Which Foods (and Drinks) Get Better as You Eat More, and Which Get Worse?

(Photo: Aimee Plesa)

(Photo: Aimee Plesa)

A reader named Robb Stokar wrote in with the following question: “Which foods and/or drinks have the greatest diminishing marginal returns and which have the greatest increasing marginal returns?”

Wonderfully, Robb answered the question himself:

Diminishing food:  pancakes. Those first few bites of syrup-y and butter-y goodness are like angels singing. Then, about 1/2 way through, finishing the stack becomes a chore. And if you actually finish the stack, hello food coma. (Credit for the origin of this idea goes to my brother, Jason.)

Diminishing drink: Bloody Mary. First few sips are great, but by the bottom of the glass much of the spice has settled and you get a watery mouthful of pepper and celery salt.

Increasing drink: wine or whiskey, provided very little ice. Wine is self-explanatory, but some advocates say a little water “opens up” the whiskey and a cooler temperature eliminates that alcohol “bite.” I agree.

Increasing food: Indian or something similarly spiced. I believe that with each successive bite, the diner gets a better flavor profile and you can fully appreciate the dish.

I am guessing not everyone agrees 100 percent with Rob’s answers. Do feel free to provide your own. To start the conversation, here are mine:

Diminishing food: tofu fashioned as faux meat; the first couple bites seem like culinary alchemy; the rest — rubbery, lukewarm, grotesquely seasoned — are like a bad joke.

Diminishing drink: milk, because the first cold gulp is fantastic but as the temperature rises, the taste becomes too “milky.”

Increasing drink: I like Robb’s choice of whiskey here, but maybe that is because I like whiskey — plus which, inebriation may offer a more heightened increasing return than other beverages. 

Increasing food: a good burger, whose sundry ingredients — meat, vegetables, condiments, roll — have by the last few bites become so thoroughly commingled as to produce an utterly delectable finale.


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  1. Adam says:

    You can’t be like pancakes… all exciting at first, but then by the end you’re fu*kin’ sick of em. -Mitch Hedberg

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    • Tim says:

      This is Mitch talking about the difficulties of being a headline stand-up comic. You need to deliver a long set of comedy and be great the whole time, unlike pancakes. I came here to post that – thank you.

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  2. Tony Rozensky says:

    Pineapple is definitely a diminishing taste. You inevitably hit the bitter part.

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    • BL1Y says:

      You can stop eating before you hit the bitter core.

      I’d still say pineapple is diminishing though, but because of the high acidity.

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    • texagg04 says:

      Disagree, just the like the original post mentions “bloody mary’s” as the drink of with quickest diminishing return, it’s explained falsely.

      For something’s return to measured and compared to a previous return, the investment must be held the same. That means, for each chunk of pineapple you try, the next one must have the EXACT same qualities: acidity, sweetness, etc, as the previous chunk. Diminishing returns then measures how each successive SAME experience results in less satisfaction or less added satisfaction.

      The “Blood Mary” example is falsified, because it describes the diminishing returns in terms of the actual investment being diminished in the form that each sip was composed of DIFFERENT experiences. 1st the good appropriate mix of the drink, each successive sip contains a DIFFERENT ratio of ingredients, resulting in a different taste each time, in essence it isn’t the same drink each time. You can’t measure diminishing returns that way.

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  3. fancycwabs says:

    Because of the nature of taste (mostly olfactory sensors coupled a few signals from taste buds), we typically only taste the first bite of any food. A few dishes change nature as we eat ’em, though, so the aforementioned whiskey (especially with a single ice cube which dilutes the drink as you consume it) or occasionally ice cream, which changes consistency and sometimes has a cone attached.

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  4. lewarcher says:

    Battered, deep-fried fish immediately leapt to mind as a diminishing food. The batter and grease build to a terrible crescendo…

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  5. Mike says:

    Any dish with truffle oil has high diminishing marginal returns.

    I agree with the previous poster who said that you get increasing marginal returns out of a dish that changes as you consume it.

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  6. J1 says:

    I have to agree wine is ok as long as there’s very little ice. By very little I mean “not much”, not “extremely small cubes”.

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  7. cjc says:

    Are you kidding? Milk gets better as it warms. I like to pour a glass and let it sit a few minutes before I take that first sip, so it is not ice cold and you can actually taste it.

    And the milk at the bottom of the cereal bowl… Best part of breakfast. As for the cereal itself, first few bites are dry. The middle bites with a mix of softened and still crunchy bits are best. The last few soggy spoonfuls are mostly about getting the cereal out of the way to drink that tasty last bit of milk.

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    • Bob says:

      You must mean dry cereal. Oatmeal tends to “congeal” (maybe there is a better description) as it cools while eating so the last dregs are like “packed globs”.

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  8. Dan says:

    Diminishing food: Popcorn – the first few warm handfuls are amazing. Airy, a crunchy butter and salt perfection. As the popcorn cools it becomes difficult to force down the last of the batch. Cold, crunchy grease that leaves a sick feeling in the stomach and hulls in the teeth and gums.

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