Wednesday, June 5, 2019

THE BLISS POINT: Guest Post by Leslie Karst

Leslie Karst:
The Bliss Point 

Knowing Janet’s love for all things chocolate, I thought that a short essay about why that sort of foodstuff is so incredibly irresistible to us humans would be appropriate for this blog.

As some of you may be aware, I worked for twenty years as a research and appellate attorney before turning my sights from drafting legal briefs to the far more enjoyable vocation of drafting culinary murder mysteries. But before matriculating at law school, I had to undergo the trial by fire of sitting for the dreaded Law School Admissions Test. And while I was preparing for the LSAT, my food of choice to keep me going during the marathon study sessions was frequently a Snickers bar.

I still love that candy bar, though I now indulge only rarely—having entered the stage of life where one’s metabolism is such that the price of the indulgence is paid directly at the waist line.

But what is it about the Snickers bar, I recently pondered, that makes it so highly addictive?

I found an answer to this question in a book by David A. Kessler, entitled The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. Wondering just why a chocolate chip cookie could have such a strong power over him, Dr. Kessler spent seven years trying to discover the reason. The result was this book, in which he concludes that it’s all about the correct combination of sugar, fat and salt. Restaurants and other food businesses spend countless dollars and hours manipulating these ingredients until they reach what Kessler refers to as the “bliss point.”

We all know about this “bliss point” caused by the combination of sugar, fat and salt, even if it’s only subconscious. That’s why the tin roof sundae was such a popular ice cream treat back in my grandparents’ days, and why, more recently, dark chocolate sprinkled with sea salt has been the “new big thing” for many years running.

 Finding your Bliss Point 
(the addition of the acid in the wine adds an extra level) 

Cooks learn early on that salt is an essential ingredient in baked goods, and that adding a little sugar to savory foods can make the difference between something rather bland and something simply scrumptious. I learned this while a student at my local community college’s culinary arts program: a half teaspoon of sugar or honey added to your vinaigrette makes the taste buds stand up and take notice, providing that perfect contrast to the emulsion of acid, oil, and mustard.

Our brains are simply hard-wired to crave these things. After all, it wasn’t until pretty recently—evolutionarily speaking—that humans had much access to sugar, fat, or salt. Sweets were found only in fruits and honey; wild game would have been quite lean; and salt was rare and, when available, far too expensive for most of the population.

The problem of course, is that now that we have these ingredients in abundance, we can’t resist them. What a perfect opportunity for capitalism to go wild, and for us consumers to chow down plates of fried chicken and waffles drowning in (faux) maple syrup and to scarf enormous bags of salty, buttery popcorn along with boxes of Milk Duds at the movies.

Too bad our bodies can’t seem to handle what our brains tell us to crave.

So what about those Snickers bars? Well, according to Dr. Kessler, they are “extraordinarily well engineered.” As we chew one, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts in such a way that the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth all at the same time.

And yes, they did help me get into Stanford Law School.


The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. Putting this early education to good use, she now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder, Death al Fresco, Murder from Scratch), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California. An ex-lawyer like her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. Visit Leslie at or at


buddy love said...

They`ve got to lift that trophy on July the 7th otherwise they`ll be rioting in the streets.

Janet Rudolph said...

Oh the world cup, of course, yes it`ll be tough but i think they will retain their title primarily because hat-trick hero Lloyd is still playing so well at age 36.

Gram said...

I'm from New England, we don't do faux maple syrup!

Marla Cooper said...

And now I want a Snickers Bar! Thanks for explaining to my brain what my taste buds had already intuited. Yummy!