inverse relationship between health and deliciousness. I set out
to do that steak book thinking, 'It might be that the best steak
I find is awful for the cow [and] horrible for the planet; it's
like a heart attack on a plate.'
What I found, oddly, was that the
most delicious steak was the best for the planet, nicest for the
cow and the best for me.
I thought, 'This is not what I
expected. This is not what we were taught to expect. Is there
something going on here?'… [I]n nature … delicious flavors
guide animals to the foods they need.
So, I asked what is a simple
question with a very complex answer, which is, 'Does it work
that way for humans?'"
The History of the
The story of
the Dorito starts with the late
Archibald Clark West, a marketing executive who, in the 1950s,
worked on the Jell-O Pudding account.
In 1960, the
Frito company offered him the position of vice president of
sales and marketing. (Shortly thereafter, Frito merged with the
Lay's chip company to become Frito-Lay.)
A chance stop at a
Mexican food shack on the way back home from a visit with
Lawrence Frank, the inventor of Lawry's seasoned salt, exposed
West to the tortilla chip.
'This is going to be the next
big thing for Frito-Lay'…
He presented his idea to his
They just sort of looked at him
like he's a little funny because they thought,
'Why would we want to make
tortilla chips when we already make Fritos, which are kind
of the same thing?…'
But West was so confident in his
idea that he actually funneled discretionary funds to an
off-site facility to develop this concept.
He gave them a name, which, in a
very bastardized Spanish, means 'little pieces of gold.'
He brought it back to his fellow
executives. He passed out samples of tortilla chips and said,
'Gentlemen, I give you
I know what you're thinking.
'OK. This is when the world
changed. This is where junk food was forever junkier and
But in fact, that's not what
happened, because the Doritos that first went to market… were
just… salted tortilla chips.
People in the Southwest… where
there was a Hispanic cultural influence, knew that you could dip
them in salsa and so forth. But the rest of the country didn't
really get it.
The main complaint was that the
snack sounds Mexican, [but] it doesn't taste Mexican."
The Dorito Effect
had another epiphany:
them taste like taco."
Up until that time,
foods had their own intrinsic flavors and that was that.
If you wanted the
taste of raspberry or pineapple, you had to use real raspberries and
But some speculate
that West's friendship with Lawrence Frank (the inventor of
Lawry's seasoned salt) gave him the insight that you could alter
flavors through the use of chemicals.
"You could make whatever you
wanted taste like whatever you wanted it to taste like.
You could literally buy flavored
chemicals and put a dusting on a triangular piece of fried
cornmeal and, voila! It wouldn't taste exactly like a taco, but
it would have that depth, that tang, that zest.
Frito-Lay then brought out
taco-flavored Doritos, and that changed everything.
Let's think about that for a
second. We're talking about a high-fat, high-carb, high-salt
snack that America basically wasn't interested in. With the
addition of flavored chemicals, it turned into a snack people
could not stop eating.
Let's also think about this:
Prior to taco-flavored
Doritos, when people ate tortilla chips, they would dip them
in things that are good for you, things like a bean dip or
salsa made with tomatoes, made with hot peppers.
Now you didn't need that.
Now you could just dust on the
flavorings and they tasted good on their own. This, to me, is a
very important moment in the history of our food culture,
because it's when we mastered flavor.
Up until that point, roughly
speaking, flavor had been the domain of Mother Nature.
Now, it was up to, literally, the
folks who worked in marketing."
Technology Allowed for Massive Deterioration of Natural Food Quality
flavor technology is ultimately what allowed for the radical
deterioration of food quality, as you not only can easily mask the
flavor of inferior quality ingredients, but impose a flavor that has
no business being there - making foods taste like something that
they are not, and literally imbue nutritionally empty foods with the
"sheen" of nutrition.
This is important
processed foods manufacturers because, as modern agricultural
methods have taken a toll on soil health, food has gotten
increasingly bland, as the natural flavor and aroma of food is
actually tied to its nutrient content.
In other words,
flavor is a marker for the nutritional density of the food.
chemicals, you can now produce food that has virtually no
nutritional value, or even negative nutritional value, yet the great
taste and aroma fool consumers into thinking they're eating
As noted by
"There's been a change in quality.
When old-timers complain that food
doesn't taste like it used to, it's not because they're
[remembering] the past through rose-tinted lenses, it's because
food really doesn't taste the way it used to.
We have this ongoing debate in our
culture about the importance of eating right. We tell people you
need to eat more fruits and vegetables, you need to eat more
whole foods, but what have we done?
We've made those whole foods
blander, less delicious than ever, and we've made the processed
foods more delicious than ever. This book is an attempt to
understand what's gone wrong with food through the lens of
We think we understand carbs and
protein and vitamins, but what we all seek in every meal is
flavor, and there's been a huge change in the way food tastes."
Imperative of Taste and Smell
We think we
experience the aroma of food when we smell it, but it's actually a
bit more complex than that.
When you bite into
the food, the aroma goes into the back of your throat and through a
small hole up into your nose. This is called retronasal olfaction,
and is actually a more powerful form of smelling than normal
This is what allows
you to experience the richness and nuance of food.
Brain scans reveal
the experience of flavor takes up more gray matter than any other
sensory experience. Additionally, the largest portion of the human
genome involves the creation of your nose.
So, from an
evolutionary perspective, this chemical-sensing ability appears to
be particularly important.
Experiments by Utah
State University scientist Fred Provenza proved that animals
use flavors to obtain required nutrients, and it appears the same
applies to humans, and that this is why this incredible
chemical-sensing apparatus exists.
"For millions of years, it worked
perfectly. It helped us balance our nutrition so that we could
find the foods we need, get what we needed and not eat to
"That all changed in the
mid-1950s. The first gas chromatograph went on sale. What's
important to remember is that before that, scientists had
absolutely no idea where flavor came from.
They knew a lot at this point
about things like the macronutrients, protein, carbs and fat.
They knew a lot about vitamins.
But flavor was a mystery, [in large part because] flavors exist
in such minute amounts - we're talking parts per million, parts
With the gas chromatograph, you
could take a piece of food and literally turn it into a gas. You
volatize it and send the gas through this big coil. The coil
separates every compound out.
Out the other end comes each
flavor chemical, and then they would analyze it. It didn't take
long for them to analyze the flavors in things like fried
chicken, tacos, tomatoes or cherries.
Then they started making [the
flavors] in flavor factories. They started putting them in
foods… Junk food is high-calorie, nutritionally empty food, that
But here's the thing:
we wouldn't eat that stuff if not
for the flavor.
That's what was added to make it
The 'Natural Flavors'
As the Center for
Public Integrity points out, industries can basically decide for
themselves what is safe for you to eat.
Of the 10,000
food additives on the market, 95 to 99 percent have never been
tested for safety when consumed in isolation, let alone been tested
for synergistic toxicity that can occur when you combine several of
People have gotten
savvier about this in recent years, and many are now trying to avoid
artificial flavors and colors. Yet the food industry is still
tricking most of us.
If you read food
labels, you've likely seen the inclusion of "natural flavors."
If this has led you
to believe they were different from and healthier than artificial
flavors, you've been soundly deceived. Originally, "natural flavors"
referred to things like spices and spice extracts - flavors obtained
through natural means.
This changed when
consumers began rejecting foods containing "artificial flavors."
"When consumers started getting
frightened by the word 'artificial,' the flavor companies began
to make the very same flavored chemicals using natural means…
It's the same flavored chemicals,
made through fermentation or evaporation, for example, and not
through more chemically complex ways. The bottom line is, it's
the same stuff…
There is nothing more wholesome or
more natural about these so-called 'natural' flavorings.
In fact, you could argue the
artificial ones are better because they're purer. When they make
these natural flavorings, they don't have full control over what
they're getting in.
They take these chemical extracts
and they don't know exactly what's in there.
The problem is you have mothers
looking at things like yogurt tubes and granola bars; they see
this word 'natural flavoring' or they see 'no artificial
coloring or flavoring,' and they're being totally hoodwinked."
Flavored Foods Are Driving the Obesity Epidemic
Most people eat too much
these days, and more than two-thirds of Americans are either
obese as a result.
artificially flavored foods have a lot to do with this, as these
chemicals make you eat food you normally would not want to eat, and
eat more than you normally would.
whole foods like chicken and pork are now getting flavor
enhancements, as the real thing has gotten so bland.
Again, this loss of
flavor is a direct result of the way the animals are being raised.
"We raise our
livestock so quickly and so cheaply that it tastes like
cardboard," Schatzker says.
"So, it's not
just Doritos and soda. It's everything. We might think we're
making a healthy choice but, really, we're being fooled in the
On a side note,
there are even flavorings in cigarettes, and the reason they're
there is because it would make teenagers like them more.
testament to its effectiveness - getting consumers to do things
they wouldn't ordinarily be inclined to do," he says.
Breeding Flavor Back
while the junk food industry has top-notch flavor experts working
for them, many fruit and vegetable producers fail to give any
attention to flavor at all.
Not only is this
hurting the sales of whole foods, but more importantly, as mentioned
earlier, flavor is a marker of nutritional density. While poor soil
quality plays a significant role, plant breeding has also
contributed to the blandness of many foods.
Take the tomato for
example. Many older people will tell you today's tomatoes taste
nothing like they used to.
time interviewing Harry Klee, Ph.D., a horticultural science
professor at the University of Florida, who since the early 1990s
has been trying to crack the mystery of what happened to tomatoes.
"The truth is we've genetically
"They have literally forgotten how
to be flavorful, because for so many years, we've been breeding
tomatoes to produce a big crop, to have a long shelf-life, to be
disease-resistant. It's amazing how much more productive tomato
plants are than they were, say, 100 years ago.
They're more than 10 times as
productive. But we've paid for it in flavor… [I]f you don't
select flavor, you lose flavor…
Knowing what we've done means we
can take steps to undo the damage... [Klee] found is that there
are about 26 flavor compounds in tomatoes that really drive the
experience of liking them…
So, he thought,
'If I can figure out how the
tomato makes each one of those, I can target it and I can
breed for it. By ordinary, classic breeding, I can target
those flavor pathways.'
What he found is that each of
those 26 flavors is synthesized from an essential nutrient.
This basically means that the
flavor of a tomato is like a big chemical sign telling your
brain there's good stuff in here. This is why we have noses.
This is why we have this chemical sensing apparatus, because it
leads us to the nutrients we need.
When you start to fix the flavor
problem in the tomato, you improve the nutrition and you improve
the chemical representation of that tomato, so that when you
bite into it you go,
'Yes. That's a great tomato' …
Klee has created a modern tomato
that has the flavor of an heirloom, but it still has the yield
and the disease resistance. It's not GMO. It's just a
classically bred tomato. It really is the best of both worlds …
It works so beautifully in whole
foods. But when you create a tomato flavoring in a factory and
you put it on a potato chip or you put it in a sugary tomato
sauce, you're creating this experience of tomato, but you're not
delivering the nutrition.
That, I think, is a really elegant
illustration of just how things have gone off the rails."
You Can Trust Your
Intuition When Eating Real Food
Your body was
designed to identify the best foods for you in any given moment.
The call of certain
foods is really difficult to ignore. However, problems arise when
your body is being tricked into craving foods that don't contain the
nutrients promised by their smell and taste.
The system does
work, however, if you eat real food.
"My advice to people is to eat the
most delicious food you can, but buy real foods,"
"Don't be frightened of calories.
Don't be frightened of food… The other thing I'd like to tell
people is be aware of your own eating experience… I think there
are two different kinds of delicious.
There's a delicious where you
can't stop eating. This is what happens to me with flavored
potato chips or Doritos. You have one and you just can't resist
putting your hand back in the bag… These are experiences to be
Then there are other foods - dark
chocolate is a great example; a great tomato is a really good
example - where the point isn't to stuff as much into your mouth
as fast as you can.
The point is to sit in a kind of
deep contemplation of this incredible flavor experience.
That, to me, is a better kind of
food experience to have. I don't think it's one that you need to
be afraid of. I think it's one that will give back.
Also, be aware of how you feel
after a meal. Try to integrate that into your perception of
food. I've eaten some pretty low-end fried chicken that had that
manic I-can't-stop-eating [sensation], and an hour later I felt
If you can remember that feeling,
it makes you less inclined to go after that [unhealthy food]
again in the future."
As discussed in
many other articles, fruits and vegetables grown in healthy soils
without toxic chemicals are a flavor sensation that is hard to beat.
It certainly cannot be replicated with chemicals.
Schatzker assures us horticultural scientists are now working on
breeding flavor - and hence nutrients - back into a several foods,
including strawberries and sweet corn.
While it may take
time, there's certainly hope for the future. We just have to keep
our eye on the goal, which is to bring real food back into the lives
To learn more about
the impact food additives have on our food selections and health, be
sure to pick up a copy of Schatzker's book, "The
Dorito Effect - The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor."