Phrases like “farm-raised” and “grass-fed” do more than make buyers feel good about their meat purchases. According to new research, such labels can influence the way we perceive taste, Live Science reports.
For the study, which was published on August 24 in the journal PLOS ONE [PDF], researchers conducted three separate experiments using three types of meat. Participants in the first study were given beef jerky labeled with two different descriptions: The first jerky sample was classified as “humanely farmed” and included a description of a farm where cows were allowed to graze outside; the second batch of jerky was described as being from a “factory farm," where animals were confined in cramped pens. In fact, the two groups were given the same jerky.
Researchers performed similar studies with deli ham and roast beef. The meats were given varying scores by participants in each experiment despite the fact that they were the same product. After reading the accounts of factory-farming, respondents were less likely to want to eat that meat again. Those who were open to trying it a second time said they would pay less for it than they would the humanely farmed meat.
The results also showed that negative food labels have more of an impact on perceived taste than positive ones. When subjects were asked to compare meat labeled as humanely raised with meat that had a neutral description or no description at all, the so-called humane product didn’t score any higher. This may be explained by the pool of participants used in the study. Most of the volunteers were Northeastern University undergraduates, and according to the study authors, the majority of them assumed that the meat was raised humanely unless it was labeled to the contrary. Millennials in general are also more concerned than older generations about eating ethically, and therefore may be more likely to turn their noses up at a meal they believe to be inhumane.
The authors didn’t intend their study to be a moral test. Rather, they set out to see how our perception of food influences our experience eating it. As they write in the paper, the results may extend to other products beyond meat. Previous studies have showed that this same mind trick works on foods with an organic label or a higher price tag.
[h/t Live Science]
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