Sensory Overload

July 1, 2016

Sensory Overload

When it comes to eating, the sense you assume to dominate is taste. But as I discovered, each of the five senses come into play, in more ways than you would imagine.

As a child, I remember sitting at the dining table refusing to eat my peas. I’ve always disliked them, still do to this day. But I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until I’d finished my dinner, so I would pinch my nose and wolf the little devils down until they were all gone. Why did this mask the taste? It turns out each of the five senses play an important role when we eat.

Smell

There are two ways we smell, firstly through breathing in the front of the nose, and secondly through the back of our nose, from our mouth, when chewing food. At least 75 per cent of what we ‘taste’ actually comes from smell and most of the flavours we detect come from within the mouth. This is why wine tasters swill wine, to encourage flavour into the nose. The sense of smell is also closely linked to our emotions and are connected to the involuntary nervous system. That is why a bad taste or smell can induce nausea or vomiting, and appetising smells increase saliva and gastric juices, making them literally mouthwatering.

Taste

Taste refers to what is sensed by the taste cells on the front and back of the tongue and on the sides, back and roof of the mouth. These cells, or taste buds, bind with molecules from our food and send signals to the brain, which are then broken down into salty, bitter, sweet, sour and savoury. The fifth taste was discovered by a Japanese researcher, which is why the Japanese term, umami is also commonly used for savoury.

Touch

This sense allows us to feel the texture of our food, whether that be with our fingertips, tongue, teeth and palate, aka ‘mouth feel’. Since the advent of reality cooking shows, everyday consumers are now understanding the importance of this sense in their dishes, with the addition of more textural elements.

Sound

Whether it’s the sizzle of the cooking process creating anticipation, or hearing different sounds while eating (think the crunch of pork crackle), listening adds another dimension to the food experience. What would a bowl of soup be without crispy croutons?

Sight

Almost half of the brain processes visually, which is why the colour of our food and drink can not only determine whether it is appetising, but quite often its flavour too. If you eat something orange in colour, you would expect it to be orange in flavour. Colour comes into play with decor too, with restaurants using this to boost sales.

Red and orange make people hungry, impulsive and excited. Which is why most of the fast-food chains use these colours in their branding and interiors. Red is also associated with sweetness; a German study found people who drank identical glasses of wine under red lighting said the wine was sweeter, compared to people who drank the same wine under white or blue lights.

Green is associated with being healthy and wholesome. Green also induces thirst. “The first people to use this as the basis for their brand colours was Sizzler. Drinks were not included and they wanted to encourage people to buy them,” food blogger Lorraine Elliott said.

Yellow makes people happy, your brain releases a chemical called serotonin, which makes you feel good. So the more optimistic you are, the more likely you are to indulge and spend more money.

Blue is one of the most unappetising colours. This was put to the test when people ate a blue-dyed steak in a dark room with no complaints, but once the lights came on, some were physically sick.

There is also a theory if you put a blue light in your fridge or eat on blue crockery, it will suppress your appetite.

White foods are associated with being empty, and can trick you into mindless overeating. Food eaten on a white plate also appears to taste better than from a darker plate, therefore you eat more of it.

Interestingly, when you have a rainbow of colours, you have a tendency to eat more – think of Skittles and M&Ms, if there is a mixed bowl, you will eat more than if the colours are displayed separately.

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