I would like to think that I can trust my taste buds. But, truth be told, I already suspected that my other senses were influencing my opinions of the foods I eat in the beverages I drink. For instance, while I don't know for certain that there is any actual taste difference between beer served in a can versus beer served in a bottle – or milk served in a glass versus milk served directly from a carton – I have always perceived that both of these beverages taste better in the glass.
According to scientists, it's just about everyone. Let’s looks at some examples.
Food tastes better – or worse – based on how it’s served
As crazy as this sounds, scientists in this 2011 study discovered that the color of the bowl from which popcorn was served completely changed the taste perception of the test subjects. Participant felt that the popcorn was sweeter or saltier when, in reality, it was the exact same batch of popcorn. The only difference was the color of the popcorn bowl.
In a similar 2013 study using cheese, scientists served the exact same cheese but in different manners – such as using a toothpick, versus eating the cheese off a knife, spoon, etc. What researchers learned is that, mysteriously, the mind perceived the saltiness of the cheese differently depending on which way it was served.
And in another 2011 study, this one from Spain, scientists were able to dramatically manipulate how people felt about the taste and the appropriate price of a food based on nothing more than the weight of the dish in which the food was served. By using the same batch of flavored yogurt, study participants were convinced that one bowl of yogurt was tastier – and should of course be priced higher – then another bowl of the exact same yogurt. The only difference? The weight of the bowl!
Of course, you may have already experienced something very similar to this, if you have ever felt that a meal served on a paper plate seems somehow less tasty than when served on a regular dish. Whether or not this new knowledge will influence you to think differently about the quality or taste of your foods, the results of this study certainly provides a simple way for any cook or restaurant to improve what the diners think about what they are being served. Try this: Next time you're tempted to serve up a quick meal by putting that hot dog and side of potato chips to your family on paper plates, put it instead on your best dishes and see if they come away from the meal feeling more satisfied and happier about dinner.
Price tags make us think differently about taste
Caltech scientists have learned that our perception of the quality of a food or drink can be influenced by something as simple as the price tag. In the study, volunteers were served several wines, purportedly ranging in price from as little as five dollars per bottle to as much as $90 per bottle. By far, participants preferred the flavor of the wine that they were told costs more money. In reality, some of the wines come from the same bottle, and yet that same wine scored higher when the participants thought it cost more.
Noise alters our taste sensations
And in a Netherlands study, scientists learned that people will perceive the taste of food differently depending on the atmosphere of the room in which the food is served. In the study, blindfolded participants consumed the same food but with different background sound experiences, such as soft sounds (think a quiet, upscale restaurant), a high level of white noise (think a mall’s food court) or silence. Interestingly, study participants experienced the flavor of the food as being quite different depending on which aural environment they were in while eating. Specifically, participants found that foods tasted more bland in the noisier environments.
We eat less when served food on a smaller plate
The implication of his study: What you see is how much you eat. So, rather than spend a ton of money on a diet plan, why not simply eat off of smaller plates?
Taste is a many splendored thing