Friday, August 18, 2017

Warning: This article could radically alter the way you eat

Love it or hate it, molecular gastronomy – the appropriation of industrial food science methods by top chefs – has been one of the most influential food movements in recent times. But as the concept has grown a little stale, a new scientific approach – complete with novel name amalgamating food and science – has been gaining traction: gastrophysics. The term had been coined by the Oxford experimental psychologist Charles Spence, whose work on flavour perception has shown in fascinating and often amusing detail how the taste, aroma and our overall enjoyment of food are influenced by all of the senses – yup, even hearing – as well as mood and expectations.

We eat 35 percent more when with one more person and 75 percent more with three others. Photo: Naing Wynn Htoon / The Myanmar TimesWe eat 35 percent more when with one more person and 75 percent more with three others. Photo: Naing Wynn Htoon / The Myanmar Times

Spence and his gastrophysics contemporaries – who work in disciplines from psychology, neuroscience and sensory sciences to marketing, behavioural economics and design – don’t talk about what a meal “tastes of”. Instead, they say “flaves of”, because they know that taste, which technically only happens on the tongue, is a paltry part of the overall effect.

Much of Spence and his colleagues’ findings make instinctive sense, such as that messily plated food doesn’t taste as good as if it’s neatly or artistically arranged. And much of this body of knowledge has been appropriated by Big Food to manipulate consumers since the 1930s, when 7-Up marketeers already knew that the more yellow on the can, the more citrus the drink would taste. Or that roundness (whether it’s the product or the logo) tastes sweeter while pointy is bitter. But despite Spence’s influence both on mass-produced and Michelin-starred food, he seems keen to share these secrets with consumers, too (see his book The Perfect Meal). Here are some gastrophysics’ most illuminating facts about how we perceive taste…

Expensive tastes good

The gastrophysicists love to play a trick and have shown that if we pay more for wine, we think it’s more delicious. Physical weight also implies quality. If we are given heavy cutlery, we will enjoy food more (for example, yoghurt will be perceived as creamier), think it is of higher quality and be willing to part with more cash for it. Even sounds in restaurants can up the takings: Classical music makes diners come over all discerning and choose the most expensive menu options, while loud music increases soft drink sales.

Don’t eat while watching Solaris

The king of gastrophysics diet tips is Professor Brian Wansink at the Cornell Brand and Food Lab. Watching sad movies, his team recently found, drastically increases mindless eating. Solaris viewers munched 55 percent more popcorn than those who watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Likewise, eating in front of the TV is bad news, because you simply do not notice your body telling you when you’re full.

Wansink et al have also looked at the influence of plate colour on food consumption. It turns out that red plates are the path to reduced food intake. They think it’s something to do with there being less contrast between the food and plate.

Eating alone will keep you trim

We eat 35pc more when with one other person, 75pc more with three others and twice as much when there are seven or more diners. Variety also encourages overeating. A bowl of mixed M&Ms will go down quicker than a bowl of just one colour.

Decisive diners win

If you often feel you’ve chosen badly in a restaurant, then know this: She or he who orders first tends to enjoy their food or drink more. Those who follow often instinctively dismiss what others have ordered (there’s a psychological phenomenon called the “need for uniqueness”) and end up picking something they wouldn’t ordinarily choose.

Colour trumps palate

Spence easily tricked wine experts into reviewing a white wine with red food colouring as a red wine. Adding insult to injury, the 54-strong panel had already reviewed the wine in its original white form, using white-wine terms such as honey, lemon, lychee and straw (whereas the red version evoked chicory, coal, prune, chocolate and tobacco).

Wine also tastes 50pc sweeter when consumed under a red light. The reason? Our eyes are our most influential sense, with vision taking up the most brain space, and so the expectation implanted in our minds by colour can overrule the taste and aroma put together.

Who knows what sinister uses this knowledge has been put to over the years? But forearmed is forewarned, right? Perhaps the dissemination of gastrophysics findings will fuel uprisings against obesity-aiding food brands, rip-off restaurant chains and pretentious wine bores.

– The Guardian