Research in 2013 showed that most people don't know what "organic" really means, but that doesn't stop them from demanding it. Not only do people prefer food labeled with ethically loaded terms like "organic," "fair trade," and "locally produced," they actually report that it tastes better—even if the label is totally fake.
"Savouring morality. Moral satisfaction renders food of ethical origin subjectively tastier," is the evocative title of a new study in the journal Appetite that considers whether the "moral satisfaction with the consumption of ethical food would positively influence taste expectations, which in turn will enhance the actual taste experience."
Turns out it does.
The research combined the results of a 4000-person survey conducted across eight European countries with two experimental studies. Participants were presented with a selection of apple juices, breakfast biscuits, and chocolates. The foods presented were identical, but some were labeled as ethically produced while others were not. For people who had reported that eating ethically is important to them, they not only preferred the mislabeled food, they also thought it tasted better.
Lead author Dr. Boyka Bratanova writes that this creates a "possible reward mechanism reinforcing the purchase of ethical food." At first, people select organic or fair-trade food because of their ethical beliefs. But if the "moral satisfaction" of having done so makes the food literally taste better to them, people will feel validated in their choices and continue to buy foods with promising labels.
The research supports the results of a small Swedish study from 2013 that found people think the same coffee tastes better when they're told it's organic. These findings will likely have an effect on a food market that is already flooded with ambiguous, loaded terms as companies learn that casting their products as ethically sourced is a great way to create repeat customers. But increasing demand for actual fair trade, organic, and locally produced food is a good thing no matter how you slice it.
[h/t Shape Magazine]