Do Appetizers Really Make You Feel Hungrier?

Appetizers are that oh-so-delectable start to a meal. Often a beautifully plated piece of edible art, they are meant to pique your interest and appetite. But do appetizers do all they’re supposed to? Can they stimulate your appetite just enough to set you up for a wonderful meal to follow? Here’s why appetizers should, in theory, actually work and a look at what they are designed to do.

How Appetizers Work?

So what is classifies as an appetizer? Basically, it is any small plate of food that you eat before the main course of your meal to stimulate the appetite. Appetizers are the pre-cursor to the main meal in much the way an aperitif is the opening act for the drinks. A good appetizer or starter is supposed to awaken the senses, get your taste buds tingling, and give you a heightened sensitivity to the smells, flavors, and sights to follow.

The Culinary Institute of America says that the appetizer creates the first impression of the meal in the mind of the diner and must therefore be prepared with care. Colors, shapes, seasoning,

spices all help to stimulate the diner’s curiosity and generate interest in the meal. Studies have shown there is an interplay between the “sensory perception of food” and appetite.1

Stimulating Ingredients In Appetizers

Not surprisingly, some of the ingredients that go into appetizers are chosen for a reason. As ayurveda points out, certain foods act as appetite stimulants. Foods that contain these ingredients should, by extension, help make you hungrier. Ginger, for instance, helps settle any gastric troubles you might have, which sets your system up for the meal to follow. The spiciness in the root also gets the salivary glands going, making the body ready for eating the main meal.2

Fenugreek, a popular ingredient in Asia, Morocco, and Turkey, is also a traditional appetite stimulant

and may be included in snacks. Its seeds are used in seasoning or tempering to get the appetite going.3

Black pepper is another popular ingredient that kindles the appetite, explaining its common inclusion in popular Chinese stir-fry appetizers, a peppered goat cheese starter, or the enticing sprinkling on your zucchini chips. One study showed that the very smell of black pepper oil was enough to get the appetite going and make swallowing easier.4

Peppers, by virtue of the capsaicin in them, are another appetite stimulant popular in countries in Asia. They are present in the typical Thai salad, Indian “chaat” (tangy spicy street

food combining vegetables and some fried ingredients), and pickles from China. Capsaicin also stimulates gastric juices aiding digestion.5

Bitter herbs like kale, endives, and radicchio feature on menus of most hip eateries. This isn’t without reason. Naturopathy and ayurveda recommend these herbs and leaves to boost appetite and stimulate gastric secretions.6

Ayurvedic know-how also suggests that the sourness of lemon or yogurt can help excite the mind and get saliva production going.7

Doing It The Right Way

An appetizer is designed to pave the way for the rest of the multi-course meal. Here is how you can make sure it does its job.

  • Take a portion size that’s small enough to tease the palate without filling you up.
  • Make it tasty, but the main must be tastier still! A
    recent study showed that having an appetizer that’s really good might actually lower your perception of the main that follows. Test subjects who got a mediocre appetizer actually rated their main higher than those who had an equally good appetizer.8
  • Eat a light appetizer like a salad to get in some much-needed nutrients through vitamin- and mineral-rich vegetables and fruit. The salad dressing can be loaded with appetite stimulants like citrus, pepper, and chilies.9
  • For protein-based appetizers, use pepper, spices, garlic, coriander, or any other appetite stimulants in the recipe to aid in the secretion of gastric juices.

As the Culinary Institute of America puts it, an appetizer should be attractive and enticing. Just large enough to be appealing, but not so much as to overwhelm the

diner. With a little care, the right ingredients and the right size of portion, you should be able to enjoy your appetizer and what is to follow.