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Fancy a little mood food?

22 June 2004
Fancy a little mood food?

Tired of chocolate and so over oysters? Well, chefs will soon be able to offer jaded Valentine's Day diners all manner of alternative fixes thanks to cutting-edge developments in food technology.

New techniques such as microencapsulation and flavour masking mean that scientists can now slip a range of mood-changing chemicals into food unnoticed, according to food pharmacologist Paul Clayton.

"In the future you will see mass racks of food offering psychological effects," he said. "Food that will make you perform better in exams, or perform more romantically, is all in the pipeline."

Clayton was speaking last week at the Cheltenham Festival of Science, where, together with molecular gastronomy chef pioneer Heston Blumenthal, he staged a dinner party to test the effect of different chemicals on diners. Among the panel members were Guardian food critic Matthew Fort, broadcaster Sue Lawley and flavour expert Tony Blake.

All were required to complete memory, attention and mood tests after eating each of Blumenthal's courses, including cauliflower risotto with trytophan, for mood enhancement and relaxation, and carrot toffee with theanine, to promote calmness and tranquillity.

"There is a very subtle distinction between food and drugs," said Clayton. "But to me they're all pharmaceutical and all chemical.

"We're just tweaking the diet, not putting anything in that doesn't already exist naturally."

He added that although the pharmacology to make this reality had already been tested, whether it became widespread would depend on government regulation.

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