The decline of chewing

by on May 13, 2009 at 7:54 am in Food and Drink | Permalink

According to Gail Civille, in the past Americans typically chewed a mouthful of food as many as twenty-five times before it was ready to be swallowed; now the average American chews only ten times.

That is from David Kessler's The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.  This is a good book even if you've already read seven prior books on exactly the same topic.  It's the best applied study in behavioral economics to date.  I do object, however, to how the author aggregates fat, salt, and sugar, as if they were equally bad for you.

Via John Nye, here is a good article on how French baguettes are succumbing to the global trend for softer foods:

Bakers say that they are merely responding to market forces,
determined by the growing proportion of customers who demand a baguette
pas trop cuite (not too cooked). They argue that they cannot
impose a crunchy surface on a society that has grown accustomed to the
notion that food should melt in the mouth .

Mr Kaplan is appalled. “The question is: do the French care any
more, do they care about taste? When you eat their tomatoes, their
carrots and their merlotised wine, you start to wonder. Are they not
collaborating in their own cultural demise?”

…According to Kaplan, bakers are cutting cooking time – usually
between 18 and 22 minutes at 250C to 260C – by 60 seconds or more in
search of a less crusty crust.

The upshot is the loss of the Maillard reaction, a chemical process
occurring at high temperatures and leading to browning and crispiness,
that Kaplan says is vital to the production of a good loaf.

Here is Alex's earlier post on the declining quality of French bread.

Andy May 13, 2009 at 8:31 am

That saddens me… French baguettes are perfect as is.

None of salt, fat, or sugar is automatically “bad”…

jayson May 13, 2009 at 8:51 am

I don’t see the point of chewing a french fry twenty-five times.

josh May 13, 2009 at 9:00 am

“merlotised wine”:

like Chateau Petrus?

whosonfirst May 13, 2009 at 9:37 am

This information was gleaned from the Bureau of Dubious Statistics?

londenio May 13, 2009 at 9:52 am

I live in Bourron-Marlotte, a 3000 inhabitants village in the Fontainebleau forest. Few towns are as French as this one. The butcher, for instance, opens three days a week.

Like every village in the area, we have several bakeries and I shop there often. Baguettes may be losing their crunch because of substitution to other crunchier breads. So, it is not because of a shift in preferences, but because of proliferation of products that better cater to those who prefer a crusty bread. In my favorite boulangerie-patisserie, you can find at least 7 types of baguettes. Of course, only one of those types is actually a “baguette”. The other breads would appear to be baguettes for the untrained buyer, but they are actually “tradition” or “campaillete” or “gatinaise” and are made from different wheats and different recipes and cooking methods. Some of these are quite crunchy. You can even buy “pain”, which looks like a baguette (it would definitely be called baguette in Germany and the UK, trust me) but it is bigger and, admittedly, less crusty.

anonymous May 13, 2009 at 10:55 am

Probably the texture of food has changed. Maybe people used to eat cheaper cuts of meat, or more unprocessed foods like raw carrots. Probably they had less to eat, and chewing more slowly was a way to savor the food longer.

But perhaps more importantly, there used to be a pseudoscientific belief in the importance of chewing thirty-two times. For instance, HoraceFletcher: “Nature will castigate those who don’t masticate.”

gc May 13, 2009 at 11:08 am

-Chewing 25 times? That sounds pretty disgusting to me, haha (I’m not overweight).

-I’ve definitely experienced the softer french bread thing in supermarkets.

liberalarts May 13, 2009 at 11:12 am

Sounds like a marketing opportunity. Recall that when Coke tried to switch to a more consumer-friendly recipe –New Coke– they brought the old back as CocaCola Classic. So, now they can sell a Baguette Classic!

Sean P. May 13, 2009 at 12:21 pm

I know I’m reducing things more than I probably should, but it really seems like the thesis of the book is just “the food industry is evil because they make food that tastes too good”. I hope the proposed solution isn’t some sort of maximum taste to nutritional value ratio.

8 May 13, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Softer French bread…isn’t that Italian bread?

otto May 13, 2009 at 5:36 pm

“Are they not collaborating in their own cultural demise?†

Got to get the c-word into an article about the French.

fish on a bicycle May 13, 2009 at 10:41 pm

We’re chewing less because we’re eating more Cheerios….

http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/2009/05/cheerios-food-or-drug.html

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