Genius On Diet

Nobel and Chocolat
We are what we eat. Yep, pretty much so. We hear (and often ignore) this simple verity. Apple a day, broccoli on the side, whole grain but preferably gluten free bread will make us healthy, wealthy and… gluten free.

Two years ago almost to a day, New England Journal of Medicine reported on a peculiar study. Geniuses among us are more likely to eat lots of… broccoli? No, chocolate. Good heavens! 

Franz Messerli,  a doctor by persuasion, hypertension expert from New York, who researched the phenomenon, reports a highly significant correlation between a nation’s per capita chocolate consumption and the rate at which its citizens win Nobel Prizes.

Food of Geniuses -- chocolate violin

Food of Geniuses — chocolate violin

The flavanols in chocolate may be responsible for stimulating cognitive performance. Messerli  wondered “whether there would be a correlation between a country’s level of chocolate consumption and its population’s cognitive function.” The number of Nobel Prizes serves as a surrogate for “the proportion with superior cognitive function” in a country. Messerli then attempted to analyze the relationship between the number of Nobel laureates per capita in a country with that country’s per capita chocolate consumption.

According to the paper, there is, indeed,  “a close, significant linear correlation (r=0.791, p<0.0001) between chocolate consumption per capita and the number of Nobel laureates per 10 million persons in a total of 23 countries.”

Interesting that Sweden, the home of the Nobel Prize, was removed from the calculations. As it happens, Sweden has more Nobel laureates than would have been expected based on its chocolate intake.

“[…]one cannot quite escape the notion that either the Nobel Committee in Stockholm has some inherent patriotic bias when assessing the candidates for these awards or, perhaps, that the Swedes are particularly sensitive to chocolate, and even minuscule amounts greatly enhance their cognition.”

Switzerland, on the other hand, “was the top performer in terms of both the number of Nobel Laureates and chocolate consumption.”

Eat chocolate and smarten up! As simple as this. Great news for aspiring geniuses and chocolate lovers.

Well, not so fast. Messerli duly points out that correlation does not prove causation.

“[…] since chocolate consumption has been documented to improve cognitive function, it seems most likely that in a dose-dependent way, chocolate intake provides the abundant fertile ground needed for the sprouting of Nobel laureates. Obviously, these findings are hypothesis-generating only and will have to be tested in a prospective, randomized trial.”

In a word, staffing yourself with chocolate may or may not make you a genius. In the very least, it might heighten your cognitive abilities to realize you aren’t a genius after all.

Messerli is not averse to the idea of reverse causation: “enhanced cognitive performance could stimulate countrywide chocolate consumption.” That is, inherently smart people eat more chocolate. Smart!

Some people — chocolate haters, perhaps? — raise a quizzical brow:

A randomized controlled trial is warranted to validate the hypothesis raised by this study. The pressing question, in my opinion, is who would sponsor such a study – the chocolate makers or the Nobel Committee? (Sanjay Kaul )

Drink of a Genius -- milkA somewhat similar study was conducted in Britain a few years prior. British experts have turned their attention on milk, and found a definitive link between the number of Nobel laureates and its consumption. It explains the “Swedish mystery” quite differently. It turned out, a statistical Swede (in a country’s 31,855 awards to 10 million people) drink about 350 kg of milk per year, whereas a statistical putinChinese —  only 50 kg per year.

Russia wasn’t included in either study. Perhaps, because such inclusion would’ve greatly undermined the results of both studies.  Chocolate consumption (appr. 4.5 kg per person per year) would
have put statistical Russian somewhere in the middle of the “chocolate rating”, between the United States, Netherlands and Australia. Nobel Chocolate Rankings, however, makes Russia an exception from the rule. Whereas United States and the Netherlands have 10 winners for 10 million of their population, and Australia — 5.5, Russia has only 1.614.

Dairy figures: Russian consumption (246 kg per person per year) is nearly equal to the American (250 kg), while the number of winners is much lower.
So, either Russian cows are inferior bovines or Russian metabolism is screwed up big time.

Unless there is an additional factor here… And there is! Either scientifically or in jest, the statistical Nobel laureate killer is… yes, you guessed it — alcohol.

He could've been Nobel laureate...

He could’ve been a Nobel laureate…


According to WHO (World Health Organization), Russia consumes 15.76 liters alcohol per person per year, ranking 4th in the world, while in the US the number is considerably lower — 9.44 liters per person per year (57th place). Thus — simple arithmetic to the rescue! — it is easy to calculate every additional 0.7 liters of alcohol per capita kill one Nobel laureate, metaphorically speaking.

Rabindranath Tagore

On the topic: Indian writer, Nobel Prize winner (literature, 1913) Rabindranath Tagore drank fresh goat milk every single day of his life. He was keen on bringing his favorite goat to Stockholm for the award ceremony in 1913, but the Nobel committee and the organizers of the award ceremony gently but firmly refused to allow such extravagance.


Eat Your Kandinsky

Here they are, side by side, W. Kandinsky’s Painting Number 201 and its edible recreation for the sake of science. The edible Kandinsky is a proof that if it looks good, smells good and arranged artfully, it might even taste good. Or you’d choose to eat this rather than an artless pile of chopped veggies on your plate. Or, if you really into Kandinsky, then you’ll eat it anyway and cry with joy.

The article in Flavour states that after painstaking research (and, perhaps, eating a few celery stalks too many) the researchers came to a groundbreaking conclusion:

 These results support the idea that presenting food in an aesthetically pleasing manner can enhance the experience of a dish. In particular, the use of artistic (visual) influences can enhance a diner’s rating of the flavour of a dish.It’s hard to judge how well the challenge has been met, since we can only observe the images of the “artistic visual presentation of food”.

And here’s an excerpt from the article Make your mealtimes more tasteful by , BioMed Central Update:

We love a challenge, so when Flavour published a paper showing that arranging a salad in the shape of a Kandinsky painting improved its taste, we were keen to have a go at making our own artistic meals. The press release about the paper included these images, and the story was covered by the BBC and CBC. Several major UK newspapers covered the research, including The Independent and The Telegraph, and The Guardian covered it in a news piece as well as their food blog.

The taste of food is impossible to judge by the look of it, but the result of the challenge is worthy of a look:


Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of Dora Maar and edible Dora Maar.

Rene Magritt’s Decalcomania and its scrumptious version.

Edgar Degas’ Danseuse en robe rose and Degas-inspired edible dancer in pink dress.

Mark Rothko’s painting and its meal version.

Oh, my! I’m sure Mark Rothko would’ve chosen beluga caviar for that all-black area of his masterpiece, not a string of what looks like olives. Honestly, caviar or not, I’d prefer edible Rothko to any inedible No 13 any meal of a day.

What can I say, some artists — many artists, actually — depicted food items on their canvasses. You don’t need to be an artist to recreate some of them for your next meal. Mention what inspired you to impress your dinner companions.

Dali's Basket of Bread is easy on ingredients, props and artistry. Substitute white bread for whole grain to give a contemporary touch. Remember, in 1926 whole grain bread was an involuntary choice of lower classes.

Dali’s Basket of Bread is easy on ingredients, props and artistry. Substitute white bread for whole grain to give a contemporary touch. Remember, in 1926 whole grain bread was an involuntary choice of lower classes.


Get your inspiration from Salvador Dali and serve lobster on a top of an old-fashioned telephone. Make sure it’s not a working phone, in case it rings and you’d be compelled to pick up a receiver.

Recreation of Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s (1526 or 1527 – 1593) masterpieces from authentic edible ingredients could easily feed a wedding reception of 300 and, while your guests are chomping on Winter Portrait’s nose, they can get a free lesson in the 16th century Italian art.

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Suggestions for creative serving of eggs, courtesy of the great Salvador:




Dali. Public Outdoor Sculptures in Portlligat Village at Girona, Catalonia, Spain

As the Anna Perman’s article suggests, we all love a challenge. Here’s my take on artfully tasteful mealtime:

To the left, is Kazimir Malevich’s famous Black Suprematic Square (1915). To the right,  is my own highly imaginative Malevich-inspired recreation, Max Square Black Dinner Plate, entree. Serves up to 12 art lovers in one sitting (2014).

She, who’d dare to ask for something to eat, will be served yesterday’s borscht and forever deemed lacking in art appreciation. On the other hand, god knows, my yesterday borscht might as well be inspired by an artwork…


Abstract painting of unknown artist that inspires Ukrainian borscht.

Borscht  (also borsch, bortsch, borstch, borsh, borshch)

Borscht (also borsch, bortsch, borstch, borsh, borshch)