Go ahead, lick your fingers

We get scolded as children when we dip our fingers into a pot of something to taste it, but who hasn’t wanted to do that?

Did you ever take a swipe at the icing of a cake sitting on the kitchen counter?

Do you prefer to bite an apple or cut it into wedges?

This week, I’m going to take on that topic.

Is it more interesting to taste food without having to worry about poking yourself with the fork, or spilling from a spoon? There is research to say we think so.

Experiments with people eating both ways offer testimonials saying those who ate with their hands had a closer connection, a more emotional one, with their eating experience. They valued the food more and said it tasted better.

People who have been transplanted from cultures eating by hand to eating with cutlery miss the old tradition greatly. It’s not the change in food they dislike, it’s the lack of connection with the meal.

Which is healthier – eating with cutlery or with one’s hands? You might be surprised to find out the answers here.

  • A study published in a medical nutrition journal recently found that people who eat with their hands are slower eaters. Faster eaters, more often those using cutlery, are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and to have a less healthy digestive system. When you eat with your hands, the slower pace allows for better balance of your blood sugars.
  • Normal flora is transferred from your fingers to your gut when you eat by hand, helping your digestive system work to its full potential.
  • Even the signal to your brain that comes from touching your food gets passed along, preparing your gut to work.
  • Numerous studies have shown to find that eating by hand produces better cues for us to know when we are full, too. People eating by hand are more likely to be at a healthy weight, and less likely to have acid reflux.
  • Overweight people who train themselves to eat by hand reduce their binge eating.

There are restaurants in places such as New York and California that are encouraging people to dig in with their hands. Not just with foods from countries where this custom is common, but with any meal, eating by hand has gained appeal in some places.

This is not a dirty practice, but rather an artful one – washing one’s hands starts off the ritual, then often giving thanks for the meal is next.

Some foods are easy to pick up, but with dishes in sauce or small bits there is usually a sort of flatbread or sticky rice to act as a transport to your mouth.

One restaurateur with a Hawaiian-inspired menu in California said he was surprised to find diners were cleaner when eating by hand. He was going to provide finger bowls, but found that diners didn’t want them.

Even if you aren’t ready to eat by hand in public, there are occasions to enjoy this practice in private (and I don’t mean munching on a muffin or a Big Mac in the car). Fresh fruit and toast for breakfast is a more sensory experience than a bowl of cereal.

If you still want your cereal, how about drinking it? If you like yogurt, have you tried dunking your fruit or toast slices into it?

Why not start the day thinking outside the box?

Kids are good inspiration for this kind of intimate eating, so you can look to them for inspiration. I’m not saying they should swipe the icing on every cake, but maybe if it’s their birthday cake, it could be OK?

Chewing with your mouth open and talking with your mouth full are not good dining etiquette, but I remember my Dad telling me if meat had a bone in it, then it was alright to pick it up to eat it.

You can adapt your table etiquette to include a few new situations.

We have friends who celebrate the New Year with a meal that the whole family eats by hand. They have managed everything from ham and mashed potatoes to spaghetti and say that it has been a favourite memory for their kids as they grew up.

I used to wonder if it was just a fun gimmick to spend some quality time, but after reading all the research for this column, I’m convinced they have a special chronicle of shared meals over the years.

What a wonderful legacy.

Take a bite out of something this week without your cutlery and see if you feel like you’ve taken a bite out of life.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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