Mind and Body

4 ways science secretly influences Thanksgiving dinner

Time to gobble-gobble up some facts.

Originally Published: 
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Thanksgiving dinner is resplendent with mouth-watering sides, perfect pies, and of course, a big bird.

But dinner is more than just a meal. It's a scientific crash course.

Here are 4 examples of the scientific processes at play during Thanksgiving dinner.
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The Maillard reaction

The perfect turkey depends on three essential components: internal tenderness, flavor, and external color.

The color you want — a lovely golden shade – is caused by the Maillard reaction. Colloquially, this is known as 'browning.'

During this chemical process, time spent in the oven causes the meat's amino acids and sugars to break down and rearrange themselves to form new molecules. These are the compounds that cause enticing aromas and a change of color.


Some of our hormones stimulate hunger, while others prompt you to feel full.

The hormone peptide tyrosine induces feelings of satiety, and signals to the body that it's time to stop eating.

The catch is that it takes about 30 minutes for hormones released by digestion to reach your brain.

This means that if you're not mindful of this process, you may eat past the point of fullness.


Odors can affect food choice in a number of ways. They can stimulate appetite and literally induce salivation. Aromas can also spark a memory — a whiff of mash potatoes may prompt you to heap some on the plate for old time's sake.

Studies show a meal's aroma — in combination with its taste — can also induce satiation. In 2012, scientists discovered that stronger aromas can even prompt smaller bite-taking.

The turkey on the table

If you've ever gazed at an illustration of a Thanksgiving turkey, what you were looking at was a wild turkey.

Domesticated turkeys look very different. Wild turkeys use their dark plumage for camouflage, while domestic turkeys are bred to have white feathers — their pin feathers are less visible when they're displayed in a supermarket.

Wild turkeys can fly short distances, but domesticated turkeys can't fly at all because of their (purposefully) oversized breasts.

The domesticated turkeys of today are twice as heavy as those bred in the 1960s.

Interested in food science? Read more here.

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