Oxford, U.K. – There are more ways to taste food than just by, well, tasting it.
Charles Spence, a neuroscientist professor at Oxford University, has found that the shapes of food products, the environmental sounds and even the cutlery consumers use can influence how food tastes.
On FoodNavigator.com, Spence talks about how Cadbury changed the shape of its Dairy Milk Chocolate bars last year, causing consumers to complain about the change in the chocolate’s recipe. But Cadbury hadn’t touched the recipe, just the shape.
Spence told FoodNavigator.com that the company had underestimated how a change in shape can indeed change a food’s taste.
According to Spence’s research, rounder shapes tend to taste sweeter, while angular shapes taste bitter – a fact food manufacturers should keep in mind. And not just the shape, colour as well can change the taste. That extends to the colour of the packaging, too.
ScientificAmerican.com (the blog) reports that the exploration of sound and taste is new but recently researchers are taking a more inclusive look at flavour.
It’s Spence who heads up the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford and who has been working with Starbucks on a soundtrack to complement the company’s coffee.
Spence has also worked with chefs, examining environmental sounds and their influence on taste. ScientificAmerican.com (the blog) says that the research is important because it’s not just the digestive system that processes food. The brain plays a significant role in processing food as well.
Spence has found that French music has influenced consumers to buy French wine. It’s the same with German music and German wine. Spence wonders if the study could be replicated by playing the sounds of the sea at the seafood counter.
Spence’s work also looks at the influence of cutlery on taste. Prevention.com reports that rather than adding sugar and salt to food, consumers might want to switch up their cutlery choices.
Spence has found that the size, shape, colour and weight of our eating utensils affect the way we perceive the taste of the food we eat.
Prevention.com reports on a study where a group of 35 people sampled and rated yogurt and cheese from different types of cutlery, researchers found that food seemed to taste denser, more expensive, and less sweet when eaten from a lighter plastic spoon rather than heavier plastic spoons. White yogurt also tastes sweeter and more expensive when eaten from a white spoon than a black spoon, and cheese tastes saltiest when eaten from a knife than from a fork, spoon, or toothpick.
Even contrasting the colour of the food and the utensils we use sends different signals to the brain. Desserts feel as though they taste sweeter and richer on white plates, while light-coloured foods on darker tableware increases perceived saltiness and sometimes the overall unpleasantness of the food.
Spence explains that varying silverware may eventually become an important factor in promoting healthy eating, says Prevention.com. It could help consumers eat more or less of certain foods. The idea being that consumers could use cutlery as a sort of seasoning. Spence adds that there’s no right or wrong cutlery, although heavy is generally good.