Eating is not merely putting food into one’s mouth. It’s consuming warm, juicy, thinnest or thickest, fat or lean morsels of properly cooked meal, chewing, enjoying the aroma, texture and flavor of the food.

Performing rituals and symbolic gestures like blowing candles and singing happy birthday song before cutting a cake or popping the cork off a wine bottle may enhance the food’s flavor, according to a study done by scientists from the University of Minnesota.

Researchers found that when the test subjects followed a particular ritual before eating a bar of chocolate, they found the taste to be much better than the test subjects who did not follow the ritual. The ritual in the study was to break the chocolate bar into 2 parts, unwrap them one by one and then eat. So what made the taste better?

According to experts as one performs the ritual before eating a food item, the involvement in what one is eating increases, which enhances the interest and hence the enjoyment quotient. Another experiment showed that elongating the time between performing the ritual and eating the food magnified the effects. Participants in this case were anticipating eating carrots of all things, and they said they tasted better after waiting.

However, watching someone else perform a ritual, like stirring lemonade, did not impact the taste of the food or drink.

The effect of these symbolic gestures extends beyond just making the food more enjoyable. According to researchers, the study might have implications for dieters if the rituals that enhance consumption also lead to portion control and less over-eating. A study found that people who took large bites of food, consumed 52 percent more calories in one sitting than those who took small bites and chewed food longer. Also since these gestures can turn neutral activities or situations involving and enhance enjoyment, these might help motivate people to follow healthy eating patterns and enjoy health food.