Three stories this week point to the fact that when it comes to food, the unconscious is king.

A new study shows that when ordering in restaurants we tend to choose menu items similar to those chosen by others at the table:

Have you ever been at a restaurant table where everyone ordered a salad? A new finding may explain why this happens: When we order in groups, we like to be similar to our friends, even if it means ordering something we would not typically pick on our own…. Diners at the same table tended to pick main dishes that were not exactly the same, but were from the same category — for example, if one diner ordered a mushroom burger, another might have ordered a bleu cheese burger….

In general, people didn’t really like salads or vegetarian dishes, compared with the other food choices. But in the study, that changed if more than one person at a table ordered a salad: the more salads that were ordered, the more people liked them.

The same was true for high-calorie and expensive dishes — these dishes were not typically liked unless more than one person at a table ordered them.


Scientists have also discovered why some people despise cilantro:

Cilantro tastes like soap to approximately 10% of the people who have had their genotype analyzed by 23andMe. The currently accepted explanation is that those of us who passionately despise cilantro were born with a genetic variant known as a single-nucleotide polymorphism (or SNP, pronounced ‘snip’).

And finally, the smell of chocolate turns us into mindless drones:

According to a new study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, people engage more with the merchandise and staff when a bookstore smells like chocolate.

Researchers in Belgium conducted a 10-day experiment at a general-interest chain bookstore, comparing customer behavior when the smell of chocolate was present to when it was not….

Overall, the researchers found that patrons were twice as likely to look at multiple books closely and read what they were about when the scent was in the air. They were nearly three times as likely to interact with personnel and ask questions after browsing the whole store.

But the chocolate scent had to jibe with subject matter for customers to be more drawn to the books. Researchers found the chocolate smell was “congruent” with books in the food, drink and romance genres, but “incongruent” with history, mystery and crime books.

All of which indicates why changing food preferences is hard—we are not really in control.