The better the appetizer, the worse a main course will seem, according to a recent study by a culinary scientist and a psychologist. Participants who ate better quality bruschetta didn’t like the subsequent pasta dish as much as those who ate a worse appetizer.
The study, published in the journal Food and Quality Preference, analyzed the reactions of 64 subjects who ate the same main course of pasta with olive oil and garlic but ate different appetizers. Half of them received an appetizer of bruschetta made with high-quality ingredients: extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, lemon zest, and balsamic vinegar. The other half ate a lower-quality, blander bruschetta made with blended olive oil, dried basil, and no lemon or vinegar. The bruschetta with fresher ingredients was deemed more delicious than the other appetizer—but the downside is that it actually made participants rate their main course as less tasty.
Jacob Lahne, the Drexel University food scientist who led the study, attributes this to contrast. It can be hard not to compare two foods eaten in rapid succession. One will always taste better, even if they’re each delicious in their own right.
"It's always worth remembering that our experiences are contextual—that is, what we like and don't like, or taste and don't taste—is not objective, but related to the environment, our state of mind, and many other variables,” Lahne explains.
On the other hand, if you eat a terrible appetizer, maybe your dinner will taste amazing.