20071003ratz.jpgYes, if you are a rat. Harold McGee shares the results of a 21-year study of organic wheat production:

As an "integrative method" for assessing quality, they gave lab animals a choice of biscuits made from organic or conventional wheat. The rats ate significantly more of the former. The authors call this result remarkable, because they found the two wheats to be very similar in chemical composition and baking performance.

Recent studies conducted with humans have shown that we can less reliably (if at all) discern a difference in taste between organic and non-organic foods. Assuming the rats are right and organic foods are tastier, what's to account for it? One hypothesis is that the higher levels of phytochemicals are responsible.

Phytochemicals are chemicals created by plants, and especially those that have effects on other creatures. Plants make many of them to defend themselves against microbes and insects: to make themselves unpalatable, counterattack the invaders and limit the damage they cause. Most of the aromas of vegetables, herbs and spices come from defensive chemicals. They may smell pleasant to us, but the plants make them to repel their mortal enemies."

The theory goes like this: Because organic produce is subject to more stress than conventional produce which is protected by pesticides and fungicide, they produce more phytochemicals as a defense. Why this hasn't panned out in taste tests is still a mystery.

Photograph from iStockphoto.com

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