Long considered the perfect complement to a traditional breakfast of coffee, eggs and toast, bacon’s domain now extends far beyond the breakfast table. A tasty topping for a cheeseburger or an essential ingredient for spinach salad at lunch, this crispy, salty, sizzling treat can now be found in everything from popcorn to cupcakes to ice cream.
While many consider bacon’s extreme popularity to be a faddish trend in American eating habits, this magnificent meat product’s allure is more than temporary— and that’s a scientific fact.
The Science of Smell
What’s the first smell that greets you as you walk into the door of your local diner on Sunday morning? Bacon. This uniquely tantalizing odor immediately gets your taste buds salivating. If you weren’t hungry before, you are now. But why?
CompoundChem has an answer in the chemical breakdown of the aroma of bacon.
While we primarily think of bacon as salty, it also contains sugars which react with amino acids when you toss it into a frying pan. Called the Maillard reaction, this browning process— which occurs in everything from bread to steak— enhances the flavor of food. Combine the Maillard reaction with the thermal breakdown of fats during the heating of smoked bacon, and voila! The mouthwatering bacon smell occurs.
In fact, it takes approximately 150 volatile organic compounds to create bacon’s amazing aroma. Many of these, including pyridines and furans, are present in many meats while others—such as nitrogen-containing compounds called pyrazines— are specific to smoked meats. The culinary combination of these compounds adds up to bacon’s signature scent.
The Nose Knows
The familiar expression may insist that we “eat with our eyes,” but the fact is that another sense is in scintillating play when it comes to the foods we eat. Housed in the same area of the brain that controls creativity, emotions and memory, the olfactory factor has a huge impact in human perception.
In some cases, our reaction to smells— whether related to food, danger or romance— is a factor of survival. In other cases, such as perfumes and flowers, it’s purely sensual.
Some research indicates that a whopping 80 percent of the diverse flavors we experience when we eat are a result of our sense of smell. Our ability to taste would be severely limited without it. Take olfactory awareness out of the equation, and foods would taste the same within five distinct categories: salty, savory, sweet, sour and bitter.
Our ability to enjoy food that encompasses a comprehensive spectrum of flavors— and the American eating habits that have emerged— is directly supported by our sense of smell.
A Delicious Cycle
The power of bacon as an olfactory trigger is strong, and Americans are literally eating it up. In 2013, bacon sales in the U.S. approached a super-sized $4 billion— up nearly 10 percent from the previous year. In other words, bacon sells.
And the smell of bacon does more than trigger appetites— research has recently indicated that hunger heightens our ability to smell. In other words, greet your customers with the smell of bacon, and they’ll be hungrier than before; the hungrier they get, the more tantalizing the smell will become.
Forget ballpark franks and apple pie. If America had a national food, it just might be bacon.
So if you want consumers to buy or eat more, engaging the sense of smell is a savvy marketing technique when it comes to responding to American eating habits. You’ll be doing yourself and your customers a favor.
Bacon eaters will thank you for more than just satisfied stomachs; research also shows that eating bacon alleviates stress and promotes feelings of bliss.