The Science of the Senses

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Taste. Over time, we’ve developed complex perceptions of flavour to help us get the nutrients we need to survive.

 

Three canapés on small individual plates on a white table

Sweet
The flavour of milk and ripened fruit, both of which can contribute important nutrients to the diet.

Sour
The taste of acidic foods. The amount of salt needed can sometimes be reduced by adding some acidity. Try seasoning with a squeeze of lemon juice or dash of lime zest.

Bitter
A bitter taste is sometimes present in nature to provide a warning against potential toxins or unripe foods. However, it's also familiar in coffee and dark chocolate.

Salty
A flavour enhancer found naturally in some foods or commonly added as a seasoning. Watch out though - too much can be bad for our health.

Umami
The flavour enhancing taste profile from amino acids naturally found in proteins. Can be used to help balance the flavour intensity of a dish when reducing salt.

According to Nutrition and the Brain, published by the Corporate Wellness Unit of Nestlé, these divisions existed long before scientists had a name for them.

 

DID YOU KNOW? Babies can discern flavour in utero. The amniotic fluid surrounding a baby in the womb is flavoured by the foods and beverages the mother has eaten, and after 21 weeks the developing child swallows several ounces each day.1

 

The surprising influence of other senses

The way we experience flavour can be impacted by a food’s smell, texture, temperature, colour and appearance. Even the room temperature, the lighting, and the comfort of your chair can play a role in the pleasure of eating. Consider these interesting findings:

 

SoundSmell Sight

Excess noise can elevate blood pressure, increase breathing rates, intensify the effects of alcohol, depress the appetite and make sleep difficult—even after the noise ceases.
 
The average noise level of a typical restaurant during a dining rush is 80 dB (some reach as much as 110 dB), the equivalent of a road construction site or a 
lawnmower.2

Much of what we call taste is actually smell. A piece of apple and a piece of onion can taste the same if you hold your nose while eating them.

The 2004 Nobel Prize was awarded to scientists who found that smell helps us detect all the good qualities we attribute to good taste.
 

Research in the late 1970s showed that we eat with our eyes first.
 
Preparing the environment properly is an important part of providing an optimal dining experience. Here are some strategies to try:
 
Green, brown, and red are the most popular food colours. Red is often used in restaurant decorating schemes because it is an appetite stimulant.3  Different lighting levels can set different moods. While orange or yellow tones can create a warm environment, dim lighting or candles can create a romantic atmosphere.4


 

Sources
1. www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/fetal-development/fetal-taste/ 
2. www.acoustics.com/ra_restaurantnoise.asp 
3. www.webstaurantstore.com/blog/1884/interior-color-choices-and-your-restaurants-message.html 
4. www.verywellmind.com/color-psychology-2795824