Riffing on his new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Industry Hooked Us, ace New York Times investigative reporter Michael Moss is suddenly everywhere-he's out with a blockbuster article in the Times Magazine and just appeared on Fresh Air.
I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, but I've skimmed it, and it looks excellent. Here are nine quick takeaways:
1. The Cheeto is a modern miracle. Made of corn, fat, and something called "cheese seasoning" (which itself is made of 11 ingredients, including canola oil and artificial color "yellow 6"), this ever-popular snack, which now comes in no fewer than 17 different flavors, may be the food industry's creation par excellence. Here's Moss:
"This," Witherly [a food scientist] said, "is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure." He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff's uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. "It's called vanishing caloric density," Witherly said. "If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there's no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever."
2. Subverting "sensory-specific satiety" is the key to junk-food success. Moss identifies this key food industry concept as "the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more." The key is to create recipes that get around it. Moss explains:
Sensory-specific satiety also became a guiding principle for the processed-food industry. The biggest hits-be they Coca-Cola or Doritos -owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don't have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.