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Flavor Principles: Theory of Preferences and Rejection

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Published: Wed, 03 Jan 2018

Food, as defined by the dictionary is a substance that provides nutrients for maintenance and growth when consumed. The term itself is general and could be seen from different point of views, thus, creating other function words such as feeding and eating. The word “feed” is usually utilized when animals is involved, while the word “eat” is utilized when humans are involved. Feeding and eating is distinguished by its functions; feeding itself merely involves the gathering of food, while on the other hand, eating does not only involve gathering of food, but also cultivating and raising livestock. Due to this reason, some foods are only available to certain groups, allowing the development of customs that decides between the edible and inedible as well as the manners involved during consumption. (Kittler and Sucher, 2004)

Food on its own does not only function as source of nutrients. Food could define an identity of a person, functions as symbols in religions, as well as defines a culture. As an example; in Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, a person who consumes pork would be Chinese. If the person is not categorized as Chinese, the person might be Buddhist, Catholic, or other religion that do not limit these people to consume. It is undeniable that there is relationship between the food that people eat, perceived value of others as well as the way in which people characterize themselves. (Kittler and Sucher, 2004)

Stein and Nemeroff (1995) support this with their research which involves college students which were to rate profiles of people based on their diets. Diets were termed as good foods and bad foods. Good foods are the foods that are categorized as healthy and contain less fat such as fruit, salad and whole wheat bread. While on the other hand, bad foods are the foods that are categorized as unhealthy such as steak, hamburgers and french fries. The result showed students who eat good foods are judged generally to be fit, active and is perceived as more attractive, quiet and more analytical than those who consume bad foods.

The way of processing food within certain group that includes every step of the process; starting from selection, distribution, preparation and consumption creates similar pattern which are unique towards their eating behavior. These patterns are known as food habit. (Kittler and Sucher, 2004)

Basically, there are different factors that affect individual food habits and these factors are interrelated. Conner (1993) created a basic model that determines individual food intake.

Adapted from “Understanding Determinants of Food Choice: Contributions from Attitude Research by Mark Conner, 1993

The food characteristic in the diagram consists of the physical and chemical properties as well as nutrient content of the food. It plays as one of the basic roles to food choice due to the fact that it is often related to physical wellbeing; whether there will be allergic, discomfort or long term outcome that might affect growth, weight or even diseases caused. (Falk et al, 2001)

Economic factors consist of price and availability. Price determines the economic situation of a country, which estimates behavior of the consumers. While on the other hand, availability simply determines the food consumed by each individual (Rozin, 2007). There is clearly a relationship between food consumption and economic condition (Ozimek and Biemans, 2011). In their studies is mentioned the structure of food consumption on Poland, which is determined by its economic development. They showed that in the early 1990s, consumers reduced their expenses on dairy products due to increase in price (Kramer, 1993). As there is constant increase each consecutive years, the share on food expenses fell; dropped from 41.3 percent in 1989 (Bywalec, 2000) to 20.3 percent in 2008, especially among the basic foodstuffs such as milk, eggs, rice and grains when compared to 2007 (Central Statistics Office, 2008). Nevertheless, although generally the share dropped, there is different consumption level of substitute among the socio-economic groups. As an example, in 2008, there is an increase in consumption of fruit juice and vegetable juice among those with highest income. While there is an increase in bread, flour and milk among those with lowest income.

On the other hand, social factors consist of culture, religion practices, media and social pressures through parents and friends. Food habit is mainly determined by culture. In fact, human is the product of interactions between biology and culture (Poulain, 2009). Thus, in Poulain’ context, culture is involved both biologically and socially. Biologically, culture is already written in the genetics. Rozin (1991) studied the correlation in food preferences between parents and child, and found the correlation to be very low. While socially, human grow up in the environment that is determined by that certain culture. This is supported by the statement made by Mead (1943) who perceives food habits as systematically interconnected food behavior of individuals that has been raised within that certain cultural tradition. Other components such as religion practices (e.g. Pork are banned among the Muslim), media (e.g. children exposed to fictional characters such as Popeye) and social pressures (e.g. social status) are attached to the environment where each individual is raised.

While economic and social factors do not seem to be interrelated, Poulain (2009) studies the relationship between the two. In his study, Poulain mentioned that each individual has the ability to control resources through their demand, due to the value created in the social life that each individual is raised in. This creates ecological constraints by changing the environment, as an example; through irrigation, sanitation and pollution. The ecological constraints created affect the availability on resources. This, thus, affects the country economically.

Food characteristic and economic/social factor are the factors that shape individual perceptions in terms of sensory, physiologically and psychologically. In a way, these factors automatically program a certain individual to behave according to the environment that they have been raised at.

Sensory is the perception of appearance, smell, taste and texture. Kittler and Sucher (2004) mentioned that every individual has the ability to predict the sensory characteristic of a certain food and decide whether these characteristics would be acceptable. This ability is usually obtained based on foods that are culturally acceptable. As an example; in West Africa, there is preference towards bright orange color obtained from sweet potatoes as their staple food. Thus, the first time they are exposed to colors that are contradictory, there is tendency to reject the food.


In additional to that, age also plays important role in adjustment of taste. This is due to the fact that preference of taste differs as individual matures. Human has the ability to detect flavors, texture Drenowski & Gomez (2000), Stubbs et al (2000), Anderson (1995) and Burch (1992) in Kittler’s book, mentioned that during infancy and childhood, individual has better preference towards sugars and fats. The preference will peak in early teenage years, and will then subside in the later years. This explains the reason for coffee preference for individual in later years.

While sensory forms attitude towards food, physiological factor is one of the individual characteristic is the process that happens in the body itself (Rozin, 2007). These processes act as stimulant to motivate each individual to consume the food. The processes happens in two forms; metabolic and neural. Metabolic process takes place in the body by processing the nutrients composed in the food. In this case, nutritional information is stored in individual’s nervous system. On the other hand, neural process takes place in the brain. The information stored during metabolic process is integrated together with factors that lead to food consumption such as ambience, environment and others.


On the other hand, psychological factor is all the aspects that relates to individual’s behavior psychologically in regards to food. It includes two components; individual’s attitudes and perceived social pressures. Attitude is internal and estimates the benefits, personality, mood, preferences and other factors that affect it. Usually, it is affected by beliefs regarding the outcome after performing that certain behavior, whether good or bad. (Shepherd, 2007) As an example; any contact with pork is believed to be sinful for Muslims. Thus, no Muslim consumes pork. While on the other hand, perceived social pressure is external. It includes others’ perception of performing that behavior such as parental influences, peer influences and the media as well. (Rozin, 2007)


It is undeniable that food characteristic, economic and social factors plays major role in shaping early individual eating behavior. Nevertheless, this does not imply that eating behavior will stay the same. In fact, eating behavior changes over time due to events and experiences.

When an individual that belongs to a certain ethnicity is moved to a place with different cultural norms, they undergo an acculturation process. Acculturation is the transformation process that an individual experience when transferred to a place with different cultural norms. The transformation may occur at two different level; micro and macro. Within micro level, the transformation reflects in individual’s attitudes, beliefs and behavior. While on the macro level, the transformation may reflect physically, economically, socially or politically (Satia-About a et al 2002 in Kittler and Sucher).

Acculturation at micro and macro level may develop steadily based on length of stay. Nevertheless, acculturation of food habits works in a different way. Food habits do not develop steadily; it does not change early food habits to general food habits of the majority of the population (Kittler and Sucher, 2004). Natives may or may not experience acculturation in food habits; whether it is in term of frequency of daily meal intake, local dishes consumed or food preferences. Kim and Chan (2004) studied the acculturation of dietary pattern of Korean Americans. In their studies, they found that 87% of middle aged Korean still prefer to consume Korean food rather than American food after migrating to the USA, but 51% presume changes in their dietary habits. In fact, changes in diets and type of meals consumed are found in individuals who were born or stayed longer in the USA instead.

The theory of acculturation could be further explained with another conceptual model of food choice. The components involved in the model may be similar to the basic model. Nevertheless, it could be utilized to understand the theory of acculturation.


Psychology of Food Choice by Richard Shepherd

Based on the model on the previous page, the main component of food choice starts with life course. Life course involves individuals’ experiences events and turning points in life. When individuals encountered different environments (socially or culturally), situations and experiences with food, they build their own life course that entails both past and current eating experiences. This enables them to have standard expectations of food in the future, which automatically develops their perception of certain food over time (Sobal et al in Sheperd’s, 2004).

Within an individual’ life course there are always three components involved; thoughts (trajectories), turning points (transitions) and time (timing). Thoughts play as the base, as it defines the decision made when it comes to food. However, it changes over time due to turning points and time.


This is basically individual’s perception of food choice within their life course. It involves individuals’ attitudes; thoughts, feelings and actions throughout their lifespan (Devin et al, 1998 in Sobal’s). It is created in the early childhood based on types of food exposed, and thus, develops reference for individuals when making decisions regarding food in the future. In short, it is interchangeable. Nevertheless, due to early exposures of food, the decisions made often involve the same food selections regardless of the situations encountered (e.g. ageing and changes in health) (Paquette and Devine, 2000 in Sobal’s)


T his is the modification in individuals’ life that changes their trajectories (Devine et al, 1998 in Sobal’s). It could be minor events that lead to small detour in life or even radical events that acts as turning points that changes life the opposite way. Nevertheless, these events have the ability to redesign new food trajectories. Examples of these events are changes in employment, illness and migration to a place with different culture (Devine, 2005 in Sobal’s)


This represents the timing that these transitions happen within the life course of an individual. Timing places an important role as it determines the level of influence in the change of food habits (Devine, 2000 in Sobal’s). As an example; during bird flu, people tend to eat less poultry to avoid the virus. Nevertheless, people may not adapt “no bird” diet without the flu.

Influences, on the other hand, provide factors that contribute in the change of trajectories. These factors act as support for individuals to change their perception towards food. Without these factors, individuals may not experience change in their food habits.


Context is basically the surroundings in which people make food choice. Views could be seen environmentally (climate), socially (standardized behavior), biologically (nutrients) or economically (availability). A simple example would be the availability of ingredients due to weather. Not all ingredients are available during certain season. It is undeniable that surroundings changes constantly through different views. Thus, it also affects the construction of food choices. (Avery et al, 1997 in Rozin’s)

Resources (Tangible and Intangible)

Resources determine the availability of ingredients, materials and other sources involved in the process of food choice. Tangible resources may be in a form of money, equipment, transportation and storage space. On the other hand, intangible resources are in a form of time, skills and knowledge. It could also be in a form of advice and emotional support (Senauer et al, 1991)


Ideal is the set of thoughts that defines the acceptability level of food. It plays an important role through thoughts about proper meals, manners and health. In addition to that, it also determines the way in which individual should eat. The flexibility of ideals are determined by the social factors of food. (Sobal, 1998 and Devine et al, 1999b)

Social Factors

Social factor determines food choice through relationships that each individual builds. Through relationships, individual determines the place, the time, the type of food and the way in which they should adapt to eat. (Sobal, 2000)

Personal factors

Personal factor involves internal factors that influence food choice. Based on figure 1, this involves all the factors under individual characteristics.

The last component that contributes to food choice is personal systems. Personal system is a process whereby people apply all the factors under influences into practice. Individuals, in this case construct values and classify foods and situations based on the values that was perceived before. Nevertheless, values perceived by individuals vary differently. Values perceived could be in form of taste, convenience, cost and health (Connors et al, 2001). Personal system allows individuals to involve their emotions and develop strategies pertaining to food selections in different situations. (Falk et al, 1996, Furst et al, 1996, Connors et al, 2001 in Kittler and Sucher)


Taste is basically the first impression a person considers during consumption. Perception of taste could be described as appearance, odor, flavor and texture. Nevertheless, taste has the tendency to change overtime (Sobal et al, 2004).


Convenience involves time, ability, mental or physical involvement in preparing, consuming and cleaning up after eating.

Justify more for each points


Cost represents monetary involvement that includes the level of monetary value. This determines sensitivity towards certain product. Individuals with unlimited income may still be sensitive towards price due to its monetary value.


Health involves thoughts and considerations regarding physical wellbeing. As an example; foods that may result in digestive discomfort, allergic reactions will not be considered to be consumed.

Based on the components involved in food choice, acculturation process happens within the life course, when there is alteration in trajectories. Trajectories alter when there is match between aspects under influences and personal system. Influences construct trajectories at the beginning as well as during transitions.

Early exposure during childhood that involves influences such as friends, family, culture and environment sets the base of individuals’ thoughts. It creates individuals’ identity and personal systems based on values taught by the environment that individuals develop in. This initial programming in trajectories usually shapes individuals’ eating skills, table manners, social activity relating to the food and also determining the social group that individuals are categorized in (Poulain, 2009).

Kim and Chan (2004), in their research, thus, proves that Koreans who are born and lived longer in Korea tend to have higher level of food acculturation, which is related positively with language, media, friendship, food. They speak more English, follow American diet and associates with American-style friends. Relating to the theory of acculturation, these individuals have been exposed to this type of environment. Thus, the values taught differ as well to their native values.

During transitions, individuals are exposed to different forms of influences. They tend to associate with new friends and new environments. This happens in events such as migration, change in employments, illness or even accidents. With these changes, individuals automatically adapt to the new situations. Exposure to new thoughts, perceptions and environments widen up individuals’ thoughts and values. Theoretically, values obtained through these influences are processed into the personal systems to see whether it match the aspects. With addition of timing involved, such as length of stay, acculturation will then happen and produce new trajectory.

Olsen and Wandel (2005), in their research, prove that acculturation in food happens among Pakistani immigrants women in Oslo, Norway. Resources are one of the reasons that change their food habits. Fish, meat, chicken could be obtained in everyday lives in Norway, whereas in Pakistan, these meats tend to be included as status food, and could only be obtained once a week. Thus, there is increase in meat consumption after the migration. Paratha is no longer consumed for breakfast, but bread is utilized instead. This is because it is considered to be unhealthy as it could give digestion problem due to the cold climate in Norway.

The result obtained by Olsen and Wandel (2005) could be related to the relationship between influences and personal systems. Consumption of paratha moves to bread after few years, although women experience hard time at first. This is because both paratha and bread are considered as bread. This, thus enable them to match the requirement from the influences towards the personal system they have built in their initial programming.


To fully understand food habits from different cultures, the basic models have been developed by researchers. However, these models basically categorize components involved in food habits that need to be compared between different cultures to further understand food habits (Kittler and Sucher, 2004).

Core and Complementary Foods

Adapted from Food and Culture

Kittler and Sucher (2004)

Based on the diagram that is adapted above, the most inner layer of the model represents the type of food that is most consumed in individuals’ diet, followed by the least. In this case, core food is the type of food that is most consumed. Basically, this is due to the fact that core food represents the staples. These foods could be rice, wheat and corn. These types of foods will not be omitted in an individuals’ diet and consumed on daily basis.

On the other hand, complementary foods are the food items that are consumed to enrich the palatability of core food in terms of taste, texture and smell. The types of food could be meat and vegetables, ranging from different types of cooking method. Usually, the types of core and complementary foods consumed determine the identity of the culture that an individual belongs to.

Secondly, secondary foods are the type of food that is consumed less frequently. The items involved in this could be meat, vegetables and fruits. The items that are included under this type may also be categorized under complementary food, depending on the frequency of consumption. As an example; a person’s diet includes rice and chicken daily. Fruits are consumed thrice a week. Thus, chicken is the complementary food, while fruits are the secondary foods.

Lastly, peripheral foods are the food that is preferable towards individuals, but are not included in the cultural diet. Kittler and Sucher (2004) mentioned that changes in food habits often happens with this type of food more rather than core foods.

Kocturk and Runefors (1991) design a model that explains the process of retaining and changing food habits in relation to the core and complementary model. The model involves two major components; identity and taste. Identity is created due to exposures towards the same ingredients, flavors, textures since early childhood. When individuals retain its cultural eating habit, they consider identity first and taste later on. Whereas, when individuals change their food habits, they consider taste at the beginning.

Kocturk and Runefors (1991)

Adapted from Changes in Food Habits among Pakistani Immigrant Women in Oslo, Norway

by Olsen and Wandel (2005)

The statement is supported by Verbeke and Lopez (2001) who compares the food attitudes between the Belgians and the Hispanic (Latin-American) group living in Belgium, based on aspects on attitudes and perception on the food. Among all the aspects included, taste and texture are involved as well. The foods of the Hispanics were termed as ethnic food. Result shows that the Belgians perceive taste, appearance and authenticity to be important aspects when consuming ethnic food. While the Hispanics, consider other criteria towards Belgian foods.

Kocturk also mentions that incorporation of new diet starts with the accessory food. Comparing to the previous core and complementary food model, accessory food is basically the combination of peripheral and secondary food. Fruits, dairy products, fats and nuts are considered under accessory food. This is because, these foods is often categorized as additional to a certain meal. In contrast to changes in complementary food, accessory food takes much lesser time to adapt. On the other hand, core food stays as it is for generations.

Kocturk did his research among Iran immigrant in Uppsala. Result shows that changes are seen most on accessory food. This is shown in the change of type of snack consumption from dried fruits and nuts to potato chips; dairy products from fresh cheeses and yoghurt to sweet milk and aged cheese. While on the other hand, Swedish bread as staples that has resemblance towards Iran bread stays as its core food

Flavor Principles

Flavor principles in every meal involve “pervasive and distinctive seasonings” which enable the society to characterize a certain cuisine (E.Rozin, 1981 in Pliner). Raw ingredients are exposed to different herbs, spices, marinades that suit the society culturally during preparation, creating certain characteristic of taste, texture and smell of the food (Kittler and Sucher, 2004). As an example; Japanese cuisine involves soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sugar. On the other hand, Korean cuisine involves fermented paste such as Kochu-Jang. These seasonings are used in every meal, exposing the society to the flavor principles itself, creating “trademark” of each cuisine and acceptance towards individual.

Kittler and Sucher (2004) add to the statement by mentioning that the principles of flavor within a culture, is not so much of a question of preparing the food. In fact, preparation and seasoning of food is placed second to the initial selection of the ingredients. This is because, during selection process, there are certain aspects that play major roles; weather, soil texture, source of water, drainage system, natural minerals contained in the soil itself, and other environmental factors involved. These aspects may affect the taste of the ingredients. As an example; wine products tend to have different taste when it comes from different countries and even regions within the country itself.

Thus, the issue of acceptance of flavor principles of each individual of a culture is still relating back to the factors that were mentioned in the general theory of food choice, regardless whether socially, biologically and environmentally. The early exposure towards cultural food started the environment, which determines availability; biologically, in the wombs and written in the genetic (Poulain, 2009); strengthened by social influences through parents, friends and media (Conner, 1993). In short, the general view of a society perception of flavor principles is still relating back to one, which is exposure.

Due to the exposures towards certain flavors culturally, individuals often have problems in incorporating new flavor principles to their diet. The neophobic attitude presents in every human program individuals to keep them in the “safe track”, preventing them to alter their programmed flavor principles against flavors that are familiar (Schulze and Watson, 1993 in Pliner and Salvy).

Nevertheless, just as how individuals obtain their initial flavor principles culturally, the theory of obtaining other flavor principles stays the same, based on the general theory and/or acculturation process. Strategies may be utilized to improve individuals’ preferences towards new flavors; such as repeated exposures and evaluative conditioning. These strategies affect one familiarity and preference towards the food.

Repeated exposures

Studies show that there is higher probability that individuals acquire preference towards the food when repeated exposure is involved. This is due to the fact that, exposures transform negative reaction to positive reaction (Zajonc and Markus, 1982). As an example; Mexican children are not born with preference towards chili peppers. However, Mexican mothers season its ingredients with chili peppers. With the same exposures towards the same taste, children tend to grow up by overcoming their fear towards chili pepper and grow fond of it (Rozin and Schiller, 1980 in Zajonc and Markus).

Evaluative conditioning

Evaluative conditioning involves pairing of taste and appearances with flavors that are mostly preferable (e.g. sweet taste) (Rozin and Zellner, 1985 in Kittler and Sucher). As an example; by pairing coffee (bitter taste) with cream and sugar (sweet taste) enables individuals to increase their tendency of preference towards coffee (Rozin, 1996 in Eeertmans et al).

Flavor Principles (Theory of Preferences and Rejection)

The theory of explains the process that leads to individuals’ perception of flavor which will affect individuals’ programmed principles of flavor. In this case, there are two behaviors involved; affective responses (feeling of pleasure) and cognitive behavior, which analyze the surroundings.

Cognitive behavior, identify the features, benefits of a certain object and evaluate them, which will then determine the type of response (Zajonc and Markus, 1982).. In this case, flavor is perceived through taste, smell, appearance, texture, fat content, temperature and sensations. Taste is then related to each of these components for evaluation, and produce affective responses (usually determined by the amount of sucrose and fats) (Eertmans et al, 2001).

On the other hand, disgust/rejection is obtained through the negative oral experience (Rozin in Shepherd’s, 2006). The response is termed as distaste response. Usually, individual experience distaste response due to the nature of the food, which could not fit to individuals’ flavor principles.

Determinants of a Meal

Elements that constitute a meal vary based on culture. It could be types of staples, order of dish, alternate meals, frequency of eating and serving size. These elements are grouped under meal patterns and meal cycles (Kittler and Sucher, 2004). With the variation of elements involved, meal patterns and meal cycles automatically vary as well depending on the culture.

Meal patterns involve elements that persuade individuals within a culture to consider it as proper meals. These elements could be types of core and complementary food, its method of preparation, dish order (appetizer, main course and dessert), snacking options and types, celebration and portion size (Kittler and Sucher, 2004). As an example, in Asian cultures, starch such as rice must be included in a meal to be considered as proper meal. Other form of starch such as noodle could be utilized as a substitute as well. Nevertheless, for some Asians, these substitutes could not be utilized. Rice is one of the elements that is a must within a meal.

Meal cycle, on the other hand is basically the timing that meals occur. It involves the frequency of meals and the right time as to when it is consumed. These times could be within a day (involving breakfast, lunch and dinner) or during events such as Christmas or Thanksgiving.

During acculturation process, perception of taste is not the only aspect that changes, although in one of the models of acculturation, only taste and identity are involved. In fact, meal patterns and meal cycles is affected as well. In the studies by Olsen and Wandel (2005), Pakistani immigrants alter their meal consumption from 3 times of hot meal per day to 1 hot meal after staying in Norway; substitute paratha with bread; and increase its consumption of fish. Kittler and Sucher (2004) did a similar study by comparing meal cycles and patterns of few nationalities before and after their stay in the USA. Korean meals for example; consists of three traditional meals, however, after their stay in the USA, Korean meals consists of American foods for breakfast and lunch, while their dinner remains the same.


Influence of Foreign Culture in Malaysian Cuisine

With the multiethnic races that are present in Malaysia, Malaysian cuisine is the product obtained from the influence of these races. The influence is traced back through the history, during British colonial, whereby the biggest migration was from India and China. As a result, the Malays living in Malaysia currently are the combination of proto-Malays, Indians, and Chinese. Other migration comes from Indonesia. This results in the strong influence towards their cuisine (Yoshino, 2010).

In addition to that, the country itself is located next to Thailand (West Malaysia) and Indonesia (East Malaysia). In the North of West Malaysia, it is

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