The volume of the crunch, the weight of the cutlery. Gastrophysics reveals what tastes are all about


What music goes with chocolate? And how loud? Gastrophysics is curious. And the terrain it covers is pretty unexplored.

Gastrophysics does not pay attention to nutrition tables or the nutritional value of foods. He is not interested in the dictates of healthy eating fashion. It is a multidisciplinary science that tries to shed light on the exact reasons why certain foods bring us more satisfaction than others.

She notices subjective sensations, taste, the feeling of inner fulfillment, which, however, according to her point of view, can be very objectively captured and scientifically explained. It solves little big mysteries as quite mundane parts of our lives.

Charles Spence, a gastrophysicist and lecturer in experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, points out: “When in the fifth century AD the Roman chef Apicius declared that we eat with our eyes, he was absolutely right. Our brains evolved to be able to find food. And visual perception has become the primary source of information for us. So if the food already looks good to the eye, our expectations also increase, and thus also the possible taste sensation.”

But what does this mean for contemporary gastrophysics?

An example would be the obscure looking plate research.

Color, shape and surface

He presents his field with enthusiasm and enthusiasm. In 2017, Charles Spence explained the connection between wine, brain, psychology at the Wine and Fermentation Congress in Portugal.

In it, for example, Spence and his colleagues experimentally demonstrated that pinkish strawberry mousse served on a white plate tasted seven percent sweeter, thirteen percent tastier and overall people found it nine percent more pleasant than the same strawberry mousse served on black plates.

They also proved that we generally perceive food as sweeter if it is served on round plates, not square ones. The color and shape of the plate work with our subconscious and influence our sensory perception, including the taste experience. Gastrophysics enriches us with information, for example, that food served from a deeper bowl seems more filling than food on a shallow plate.

Apparently the surface of the plate is also at play. Ginger cookies served from a plate with a rough, rough surface were rated as significantly crunchier and “more gingery” than when the same cookies were served from a smooth plate.

Spence also defends the relatively extreme attempts of restaurants, which try to serve dishes on a very non-traditional basis rather than the recession. In a sea shell, on the back of a plastic toy car or in a more sophisticated version, such as at Islington restaurant John Salt, where duck liver is served on caramelised bricks. “It’s impractical, but it forces the consumer’s attention. It sparks his imagination and raises his expectations,” she says. “Here, the food is written into the memory as soon as it is served.”

Understandably, recognition of world science usually does not follow from such conclusions, although some outputs could be stimulating for practice.

For example, it turned out that eating from deep red plates is not very appealing to anyone. For example, if we wanted to fight against unhealthy fast food, requiring them to be equipped with red plates would probably work better than repeated warnings from health professionals.

Chefs and restaurant owners striving for Michelin stars also show great interest in the outputs of gastrophysicists. Because it is these small details that help them make their gastronomy truly world-class and unforgettable.

A symphony for all the senses

Chef Jozef Youssef (left and gastrophysicist Charles Spence. They present their knowledge in their restaurant Kitchen Theory.

For example, it has been shown that people enjoy food better and are willing to pay more for it in a restaurant if they eat it with heavier cutlery.

However, rather than dealing with dumbbell weight cutlery, it is said to be better to add more texture to their handles. The result of a small, to the taste of more expressive cutlery, is that people perceive food as a more pleasant, more stimulating and certainly more memorable taste experience.

“So it’s not just about looks,” adds Spence. “If you want to make food an experience, it must also be heard, felt, perceived by touch. Only when they work all the senses together, the result is something truly extraordinary.”

Spence convinced us of how big a role hearing actually plays in eating with his next famous experiment. The original title of the study was The role of modulated auditory stimuli in the perception of the quality of potato chips. He gave it a more striking name for himself, like “sonic chips”.

How to summarize the work in a nutshell? He found that increasing the volume and intensity of the crunch when eating potato chips made eaters believe that the crispier ones were about 15 percent fresher. And tastier. Although they differed only in that adjusted acoustic output.

True, this contribution of his was subsequently awarded the ironic Ig Nobel Prize for improbable research, but he nevertheless made the field of gastronomic physics famous.

In addition, it seems that people in the potato industry knew something about this now scientifically confirmed result. “Their squishy and puffy bags of crisps, which cannot be quietly opened or eaten, are simply part of that subconscious perception,” adds Spence from the position of a scientist who has embarked on the path of gastronomy.

Another gastrophysicist, Heston Blumenthal, confirms the fact that acoustic perception is also behind the popularity of foods that are not only fried to a crisp, but also baked, with a caramelized crust, creamy or chewy, such as halloumi cheese. On the other hand, he is a gastronomy professional who embarked on the path of science.

According to him, the crunch volume trick is not limited to unhealthy potato chips. “You can actually play with any noisy food. With apples, celery, carrots,” he says, adding: “When we reduce food consumption to just taste and nutritional value, we’re only telling half the story.”

Together, Spence and Blumenthal worked out a study showing that people enjoy a cup of coffee much less if the coffee maker makes a high-pitched sound while grinding the beans. Quieter and darkly humming ones, on the other hand, produced subjectively tastier coffee.

Let there be light!

Chef Heston Blumenthal also fell for gastrophysics.

Naturally, light also plays its role. Research carried out in the United States in 2007 already indicated that those who like strong coffee drink more when the brightness of the surrounding environment increases.

At the same time, the brightness of the light is also reflected in a higher willingness to order a spicier dish in a restaurant.

Spence then enriched the issue of light during the consumption of drinks with his own research. An experiment conducted on three thousand respondents. In which he demonstrated the influence of light on the increase of the “fruity taste” of red wine. How?

The red wine was served in a black, opaque tasting glass. And if a red light was on in the room while eating, people found the taste to be 15 percent fruitier. It didn’t statistically prove to work that way with green or daylight.

Spence and the team of gastrophysicists are also behind the unraveling of one small big “mystery” of gastronomy. They found the answer to the question of why people so often consume tomato juice during intercontinental flights.

“A slice of lemon, a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, tomato juice, no ice,” Spence says. “As long as my feet are firmly on the ground, I wouldn’t think of ordering it. But as soon as I get on the plane and fasten my seatbelt, it’s like a Pavlovian reflex.”

And apparently he’s not alone. Few people sip tomato juice for breakfast or as an aperitif. Still, this salty-tasting drink makes up 27 percent of all beverage orders on airplanes, with or without added vodka. For every 1,000 people who order a drink on a plane on an intercontinental flight, more than a quarter of the orders are tomato juice.

Spence wondered why something like this was happening on a plane. And the answer? “It is hidden in the specificity of the ingredients. Together they create umami, the fifth taste,” says Spence. Unpleasant noise in the airplane cabin, which reaches 80 to 85 decibels in the background, disrupts people’s ability to perceive sweet taste. The sensation of a classic gin and tonic that tastes so sweet on earth is greatly dulled in the air. In contrast, noise increases our perception of the intensity of savory flavors such as umami, and thus of tomato juice. Nowhere else can you enjoy that delicacy as much as on a flight. And people who have tried it can’t get enough of it during the flight.

“When we cheerfully ask a flight attendant to pour us a Bloody Mary, we often have no idea that what’s going on with our ears might be driving us to do it,” Spence concludes.

His research is said to be still at the beginning, gastrophysics is still a new field of science. Therefore, for the time being, Spence is not too surprised by his fellow scientists, who are worried about his research. However, he clearly sees the potential of his new science. For example, in the fact that it would be possible to convince consumers to eat less sweet foods only with the help of a plate on which a more diet dessert will be served to them.

The article is in Czech

Tags: volume crunch weight cutlery Gastrophysics reveals tastes


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