Food is about more than just flavour. Just ask French novelist Marcel Proust – he wrote a seven-volume novel based on memories triggered from the taste of a madeleine.
It’s why a relatively new branch of science, neurogastronomy, came into existence. This field asserts that taste and smell happen primarily in the brain, rather than in the mouth and nose. While our taste buds serve as a pathway, flavour is the sum of everything that our brain brings to the table.
Neurogastronomy originated through studies conducted with chemotherapy patients, who were unable to enjoy food because their sense of taste was neurologically impaired. This science studies everything around the food – its shape, colour, and the sound it makes, for instance, and our emotional, cognitive and rational enjoyment of it.
Chefs in the know are taking advantage of neurogastronomy to elevate the dining experience. Renowned British chef Heston Blumenthal, for instance, presents dishes of oysters with headphones and an iPod so that diners can listen to the sound of the sea as they eat.
You can take your eating experience to the next level, too, right at home. Here are some tips on improving your meals without even touching your cooking skills, according to a November 2015 report in the National Geographic:
1. Plate it right
According to an August 2013 study in the journal Flavour, the same strawberry dessert tastes 10 per cent sweeter when served on a white plate instead of a black one. If you change rectangular slate plates to round ceramic ones, it also makes the same dessert taste 10 per cent sweeter. Love hot cocoa? An August 2012 study in the Journal of Sensory Studies found that hot cocoa is thought to be sweeter, with a more intense aroma, when it is presented in a dark cream coloured cup.
2. Use heavy cutlery
Use heavy knives, forks and spoons and dishes to create the perception that food is tastier and of higher quality – this was the conclusion of a December 2011 study in the journal Food Quality and Preference. Interestingly, food tastes saltiest if it’s tasted with a knife rather than other forms of cutlery – although it’s probably not worth the risk.
3. Choose a playlist
Fast music has been found to increase the speed with which we eat, and slow music does the opposite. In fact, slow music also increases perceived food quality. Even the pitch matters, according to the 2014 book The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining. Lower pitched, bass sounds made desserts come across as bitter and burnt, while high pitched sounds made toffee appear sweeter and more floral.
Other tips include making food crunchy to suggest freshness (we associate the sensation with fresh fruits and vegetables or freshly fried products), or adding intense colour to simulate intense flavour.