Friday, November 16, 2012

Food Reward Friday

This week's winner: the Taco Bell Doritos Locos Taco!

Yes, this is what you think it is: a taco made from a big Doritos corn chip.  Each one is 200 calories, 100 of which come from fat, 60 from carbohydrate and 36 from protein.  Taco Bell: bringing us the best of traditional Mexican cuisine since 1946.

Doritos are a highly engineered, hyperpalatable processed food.  Everything from the fat content, the crunch, the size of the salt particles, the color, to the balance of natural and artificial flavorings, is carefully engineered and tested on focus groups to maximize "craveability".  If you doubt that, have a look at the ingredient list for the Nacho Cheese flavor:
Whole corn, vegetable oil (corn, soybean, and/or sunflower oil), salt, cheddar cheese (milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), maltodextrin, whey, monosodium glutamate, buttermilk solids, romano cheese (part skim cow's milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), whey protein concentrate, onion powder, partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil, corn flour, disodium phosphate, lactose, natural and artificial flavor, dextrose, tomato powder, spices, lactic acid, artificial color (including Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 40), citric acid, sugar, garlic powder, red and green bell pepper powder, sodium caseinate, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, nonfat milk solids, whey protein isolate, corn syrup solids
Hey, it's made from whole corn and contains "heart-healthy" vegetable oil and even vegetables!  It's also gluten free.  It's hard to imagine a healthier snack.


Moldy Salami said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

I actually work for one of those companies that organizes and conducts focus groups and individual sample testing for this kind of thing. We spend a great deal of time constructing questionnaires that ask rating questions for levels of savouriness and mouth-feel, among others, while consuming these 'cafeteria' staples.

Great effort is expended trying to identify every hedonic attribute in order to ask and rate their level of satisfaction. Obviously, the higher the overall rating a product receives would deem it a 'success' and ready for mass, mindless consumption as some form of sensory entertainment.

Moldy Salami said...

I bet the way those kind of snacks stain the fingers orange is part of the design, another feature intended to make yourself absent mindedly lick your fingers and imprint in your brain "that was really good!"

Carl M. said...

I prefer Taco Bell's Green Menu items. No ingredients taken from nature.,14348/

David L said...

I have three separate comments, here's the first:

You previous posts seemed to focus on food items with a large amount of calories. Todays seems to be based more on overall palatability and the like.

This would be my standard for food reward: what food item gives the most food reward per each 100 grams. Here are my candidates:

1) "To Die For" cheese spread with los. I don't know what is special about this gourmet item, I just know that when I open the 8 oz container, I have a hard time leaving it unfinished

2) Barbecued ribs. The sweet sauce and the delectable fat are irresistible

3) Fried Clams. Heavenly!

David L said...

Number 2:

Heard about this one?

Your thoughts? Do you think that they will ba able to get this claim past the FDA?

David L said...

Numer 3:

I have been lately eating sushi, without condiments. Do you think that this is a low reward food item?

This is my argument:

Sushi contains relatively bland ingredients such as rice, seaweed and raw fish. Additional, raw fish/meat is harder to digest than cooked fish/meat, I understand. QED, sushi is a low reward food.

GK said...

@David_L: sushi rice is high in sugar. Most recipes call for 1 tbsp sugar per cup. The white rice and sugar combo will spike your glucose levels nicely.

Sanjeev said...

bland ingredients don't necessarily tell the whole story - preparation methods and spices could raise reward system stimulation.

you can answer your own question using some of the guidelines that have been mentioned before

1. do you crave it

2. if you ate to fullness on something completely tasteless - suppose you had a kilo of spinach - could you then eat a bunch of this[0] specific[0] sushi? If you could eat a little bit that's fine because variety itself stimulates the reward system but if you could eat a ton of it, like ice cream or oreos, then this sushi could be trouble.

3. does a reasonable amount satisfy your hunger?

> @David_L: sushi rice is high in sugar. Most recipes call for 1 tbsp sugar per cup. The white rice and sugar combo will spike your glucose levels nicely.

That answers a different question from the asked.

[0] emphasis on this because some restaurants could prepare it as a better reward system stimulator than others

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your comment!

Gabriella Kadar said...

Stephen, your junkfood of the week does contain wheat flour (gluten).

Gabriella Kadar said...

Sorry. StephAn. I hate it when someone misspells my name so I'm sure it doesn't do anything for you either.

Ivan Nikolov said...

It obviously isn't gluten free - it says "wheat flour" in the ingredient list. Does it say "Gluten free" any where on the package? If it does, this is a big, big problem for some folks... AND for Taco Bell.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Nacho Cheese Doritos are gluten free. The ingredients list I posted was out of date. I corrected it.

Unknown said...

I was hoping you might have chosen the twinkie to honor it's impending end. I guess it just doesn't hold its own compared to the reward value of a lot of the junk food of today. Looks like being made of white flour, sugar, and processed seed oil doesn't automatically make you the most fattening food in town anyone.

Still, let's all remember to pay homage to our fallen friend Hostess for helping to pave the way for today's hyperpalitable food we know and love (too much)!

Lucas Wiman said...

I tried one of these out of curiosity a few months ago. I was surprised by how not good it is. Much of Taco Bell's food is at least excellent junk food, but there was almost nothing memorable about the flavor or texture of the Dorito Loco other than its extreme saltiness.

That said, I did eat it very quickly, almost absentmindedly, despite not finding it very good.

Flowerdew Onehundred said...

I haven't tried that for any number of reasons, but the primary one is that taco Bella's meat contains gluten, as does their fire sauce, believe it or not.

Nacho cheese Doritos do contain gluten, so I'm surprised the shell does not.

Mat said...

What about the possibility that some of these "crave-inducing" qualities that are attributed to food engineering could come from psychological and not food intrinsic factors instead?

I had an experience with this popular sugar laden and dark colored soda which i did not consume in several years and recently was offered a glass of. Interestingly, the taste appalled me and i didnt finish it after the first sip.

Isnt that congruent with how operant conditioning works? A lack of positive reinforcement erodes the associated emotional response.

Sanjeev said...

> Isnt that congruent with how operant conditioning works?
changing Emotional state doesn't change expression of a well conditioned response - that's part of the problem; nail-biters, smnokers, drinkers, over-eaters or never-stop-eaters do the behaviour every day reliably regardless of whether they're happy or sad.

> What about the possibility that some of these "crave-inducing" qualities that are attributed to food engineering could come from psychological and not food intrinsic factors instead?
What about it? Are you proposing the possibility nullifies reward theory?

Design the experiments,
1. design the opiod experiments
2. check the idea on rats and mice,

3. design the neurotransmitter blockade experiments
4. do them on rats and mice

5. design the brain region electrode implantation experiments
6. do them on rats and mice

7. design the animal training reinforcement experiments
8. do them on rats and mice

9. design the fMRI experiments
10 do them on rats and mice

steps 11 through 1000 do steps 1 through 10 on several species, working your way up to humans - dogs, cats, lemurs, monkeys, chimps, then humans.

Sanjeev said...

and at the end you might know (or you may not - do it & find out)

polyhex said...

I suspect that there is something very wrong with Taco Bell food, beyond the usual issues with fast food. I have always had a cast iron stomach, and it's the only food that has ever given me heartburn, when I used to eat it as a teenager. Consistently I would be in serious pain 45 minutes after eating -- never had this reaction before or since, in my 30s.

Unknown said...

Great article! I am sure this is going to help a lot of people.
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