Monash University researches why people find some foods disgusting

The thought of consuming an insect-based snack bar or smoothie as part of a staple diet could make even those with the strongest of stomachs squirm. Monash University researchers try to find out why.

They are trying to understand why the ‘disgust’ mechanism of the brain prevents people from trying foreign foods that actually possess health benefits – in this case, insects.

Professor Eugene Chan from Monash Business School’s Department of Marketing conducted two separate studies into the link between the state-of-mind and emotional reaction to newly-introduced foods.

The results were published in the international scientific journal, Food Quality and Preference.

READ: Monash University professor recognised for 30-year study to bring millions worldwide safe water supply

The first study measured the willingness of 202 participants to try five different insect-based products, from deep-fried silkworms and crickets, to chocolate chip cookies that were baked with cricket flour.

In the second study, 155 participants were presented with two drinks with identical positive health benefits – but one was a by-product of silkworm protein and the other from ordinary cow’s milk.

Participants in both studies were subjected to mindfulness exercises – including guided meditation, breathing training and listening to a 15-minute audio track that induced a mind-wandering state – and had never consumed insects previously.

“Despite being presented with the positive health and environmental benefits as motivational factors to choose insects as a viable food and nutrition source, we found that participants reacted with disgust and instead opted for the more ‘familiar’ food source,” said Chan.

“These findings were completely opposite to my initial expectations. Entomophagy (the consumption of insects) is not a new practice and has been taking place for tens of thousands of years. More than two billion people world-wide regularly eat insects as part of their diet and there are more than 2000 edible insect species.

“I anticipated that mindfulness might have encouraged people to try insects as it removes some of that initial negative reaction to a foreign food. Perhaps disgust is an emotion that is too negative and powerful to influence a behaviour change,” said Chan.

Chan’s research also found that the role of disgust in food choice is not just restricted to eating insects. It also includes trying new foods or cuisines that are an intrinsic part of a culture foreign to one’s own.

“Blue vein cheese, which is characterised by mouldy spots and a foul odour, may be present at many social functions and the family dinner table which could please some people but disgust others. Even being presented with offal and unfamiliar fruit and vegetables could enliven our ‘disgust’ mechanism – despite the contents being perfectly edible,” Professor Chan said.

“While this research only focuses on testing the impacts of mindfulness on a person’s willingness to try insect-based foods, it is possible that increased self-awareness might produce different – perhaps even positive – reactions towards actually eating insects.

“Although our attitudes towards insect eating is generally negative, individuals who actually try insect-based foods may respond more favourably than their initial attitudes predict,” said Chan.

Mindfulness, commonly associated with Buddhism, refers to the state of being aware and taking note of what is going on within oneself and the outside world.

International studies have shown that mindfulness can deliver positive eating behaviour by treating various eating disorders and altering consumption patterns.

Monash University professor recognised for 30-year study to bring millions worldwide safe water supply

A Monash University Professor and his team have created an initiative to provide urban water security to millions of people across the world. 

Professor Tony Wong, chief executive of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities at Monash University, received the 2018 IWA Global Water award for the program. 

The biennial award, which recognises global leadership in water management, was presented to him in Tokyo, Japan, on the 16th of September.

In collaboration with his Monash University colleagues, Wong has spent more than 30 years pioneering a program of work called the Water Sensitive Cities Approach, which addresses the social, environmental and economic challenges of global water management.

READ: Machine turns tonnens of food scraps into wastewater in Melbourne 

Through a combination of science and hydro-engineering, Wong said he’s been able to create blueprints for water security that can transform cities, and the health and wellbeing of their residents, globally.

“This work has advanced a new understanding of the relationship between the societal and biophysical dimensions of water security from drought, floods, environmental pollution and city waterscapes,” he said.

“Our aim is to deliver sustainable urban water outcomes underpinned by creative design, and technical and scientific rigour,” said Wong. 

Wong’s strategy has been adopted in multiple cities across the world and led to sustainable water developments and projects that have improved water supplies in densely populated areas and urban slums.

Singapore has been able to create a more self-reliant water supply by harnessing stormwater as a valuable resource. 

The city of Kunshan – located between Suzhou and Shanghai in China – has achieved remarkable levels of sustainability, resilience and liveability by adopting this water strategy.

Working alongside Monash Professors Rebekah Brown, Karin Leder, Steven Chown and Diego Ramirez-Lovering, Wong’s water research also extends to hygiene and disease prevention in Fiji and Indonesia.

The project aims to turn informal settlements into independent sites that recycle their own wastewater, harvest rainwater, create green space for water cleansing and food cultivation, and restore natural waterways to encourage diversity and deal with flooding.

“I am honoured to receive this award which acknowledges my lifetime work in water-sensitive urban design,” said Wong. 

Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities chair Cheryl Batagol said the award recognises Wong’s determination and vision to create an approach to help overcome the obstacles people face in an increasingly urbanised world that is also tackling the effects of climate change.

New research helps progress development of vaccine for ovine footrot

Researchers have made important progress towards developing a new vaccine for ovine footrot, a serious disease in sheep that causes severe economic loss, suffering due to lameness and disruption to normal farm operations.

Footrot is an infectious and contagious disease caused by the bacteria, Dichelobacter nodosus, which are divided into a number of strains.

An outbreak of footrot may involve one or several strains.

In a Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) funded collaborative research project between Monash University and the University of Sydney, reverse vaccinology, an approach successfully applied in human medicine, was employed to identify five potential footrot vaccine antigen candidates.

READ: Sheep counting app counts and records farmers’ stock numbers

MLA health welfare and biosecurity program manager Dr Johann Schröder said one of the problems with conventional footrot vaccines is that there are 10 variants of the major protective antigen.

“That means if you vaccinate against one strain of the bacterium that causes footrot, it doesn’t protect the sheep against the other nine. What we’re trying to develop is a vaccine that is cross-protective – one that will work against all of the causative bacteria,” said Schröder.

Professor Julian Rood from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute said the concept was based on sequencing the complete genome of the causative organism and using that sequence to identify its proteins.

“From 1,300 potential proteins, we narrowed the list down to about 90 with potential as vaccine antigens,” said Rood.

Proteins were purified using high-throughput technology and tested in pen-and-field vaccination trials for their ability to protect sheep against footrot.

The collaboration included Monash BDI’s Dr Ruth Kennan and University of Sydney’s Dr Om Dhungyel and Professor Richard Whittington.

“Monash BDI has done the genomic and protein work, while the University of Sydney has done the vaccine work, and the collaboration has been very productive,” said Rood.

“In the process of finding potential vaccine candidates, our colleagues at the University of Sydney have refined a field-based testing system.

“An important development was a reproducible, irrigated, pasture-based, natural infection model. It’s been used to test the effectiveness of vaccines in the field,” said Rood.

Having identified five potential vaccine antigen candidates, the research team hopes to move on to the next step shortly, which involves further testing and refinement of vaccine formulations.

Consumers know best – the key to making new products flourish

Why do products such as Cadbury Marvellous Creations’ popping candy chocolate and Chobani’s high-protein Greek yoghurt succeed, when others fall short of the mark?

Because the people behind these products listen to consumers and offer the best packaging to get people grabbing for their products.

Food innovation expert Angeline Achariya explains that companies often forget to find out what consumers want, which leads to products failing before they even hit a high.

“Take a consumer inspired approach. Understand the market, understand the consumer,” she said.

READ: Food companies can learn from start-ups, Practical Innovation says

“In FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), 90 per cent of products fail in the first 12 months of product launch,” said Achariya.

Perhaps with better consumer knowledge and packaging this wouldn’t be the case.

In a presentation hosted by St.George Bank, in Sydney in July, Achariya talked about “finding the next UBER in food”.

Food producers and manufacturers gained valuable advice on how to introduce new products to the market that will bring consumers back for more.

Achariya is the chief executive officer at Monash University’s food innovation centre. She and her team helped Chobani succeed in the Australian dairy retail sector, and she recalls Mondelez buying “all of the popping candy in the world” for its Cadbury Marvellous Creations range.

Cadbury listened to consumers. People liked the chocolate melting on their tongues to reveal textured candy with a satisfying crunch. They liked the crackling on the roofs of their mouths, which reminded them of their childhood, said Achariya.

“The most successful things in the market place are always meeting a need. It’s really about making sure that consumers want it.”

During the innovation cycle process, focusing on packaging first was necessary, said Achariya.

When it comes to launching new products, it’s what’s in the outside that counts at first glance.

“Consumers eat with their eyes first,” said Achariya.

Beak & Johnston founder David Beak agreed that good market research, and the right packing, helped the success of a product.

Beak’s company is a family owned food processing business with 30 years’ experience dealing in fresh cut and value added meat products, fresh soups, sauces and prepared meals.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the company, which brought products, such as fresh ready meals, out a decade too soon, Beak said.

“A lot of the ideas we had 25-30 years ago were 15 years or 20 years too early. It comes back to doing market research,” he said.

Although it could be daunting to launch a new product, it was all about perseverance, Beak said. “Don’t give up.”

St.George relationship director Mark Burgess said the event was about supporting businesses in the food and beverage industry.

“We love bringing our customers together to showcase different perspectives and trends in the industry.”

Learning more about consumers’ needs and wants, and making sure this is reflected in packaging, could help a new product succeed.

These steps may seem simple, but speakers at the event, Achariya and Beak, highlighted them as they can get lost in a large list of ‘must-do’ tasks.