Cooking shows today are what talk shows were in the early 2000s. You’re bound to come across at least one on television. It could be a re-run of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, where Guy Fieri eats at a restaurant in deep Texas or the latest episode of a cooking or baking competition. Either way, you’re hooked, but why? Why is it that whenever a culinary show comes on, people become hypnotized by egg-whisking and burger-flipping? It turns out science and psychology have a lot more to do with it than you’d think.
A Transition for the Ages
It’s worth mentioning that cooking has long had a presence in entertainment. However, from the 1940s to the 1950s, culinary shows had an educational purpose. For instance, in the 1950s, television was used to provide easy-to-follow cooking instructions to housewives. There was a shift in the 1960s when Julia Child had her show The French Chef, which saw her cooking recipes that were not easy to replicate. Childs now offers her expertise on where to dine around the world.
In the late twentieth century, people started to watch cooking shows from a passive perspective. Apart from a select group, most don’t get up mid-episode and attempt the recipe on the screen. Of course, it’s a different story when the episode is showing off sweet boxes with tasty cakes, tarts, and pastries. It’s a little more tempting to try and expand our culinary skills when there are sweets involved!
The Science and Psychology Behind Cooking Shows
As the purpose of cooking shows has changed, it’s become clear why viewers have developed a passive attitude toward cooking networks, such as the Cooking Channel. Statista reported that the Cooking Channel’s average total viewership in the US jumped from 137 thousand people in 2018 to 142 thousand in 2020. Research tells us this growth in popularity has a lot to do with how humans can stimulate multi-sensory experiences by using visual cues.
Science Daily looked at how the brain recognizes vision and found that over a third of our brain is dedicated to vision. As a result, when we see someone cooking on the screen, our brains can imagine the taste. These visual cues allow us to feel part of the experience without physically trying the food.
At the height of the Gordon Ramsay era, we couldn’t describe cooking shows as relaxing. There was too much yelling. With the recent baking shows hitting the screen, however, we can say exactly that. Baking has always had a personality: bright aprons, sprinkles, and sweet treats in the shape of animals. Color has a lot to do with this perception. As an example, we can look at The Great British Baking Show (TGBBS), which recently broke its viewership record, according to Variety. This type of psychology says people perceive colors to mean different things.
For instance, we associate yellow with happiness. On TGBBS, the color scheme is blue and teal, which are both perceived as calming. Individuals look at blue as sincere and inspiring, while teal blends blue’s tranquility with green’s optimism. So, it’s no wonder people can’t look away when TGBBS comes on: the set is telling you to relax.
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It’s Not Just Television
As cooking and food have become a symbol of entertainment, we’ve seen a surplus of popular media on the topic. Cooking shows on television are one, but food videos have also made their way onto a diverse range of platforms, including social media. For example, it was only a few months ago that Irish Times said baked feta pasta broke the Internet, and what started as a Tik Tok video led to feta cheese being sold out in grocery stores.
Another area that has adopted this trend is the casino industry. Speaking volumes about the prevalence and general appeal of food-based entertainment, online casinos like Betway Casino offer cooking-themed slots, such as the Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen video slot. This popular slot is based on the celebrity chef and his most famous dishes, while other examples include Bushi Sushi and So Much Candy. The universal love of food makes this a popular genre that’s set to be a mainstay in the industry.
There’s also been an increase in food videos on YouTube. In particular, mukbang videos are popular, where creators film themselves cooking recipes and then eating in front of the camera. To date, Keemi remains one of the most popular “food-tubers” and has a whopping 900K subscribers!
Food culture is everywhere in entertainment today. Cooking shows on television remain at the top, with concepts like color psychology explaining why many find them relaxing. Even when the episode is over, viewers can revisit moments on YouTube or get tips from the winners of shows like Cupcake Wars. That said, new types of online media on cooking and food are starting to give TV cooking shows a run for their money and it will be fascinating to see where this genre goes next.