The maxim that it's not what you eat for dinner, but who you share it with, now has scientific credence.

In a newly published study into what makes for a memorable meal, food shared with friends and family in a happy atmosphere was found to be just as important as what was served up.

The study, co-authored by Dr Sara Jaeger of Plant and Food Research, used data from a survey of 886 British residents to shed light on what people remembered enjoyable meals for.

The analysis revealed a memorable meal typically involved cooked food, wine, family and friends, and a "positive emotional state".

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Common highlights included meals eaten while on holiday, in romantic or in fine dining settings, or made at home with a special ingredient.

Other settings were "hearty, home-cooked" meals, those prepared either traditionally or spontaneously, or those remembered for cooking disasters.

One respondent described how beef wellington served up at one dinner party had turned out looking "absolutely awful, but luckily it still tasted great".

In many instances, the food was simply pizza or pub food, and it was company or conversation that had defined it.

Having good dinner company was a key factor across all of the respondents, with little difference in view when it came to age or gender.

The study, featured this week in Food Research International and among the first of its kind, had begun to answer several fundamental questions about meal memorability - but more work was needed, the authors said.

"Although many questions and challenges remain to be addressed, this is a first step into determining how positive meals are remembered in a rapidly evolving society, which eventually will contribute to a greater understanding of how food-related pleasure, emotions and enjoyment are constructed."