The waiting game

Whether you’re flavour obsessed or not, we use up a lot of brain power thinking about food and drink. The unconscious choices we make about what we eat, how we eat it, and when (micro decisions), are scattered throughout the day. And we’re influenced all the time by media showing us perfect pictures of delicious looking dishes. We’re wired to anticipate where our next meal is coming from.

The thing about anticipation is it’s connected to expectation. On a basic level, when we anticipate eating, we expect to be satisfied. Whether that’s literally (we no longer feel hungry) or metaphorically (we’re seeking some higher sense of satisfaction such as comfort or joy). Before we consume anything, we’ve already decided whether it'll have a pleasurable or useful impact on us. Let’s take cake as an example. You know it isn’t going to provide much nutritional benefit (useful) but eating it will make you feel good (pleasurable) and satisfy you in the short-term. It’s why we should never shop hungry. Our brains will hunt down those short-term, high-energy gains instead of making more considered choices.

Anticipation teases the inner child in all of us. If you watched The Secret Lives of 5-Year-Olds, you’ll recognise this clip, where the kids are tested to resist eating a chocolate cake. The girls keep their anticipation and expectations low by staying clear of the cake. The boys build their anticipation to unbearable levels by staring, smelling, and licking the cake until they inevitably eat a bit. Giving in to the wait can be the height of pleasure – it’s why the first bite – or sip – tastes the best.

Saying that, the opposite can be true too. Food and drink can be worth the wait and can make food taste better. In this delish article, Megan Gilmore, a certified nutrition consultant explains why hunger can manipulate our experience of flavour, saying ‘missing a meal can make your taste buds almost more receptive, as you’re more sensitive to sweet and salty tastes.’ She goes on to explain this heightened anticipation means you’re more likely to taste and enjoy every bite, which then releases dopamine (one of the brain’s chemicals that helps us feel pleasure and satisfaction). We’d never advocate waiting a very long time between meals but tuning in to what you eat, and drink does seem to have long-term benefits.

For flavour fanatics like us, nothing builds anticipation like the seasons. There’s a new ingredient to get excited about every month. We like Natoora to keep us up to date with what’s good to eat right now. We’ll be trying this asparagus dish while foraging the last of the elderflowers to use in drinks and sprinkle on sugared strawberries. Lovely Clementine, with the help of Poppy (thanks both!), from Natoora explained to us why seasonal eating isn’t only about waiting for new things to come in but making the most of ingredients that are on their way out too.

‘In a frantic world, eating seasonally is a natural way to slow down and live in the now. By taking each day as it comes, you're forced to be creative with what's in front of you - find ways to combine produce that's on its way out with the first harvests of something new.’

Clementine recommends trying this Vignole recipe to celebrate the last of the spring greens.

Maybe it’ll help you decide what’s for tea?