Journal of Food Science editorial about the Ig Nobel Prizes

The Journal of Food Science has a nice essay today (October 16, 2023) about the Ig Nobel Prizes. We take the liberty of reproducing it here:


Ig Nobel awards

This month’s topic will be a little different, although I promise to bring the discussion back to peer review next month, as we look back on the Peer Review week, September 25–29 (which occurs too late for this editorial). Instead, I’ll take a lighter look at some unique research.

Most scientific researchers dream of being recognized for their work, especially ground-breaking work that is worthy of consideration for a Nobel Prize. It’s too bad that they don’t offer a prize in the category of food science. But there is another award perhaps better suited to the type of research sometimes published in JFS—the Ig Nobel awards. These are the awards that are given for work that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”

Although there is no category for food science, if you look into the archives of the Ig Nobel awards (https://en. _Ig_Nobel_Prize_winners), there are numerous awards related to foods, either through the physics, chemistry, or nutrition category. A couple of my favorites include the study of the friction coeffi- cient (this was a tribology study) of a banana peel and a probabilistic study of whether a slice of buttered toast lands butter-side down more often. Then there are the two awards for studying the fluid mechanics of coffee sloshing in the cup of a person walking, one each for walking forward or backward. One of my favorites, because I fear I suffer from it, is the study that won an Ig Nobel award “for diagnosing a long-unrecognized medical condition: Misophonia, the distress at hearing other people make chewing sounds.”

In fact, there are multiple Ig Nobel award winners connected to JFS. Indeed, an article published in JFS was the basis of an Ig Nobel award for some Italian researchers. They studied the “Ultrasonic velocity in Cheddar cheese as affected by temperature” (Volume 64, No. 6, 1038– 1041, 2006). Although the title sounds weird if you look at it wrong, and that’s what won it the Ig Nobel, the study had an important underpinning, the use of ultrason- ics as a nondestructive method of characterizing quality attributes. In particular, the temperature effect allowed the researchers to characterize the change of state of the fat in the cheese. I suppose anyone outside of the food field would first laugh at the title but then make them think a little deeper.

There is another author connection with JFS, although the article was actually published in the Journal of Sensory Studies. An Ig Nobel award was given to M. Zampini and C. Spence for “demonstrating that food tastes bet- ter when it sounds more appealing.” In fact, this was a study correlating acoustic cues to perceived crispness and staleness of potato chips, a sensory topic we would all recognize as important to our field. The connection is through a coauthor of that paper, Dr. Charles Spence, who recently contributed an article to a special issue in JFS on Advances in sensory science: From perceptions to consumer acceptance ( 17503841/2023/88/S1). His contribution to the special issue was on the importance of color to sensory perception of foods. Congratulations to Dr. Spence for winning an Ig Nobel award. He says he “has been looking to scoop up a second award, but alas, no luck so far.”

For many years now, I’ve been thinking that some of my own work might qualify for an Ig Nobel award. We study things in my lab that could be considered odd when looked at it in a certain way but actually have important conse- quences. I often joke that no one else cares about how ice cream melts more than we do, but apparently that’s not odd enough for an Ig Nobel.

If you are looking for a few chuckles, I recommend spending some time reading the list of Ig Nobel awards.

Rich Hartel
Editor in Chief Journal of Food Science