Organic Food Perceived as Healthier and Tastier Than Non-Organic Food

Certified organic cookies and chips are tastier and have fewer calories than their regular counterparts. At least, that’s what participants in a recent study thought.
Cornell University grad student Jenny Wan-chen Lee asked 144 people at a mall to compare “organic” and “regular” chocolate sandwich cookies, plain yogurt, and potato chips (PDF). Participants rated each on 10 different attributes, such as overall taste, on a nine-point scale. They also estimated the number of calories in each product and said how much they’d pay for it. What they didn’t know is that all of the items were actually the organic variety.
Most folks preferred the taste of the organically labeled foods, and also thought that they were lower in calories and fat and higher in fiber. They also said they’d pay more for the organic products.
Lee conducted the study to see if there is a “halo effect” for food—the perception that because a product is made from organically grown ingredients, other characteristics associated with it, such as taste and nutrition, are also positive. There is some evidence for the halo effect and food. The “McSubway” project, for example, found that people who eat at fast-food restaurants known for having healthier food (such as Subway) tend to consume more calories than those who go to traditional joints, like McDonalds.
Lee presented these preliminary results, which have not been peer-reviewed, at the Experimental Biology 2011 meeting on April 10.
The findings are intriguing, and a good reminder that while organically grown food is undoubtedly good for the environment, cookies—organic or not—are best consumed in moderation.
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