There’s an article making the rounds about how men with higher testosterone levels prefer spicier foods. The study was done in France. Men were tested for testosterone levels, then handed a plate of mashed potatoes and as many little packets of Tabasco sauce they wanted to add to flavor it, along with salt packets. Providing the Tabasco and salt in packets made it easy to determine how much was used as researchers could just count the open packets.
Big reveal: Higher testosterone correlated with a higher use of Tabasco, but not salt.
The thing about the full study was the way they recruited the men: they told them they’d be doing a food-tasting session that had been organized by a food research company, to do a sensory analysis of food that was going to be developed commercially in the future. The men were instructed to abstain from food or drink (other than water) for three hours beforehand, to ensure that they’d be reasonably hungry. Once they showed up, they were presented with 150g of mashed potatoes, 50 satchets of Tabasco sauce (the paper refers to these as “doses”), and 80 satchets of salt. They were also given an information sheets warning them of the risks of adding Tabasco, i.e., that one dose would be spicy while six doses might cause “temporary extinction of the sense of taste” and “vomiting.”
So. Imagine. You’re a man between the ages of 18 and 45 and you’ve been recruited, you thought, for a food research study. You show up expecting to be served something like papaya-flavored yogurt or maybe a quinoa-based breakfast cereal or peppermint frosting. Instead, they hand you a plate with 150g of mashed potatoes on it. Along with fifty satchets of Tabasco sauce. And a chart telling you that six satchets might make you vomit. Delicious!
What I want to know — and of course the study doesn’t tell me — is how these people reacted, and how the research assistants kept a straight face. Potatoes? Really? You’re testing mashed potatoes? (My husband, on hearing this study, wanted to know who puts Tabasco on their mashed potatoes, anyway. “People who aren’t being provided butter or gravy?” I said.)
Not included in the study results: if you’re a man from Grenoble, France, even if you have high testosterone, you are likely to be generous and accommodating to scientific researchers. Either that, or they made some reasonably high-quality mashed potatoes behind the scenes in that lab. This was France; I suppose that part may have been just a given.