As an enthusiastic foodie, the pairing of the topics ‘science’ and ‘food’ rather seemed to eliminate all the theoretical pleasure that comes with eating. I am not scientific, other than the basic grounding in science GCSE. However, one topic that recently came to my consciousness and aroused a particular interest was the science behind ‘multi-sensory eating’. This is something that applies to each one of us every day, without our instinctive awareness.
Have you ever realised why street food taste so much better and more exciting than your bog standard food at home? Or why we use different forms of cups for different drinks? It is all to do with engaging with the senses in different ways, so as to make our experience with food as sensual as possible, which consequently intensifies the tastes and flavours.
Let us take street food as a study, then. There are many aspects of street food that work in enhancing our experience of consumption. The first is the design of the open-kitchen. In a street food market, the first thing that attracts us to the food is the smells that waft through the air, much more freely than in a restaurant with a kitchen that is closed off. Secondly, the act of watching the food being made before us engages the senses of sight and functions in building anticipation and intrigue. The next is the concept of eating the food with our hands, which encourages the body as much as possible to engage in the act of eating. Many North-African cultures celebrate the joys of food by assembling altogether for each meal and eating with their hands.
Part of the reason for my increased interest in this topic was listening to a podcast that featured Sir Charles Spence, a Professor of Experimental Psychology who specialises in the research of multi-sensory perception. Some of his recent studies have explored how the features of tableware, the design of the spoon and the colour of the plate affect the way we taste food. Sir Spence states that a combination of psychological, perceptual, physiological-chemical and environmental factors have been shown to alter the overall taste and experience of food.
Another thing I am willing to explore is the variety of the food itself. Its colour, for example. Many scientists claim that we should eat the rainbow to increase our nutritional intake. However, it is also the case that the more vibrant the colour of the food, the more flavoursome it will taste, due to an intensified nutritional content. Also, scientists have proved that the food will taste better if it is first ‘eaten by the eyes’. The aesthetics of your plate are not just for Instagram! The second is the texture. Science has proved that the crunchier the food, the more endorphins will be released, resulting in our increased happiness and joy. What a wonder! Eating is already aligned with ultimate joy, and so to be able to increase this joy just by eating certain foods would surely endorse an overwhelming sense of happiness! Who needs pick-me-ups when you have simple, honest food?