From the “Yes, someone really studied this!” files: experimental psychologists Vanessa Harrar and Charles Spence just released a fascinating study on how the materials used to make cutlery and serving dishes affect our perceptions of food.
You may have noticed on your own that the materials used to make cutlery can affect the flavor of your food, but this study went deeper than that.
The researchers found that the color of the utensils you use or the package the food comes in can matter. For instance, drink out of a blue glass and a beverage will seem more refreshing, or eat from a spoon that strongly contrasts the color of your food and you’ll eat less.
They also found shape matters too. Food tastes sweeter when you eat it out of rounded dishes.
Serving a rich, slightly bitter dessert? You’ll want a plate with sharp edges to bring out those notes.
Want people to think you’re serving luxurious food? You’ll need heavier dishes and silverware because people associate these characteristics with high quality.
All this is a fascinating example of how the mind, imagination, and perception interplay to change what we think of as reality, but it is also more than that.
We’ve long known that the way we eat has actually changed the structure of our jaws and eating patterns, and this research tells us even more about our complex relationship with food and eating.
Commercially speaking, businesses are already eyeing how this research might apply to further help market fine dining and food packaging, two potentially highly lucrative areas of food research.
However, these findings are just as important in terms of how people relate with food on a more individual level, right down to the best choice of plates for parents preparing a meal for their children.
A common complaint about vegetables is that they taste bitter or unpleasant. Maybe that would change if we served vegetables in rounded containers so as to emphasize perceptions of sweetness. Similarly kids, like adults, might prefer heavier dishes and cutlery, which appear to make food taste more enjoyable.
The same tactics could also be used to help address low appetite in hospital patients who need some inspiration to eat solid foods (and, for that matter, something other than Jello).
Likewise, are we doing a disservice to great food by serving it on plastic utensils and with plastic plates and bowls?
Disposable utensils might not just be bad for the environment — they could also be a turn-off for your palate. That also holds true for so-called “green” plastics made from materials that are allegedly compostable, but actually only break down under certain conditions.
Clearly, the research indicates that more studies on this topic are definitely necessary. It also begs the question: with just a few simple changes to the way we present food, could we soon be looking at a world where kids clamor for veggies?
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