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When making a cold deli meat sandwich or a burger, does layering the solid ingredients and condiments in a different order change the taste or mouth-feel? If so, how and why? Are there reasons to prefer one order to another?

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Yes, it can change the taste quite significantly.

Here's an easy experiment that you can do:

  1. Make a sandwich, but spread mustard on only one of the pieces of bread.
  2. Take a bite of the sandwich, mustard-side up.
  3. Take a bite of the sandwich, mustard-side down.

Mouth feel is affected as well, but not quite as dramatically.

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To add to the discussion of why you would favor one placement over another -- getting things closer to the tongue means you can use less of it; so you can reduce the amount of fat, salt, sugar, or more expensive ingredients but maintain similar flavor with proper placement. – Joe May 21 '14 at 15:36
Great hamburgers often make careful use of mayo-ketchup-tomato layering. There's a magic umami dance that can happen between those slippery layers. Mmm. – Preston Fitzgerald May 27 '14 at 7:35

Absolutely! I have had great results with tomatoes directly against the cheese. I can't quite put my finger on why, but no matter where else I've tried putting the tomato slice it just isn't quite as excellent as right up against the cheese (the cheese being right up against the bread in this example (separated only by your favorite choice of lipid =) ))

The timing of its production in relation to its intended time of consumption accentuates the difference that the ordering makes: For example, if keeping a sandwich in a sack for lunch later, I also have had great results putting the lettuce and/or spinach in between solid meat components instead of against the bread, a process which prevents the bread from getting soggy. (Of course segregating the lettuce in a separate plastic bag until lunch time is also an option.)

Aside from my experience, I suppose the fact that I rarely get strange looks from sandwich artists at delis or Subway in regards to any such special requests such as "could you please put the olives under the meat" can be a testament to their understanding that peculiarities such as this are part of the sandwich experience.

Also, if we really zoom in to the elemental level, and observe our food as the combinations of complex chemical compounds that they are, it would stand to reason that the interaction of any given ingredient with any other particular ingredient would vary at least slightly from its interaction with any of the other ingredients, and thus in all likelihood there would at least be some minuscule difference no matter how you changed the layering of your ingredients.

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Good point -- I try to keep the moist things away from softer bread where it might cause it to sog, but I put them close to the bread if it's a firmer bread that might need to be softened up (especially if it's a roll). – Joe May 20 '14 at 1:22

was told once to make burgers starting with the bottom of the bun. sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles. then the meat and cheese. was told that is how our taste buds were built and let someone taste all the flavors

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Hmm, so I should turn my Wendy's burger upside down when I eat it. – Pete Becker Oct 23 '14 at 11:13

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