Friday, September 19, 2014

Food Reward Friday

Today's lucky "winner"... waffles!!!

Waffles apparently have a long history in Europe, with roots dating back as far as the Middle Ages (1).  Modern waffles have been around for about 500 years, and they remain popular in Europe and Europe-influenced countries.  As a teenager, I remember eating delicious gaufres in Western France, sometimes with fruit and whipped cream, other times with chocolate sauce or simply powdered sugar.

Waffles have survived the upheavals of half a millenium of European history nearly unchanged.  Why do we find them so seductive?  As with many of our favorite foods, waffles combine several key rewarding properties.  First, they're extremely rich in carbohydrate, including both starch and sugar.  Second, they also contain fat.  Third, the high-temperature cooking process partially dehydrates the batter, increasing its calorie density.  Finally, we add calorie-dense toppings such as whipped cream, syrup, and butter.  Waffles offer a calorie-dense, easily digested combination of starch, sugar, and fat-- a combination our food reward circuitry finds irresistible.

We also seem to appreciate the Maillard reaction products that give baked goods their seductive aroma.  The distinctive shape of waffles maximizes their surface area, in turn maximizing the flavor and texture of high-temperature-cooked batter.


Stephen How said...

I haven't binged on waffles before, but a few times I made massive amounts of pancakes, and ate them serially with butter. (I prefer savory, and will never add sweet toppings.) Light, warm and fluffy, they're definitely bingeable, but they do require effort to prepare. That makes them less dangerous than fast food, or packaged treats.

Stephan Guyenet said...

I agree Stephen. In Barry Popkin's book "The World is Fat", he describes how his mother and her friends would make extravagant sweet baked goods during his childhood in the 1950s. However, they only made them once every couple of weeks. The rest of the time, they didn't eat sweet baked goods. That's what happens when you have to cook for yourself.

Stylooke said...

Hi Stephan,

You point out humans seem to favor Maillard reaction products. Mal-adaptation in modern times or aren't they really as bad as people make it out to be?

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Stylooke,

It's a good question. I don't know the answer. I can speculate that we may have been selected to enjoy Maillard reaction products due to the substantial reproductive advantages of eating cooked food. Either that, or we may learn to enjoy them over time due to their association with other rewarding properties in the food that contains them.

Tim said...

Maillard reaction products - among them advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) - are formed during cooking with dry heat. I suppose we developed a taste preference for them when we were opportunistic predators eating not only small game we hunted for ourself but also the prey we dispossessed other predetors of. Anyway, such meat was not only less nutritious when eaten raw but also often not perfectly fresh (a hyena doesn't care for hygene) and only cooking it over the open fire made it safe to eat. Therefore the taste of charred meat signified safety and the preference for it was positively selected. It didn't really matter whether it also predisposes for cancer and metabolic syndrome at an age above 50 because our distant ancestors had different things to worry about (antagonistic pleiotropy anyone?). Hardly anybody did even reach such an age, and those who did most probably had sucessfully reproduced by then. In my opinion this is the major fallacy in common apaleo logic. The paleolithic diet is the diet that allowed us to successfully reproduce over a long period of time and under diverse environmental conditions. That's it. Evolution couldn't care less whether we remain healthy up to an "unnatural" age of 70 or 80.

Ben Kennedy said...

Don't forget the form factor - their shape is perfectly suited to hold at that syrup in place while it is absorbed. Food form is a big deal when it comes to overconsumption. With a large supply of dip available, I will spontaneously consume more calories with an equivalent number of "scoop" chips and than with plan old tortilla chips, and solely because of the form factor of the chip

Healthy Spectator said...

This looks delicious! Thanks for sharing!

Gabriella Kadar said...

Oddly enough, the first time I tried waffles was at about age 35. Pass.

We made crepes in my family. Make them nice and thin. Rolled up with a mixture of dry curd cottage cheese, egg yolk, lemon zest, bit of sugar combo. Put them in the oven for a few minutes to set the egg yolk. Then mix some frozen orange juice and orange liqueur, heat it up and pour a little on top of the rolled crepe. Way better than any waffle.

If you want to make it dramatic, pour some brandy on top and light it. :)