How expectations shape what we taste



A blind taste test by researchers at the University of Copenhagen shows that Danes prefer the taste of conventionally and organically farmed smoked salmon to wild salmon. However, the image is turned upside down the second we find out where a fish came from.

Many packages of sliced ​​and vacuum-packed smoked salmon are found in Danish shopping carts every year. The vast majority of this smoked salmon comes from Norwegian aquaculture farms. In recent times, however, conventionally farmed salmon from Norway has gained a dubious reputation and notoriety for containing pharmaceutical and chemical residues, as well as polluting the marine environment and spreading disease to wild populations. However, according to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, salmon on the Danish market does not have a problem with unwanted chemicals, and it is very rare for authorities to find pharmaceutical residues.

But it seems that our knowledge of production conditions plays a major role in our perception of taste. A study by researchers at the University of Copenhagen takes stock.

In the study, 92 Danes were asked to taste samples of conventional, organic and wild smoked salmon. The first round was a blind test in which test subjects were not told what type of salmon they were tasting. In the second round, the subjects were informed. After each round, test subjects rated their liking for the samples.

3 kinds of smoked salmon

Conventionally Farmed Salmon: Most conventional aquaculture takes place on farms where the fish live in net pens. There is an environmental impact in terms of the release of chemical and pharmaceutical residues, just as farmed salmon itself can in very rare cases contain residues of drugs used to control salmon lice.

Organically farmed salmon: fish live in net pens, but with more space. The use of drugs is minimal and no genetically modified foods are used.

Wild salmon: Many Atlantic salmon stocks are overexploited or fully exploited, while several North Pacific stocks are robust. Wild salmon have a higher content of environmental poisons than farmed salmon (but not to an alarming level). On the other hand, wild salmon generally has a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids.

Expectations rub off on taste

In the blind test, conventional and organic salmon largely won over wild salmon, which scored significantly lower than either of the two farmed products. Beyond that, conventional salmon tended to be more popular than organic salmon. However, once the test subjects were made aware of the production method, things quickly changed. Among informed respondents, conventional salmon ranked last, wild salmon ranked second and organic first.

“The test shows that people’s expectations of a product are based on the information they receive, and that this affects their overall taste experience. With smoked salmon, there seems to be a perception that wild salmon should. taste better than salmon which is traditionally However, the blind test found that people simply preferred the taste of farmed salmon, ”says the study’s first author and doctoral student, Mausam Budhathoki, who conducted studying in conjunction with his doctoral thesis in the Department of Food Sciences.

According to the researchers, there are several possible explanations for people’s preference for farmed fish.

“One possibility is that people are best acquainted with both the taste and color of farmed salmon, because it is clearly the most widely available type of salmon on the market. Another reason may be that wild salmon has less flavor because it is leaner than farmed salmon, as was the case here, ”suggests Mausam Budhathoki.

Not like shooting fish in a barrel

The study, which also included focus group interviews, found that Danes don’t know much about farmed salmon.

“It seems that many Danes are quite confused about the differences between different salmon products. This is for good reason, as the salmon production chain is long and relatively opaque. There are many factors that can influence the production chain for salmon. perception of a product Are there pharmaceutical residues in it? Does it come from an overexploited stock? Has it lived a natural life? And what is well-being fish exactly? says Helene Christine Reinbach, senior author and associate professor in the Department of Food Sciences.

She continues: “In the test, the wild salmon clearly wins points when it comes to information on its provenance. It provides positive associations for being more natural, and therefore, better in terms of animal welfare and health. Farmed salmon is eligible for organic certification in Denmark, where there are strict sustainability, health and animal welfare requirements in production.On the other hand, most of the wild salmon stocks in our part of the world are in poor condition and have higher concentrations of toxins than farmed salmon.

Organic salmon wins – but we tend not to buy it

Despite their higher price, many organic foods have significantly increased their market share in Denmark in recent years. Nevertheless, sales of organic fish – including salmon – remain sluggish. As organic salmon performed well in both rounds of the taste test, the researchers believe there is clear potential for organic smoked salmon producers and other stakeholders.

“There is a clear opportunity for promotion, providing consumers with more information on the positive aspects that differentiate organic salmon from conventional salmon and wild salmon. For example, more information could be included on the packaging to help guide consumers, regarding the sustainability and health benefits of organic smoked salmon. At the same time, the sector must work to increase the availability of organic choices in local shops, because it can still be difficult to obtain them, ”concludes Hélène Christine Reinbach.

Budhathoki M, Zølner A, Nielsen T, Reinbach HC. The role of information on production methods on sensory perception of smoked salmon – A mixed-method study in Denmark. Food Qual Pref. 2021; 94: 104325. do I:10.1016 / j.foodqual.2021.104325

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