We do, suggests a study published earlier this year by researchers from ETH Zürich and the University of Cologne, as long as we perceive the ingredients that make up the food to be healthy. The opposite is true for unhealthy foods, which we prefer when prepared by someone else.
In what they told participants was a food-taste experiment, the authors of the study offered four groups of volunteers to taste one of two types of milkshakes – a healthy milk-based raspberry milkshake, or a less healthy ice-cream-based chocolate one – that they were either served or asked to prepare themselves. All 120 participants were informed exactly what ingredients their drink contained. And once served, they were invited to have as much as they wanted as long as they didn’t leave with the cup.
Using questionnaires, the researchers then assessed how much the participants liked their milkshake, how healthy they thought it was, how many calories they thought it contained, how hungry they were at the time, as well as their personal tendency to control what they ate. They also measured how much of the milkshake each participant had consumed.
Analyzing the outcomes, they found that the participants liked the healthy milkshake more when they made it themselves. The unhealthy variant, by contrast, didn’t taste better or worse when it was self-prepared.
The study’s outcomes didn’t come as a complete surprise. There is plenty of scientific and anecdotal evidence underpinning the so-called Ikea-Effect, according to which people tend to prefer self-made objects to off-the-shelf items because of the effort they put into them. And previous work by the same researchers suggested the Ikea-Effect could be true for food as well.
But an additional effect came into play when were asking them to mix their milkshakes themselves. Handling the ingredients make participants more acutely aware of what the researchers called their health-saliency, or their perceived healthiness. This further boosted the Ikea-Effect in the case of the healthy raspberry milkshake, or counteracted it, in the case of the chocolate one.
The findings highlight some of the benefits of home cooking: not only can make people more aware of the nutritional quality of their food, they will probably enjoy it more too.