Everyone has some foods they just can’t stand—broccoli, eggplant, cilantro. (For me, it’s shredded coconut and its horrible toenail texture.) But there are two foods that pretty much everybody likes: french fries and bacon.
Author (and former CHOW contributor) Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic backs that up in her upcoming book, Suffering Succotash, due out in July. Lucianovic writes that her discussions with researchers about the foods people can’t stand revealed two almost universally loved ones.
“French fries … are a friend to everyone,” she writes. And “even the [picky eaters] who shudder away from all other meat—be it cow, lamb, or chicken—like bacon.”
Could she be right? Bacon, of course, is off limits for vegetarians and those whose diets proscribe the eating of pork. But bacon is a well-known “gateway meat” for vegetarians, famously sneaked by “cheating” vegetarians, or the “ba-curious.”
On NPR recently, Monell Chemical Senses Center‘s Johan Lundström theorized that bacon’s high level of fat “speaks to our evolutionary quest for calories.” Meaning the cavepeople in us just want high-calorie food, and they want it now. So why don’t other high-fat, high-calorie foods (foie gras or avocados, say) have the same universal appeal? Maybe it’s bacon’s smell. Lundström again: “Since 90 percent of what we taste is really odor, bacon’s aggressive smell delivers a powerful hit to our sense of how good it will taste.”
Does that apply to fries, too? In 2009, English researchers working under the auspices of the Potato Council for National Chip Week analyzed the odor of fries and found that the scent was curiously complex. Like chocolate, the scent of which notoriously contains compounds that smell like sweat and cabbage, the french fry smell is actually a complex combination of scents like butterscotch, onion, cocoa, flowers, cheese, and—the list’s head-scratcher—ironing boards.
Then again, perhaps fries are so popular because potatoes are so bland. “Potatoes are calming, soothing,” Lucianovic writes, “and … don’t challenge the eater with flavor too large.” But if gentle flavor alone determined popularity, wouldn’t tofu be more popular than it is?