I love to learn new things, and recently went to a talk – The Psychology of Taste with Jozef Yousseff and Charles Spence.

We eat first with our eyes

Josef is interested in the science of the diner and molecular gastronomy. Interested in exploring how presentation impacts on our enjoyment of food and to move on from modernist cooking. Charles is an experimental psychologist.
They discussed sensory confusion when we lose our sense of taste, why are certain smells sweet such as vanilla when it is naturally bitter.
It wasn’t just theory there were also tastes and we were given 4 spoons of different coloured food Red, Black, Green and White.

We had to guess which was bitter, which was sweet, which salty was and which was sour. I got them all right – most of us identified green with sour – it reminded us of limes and red as sweet (Cranberry and rose water). The black was bitter (Guiness) and the white was sour (salty yoghurt). It might though have been interesting if we were confused and what we tasted wasn’t as expected. It was also discussed that if the taster is put on a different coloured spoon it confuses us.
A change of plate shape and colour can also affect our expectations about the taste of a food. Looking at these plates, we used our knowledge to make assumptions of what the food on them would taste like, again a real jolt to the senses to find a sweet taste on a plate we expect to be bitter, for example.

Research across cultures, including the Himba Tribe from Namibia shows that we share expectations – so we can decide between options which is Bouba (circles) and which is kiki (sharp) – tastes have shapes, not just colours.

Reducing sugar and calories

Shape can affect our taste. Jelly is rated sweeter when presented in a circle but sour if presented as a triangle, despite being exactly the same recipe. This has shown via Cadbury Dairy Milk, who changed the shape of their chocolate bars to be more rounded and people rated it as more sugary, sweeter, despite the recipe not having been changed. This could be a way of reducing the sugar count in food.
Other ways that could lead to us eating less including eating off red plates and having heavier bowls that you have to hold.
Food served in new shapes will come out next year.

90% of taste is really smell

And food served in a bag with a smoky aroma means the food is also tasted as smoky. We ate some risotto while saffron was sprayed in the air near where we ate. But this isn’t new, futurists were spraying over food back in the 1930s.

Layout on plates

On a website people were asked to vote on the ideal presentation of food on a plate, when food is pointed, the point needs to be away from us as there is a danger sign if points go towards us.

It’s also sound

Music can affect how we taste food. In Josef’s restaurant when the music was dramatically changed for a second plate of food people tasted it differently, despinte it being exactly the same food.

Related topic

Last year I wrote a post about Synaesthesia

Further reading


Published On: June 6th, 2015 / Categories: About Denise /

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