The word organic is defined as ‘Of, relating to or derived from living organisms’. In terms of food it refers to produce which was grown with fertiliser or pesticides which are strictly of animal or vegetable origin or to animals which were raised without drugs, hormones or synthetic chemicals.
To the majority of people, organic labels signify healthful food and it is this notion which appears to warp our perceptions of the true nutrient value of organic foods.
A study conducted by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that an organic label can influence much more than health views. It also significantly alters our perception of taste, calories and financial value of food products which are labelled as organic.
These findings are a result of a large study in which subjects were faced with direct comparison foods – ie two identical yoghurts, one of which was labelled ‘regular’ and the other as ‘organic’. Alhough the foods compared were exactly the same apart from the labels, subjects perceived the food labelled ‘organic’ to contain less calories, taste ‘more healthy’ and they were even willing to pay as much as 23.4% more for the product which was thought to be ‘organic’.
Although many of us appear to succumb to the health halo effects of food packaging, the least susceptible group of people are those who regularly read nutrition labels! Staying clued up on nutrition will help you make informed decisions and avoid being fooled by packaging.
Wan-Chen Jenny Lee, Mitsuri Shimizu, Kevin M Kniffin, Brian Wansink, You Taste What You See: Do Organic Labels Bias Taste Perceptions? Food Quality and Preference, 2013, 29(1):33.