Taste psychologist and researcher Greg Tucker reveals the findings of a new study “Engineering Taste – Is this the future of our children’s food?” commissioned by Organix.

Engineered food

Many children have become so used to ‘engineered food’ – containing unnecessary additives, artificial flavours and colours – that it is distorting their ability to recognise, experience and enjoy the taste of ‘real’ foods.

The study also reveals a worrying lack of knowledge about ‘real’ food. It found children that believed ‘chickens do not have bones or skin’, that ‘apples don’t have cores’ and the only type of tomato is a cherry one.

We found children’s preference for so called engineered food with its unnatural tastes and flavours is shifting their palates – children are learning to look for fast taste gratification and easy eats, and losing the ability and desire to invest the time and effort to enjoy and experience ‘real’ food.engineered food

We also found the lines are blurring between ‘real’ and artificial. We’re seeing a new take on artificial, creating a new space, ‘the zone of artifice’. It comprises foods labelled as being ‘natural’, with no artificial flavours, yet which have additions that have no natural role in the food, but are there to enhance the eating experience – the flavour, texture, colour and appeal of the food – and it’s at odds with the front of pack claims. For example, carrot juice in a strawberry yoghurt is clearly not right. This zone of artifice is a deliberate mislead by the food industry, and it’s changing how children eat.

Is a chicken nugget ‘real’ chicken? It’s breast meat with no artificial colourings or flavourings, yet it’s been engineered into a quick, bitesize, convenient format, which bears little resemblance to the experience of eating ‘real’ chicken. It may be quite shocking for parents to see the statement “Made with 100% chicken breast guaranteed”, when in fact the ingredients show there is only 51% chicken breast – and a total of 14 different ingredients.

Recipe: Organix No Junk Lemony Chicken Bites

Whilst the meat component of the nuggets may well be 100% chicken, these figures indicate that a huge 49% of the nugget is not meat but breadcrumbs – with flour, water, salt, oil, maize and natural flavourings all on the ingredients list. These engineered foods are leading to a change in the way children taste, experience, understand and appreciate foods.

An Organix survey of more than 1,000 mums, backs up the study with the majority of mums saying their children are growing up with a taste for engineered food vs. ‘real’ food.

  • Two thirds of children prefer chicken nuggets (66%) to chicken breast (34%)
  • Eight out of 10 children prefer tomato ketchup (82%) to fresh tomatoes (19%)
  • Eight out of 10 children prefer fish fingers (81%) to fillet of fish (19%)
  • Nearly half (49%) say that a little ketchup or mayonnaise helps the vegetables go down

Dr Frankie Phillips, Nutrition Advisor to Organix, says:

Making food into child-sized, easy-to eat chunks can take away the chance of seeing how the food really arrives from the ground or the farm. It can be a fun learning experience to get children to see food being prepared from scratch – such as watching someone taking chicken off the bone and helping to make home-made chicken nuggets, or creating home-made fish cakes made from whole fish.

By cutting the peel and core out of an apple we are taking away some of the exposure to the taste journey, making life easy for now but missing out on a vital opportunity to explore a range of textures. It’s fine to have a chopped up apple sometimes but make sure that little ones have the chance to explore the food in its original format.

Are food packaging claims misleading parents?

Our study reveals that misleading claims about ‘real’ and ‘natural’ mean parents are unable to make informed purchase decisions. Time-poor mums want meals to be convenient and ‘natural’ – the two objectives tend to be at odds with each other. The more convenient the food, the less ‘real’ it is likely to be.

The research suggests mums are keen to make good food choices so they seek out ‘real’ and ‘natural’ claims on the front of pack during their supermarket shop.   As they learnt more about the product and its ingredients (often very long lists of ingredients), many mums were surprised to discover it was not as ‘natural’ as it appeared, or as the manufacturers had claimed.

engineered food


Know your labels – Organix Top Tips to help you become more label savvy

  1. Know what’s in the food you feed your family.
  2. Don’t be lured by front-of-pack flashes such as “real” or “natural” which can actually mean very little when there is a long list of complicated ingredients in the small-print on the back.
  3. If you have the time, try to take a closer look at back of pack ingredients and the nutritional information.
  4. Go for fewer ingredients – if there are too many ingredients, or ones you don’t recognise, then the more additives there are likely to be.
  5. Look for ingredients that you recognise, that would appear in a recipe, or that you might find at home.
  6. Avoid colourings, artificial sweeteners, starches or thickeners, preservatives, flavour enhancers and flavourings.

What do you think?

Why not have a rummage through your cupboards and take a peek at the ingredients in some of your foods – does anything surprise you? Do you feel conned by products that claim to be ‘natural’ and ‘real’? Join the discussion: #OrganixTaste

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