Yoghurt from a silver spoon tastes best

It’s well documented that many things influence flavour perception – music, colour, altitude, for instance – but now psychologists have found that the weight, type and even the colour and weight of cutlery can change the way people perceive the taste of food.

Published in the journal Flavour, new research at Oxford University’s cross-modal research lab run by Prof Charles Spence, have found that using different types of cutlery can alter taste perception.

The researchers believe the findings provide an insight into how the brain can be tricked into interpreting our senses differently.

They are now working with Heston Blumenthal’s famous restaurant The Fat Duck to produce new spoon designs that can enhance diners’ experiences.

“The effect is entirely psychological,” said Spence, who led the study at the department of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford. “The idea is to play with the diner’s taste-buds in ways that enhance their experience.”

In the study 35 participants used taste tests to rate yoghurt eaten with plastic cutlery.

Those that used a lightweight plastic spoon found the yoghurt creamier and more expensive than a plastic spoon that had been altered to weigh more.

A separate experiment also showed that yoghurt eaten with heavy silver spoons compared to replicas made from plastic and stainless steel was also rated as tasting better.

The researchers believe this could be due to preconceptions about how cutlery should feel according to its appearance and this can transfer to the food being eaten.

The colour of the spoons also had an effect, with yoghurt tasting sweeter from white plastic spoons and least sweet from black spoons.

Similarly pink yoghurt was found to be least sweet when eaten with a blue spoon.

The findings build on previous work that has shown how the quality and colour of plates can also affect the way food tastes.

Dr Vanessa Harrar, the lead author of the new study, said: “Subtly changing eating implements and tableware can affect how pleasurable, or filling, food appears.

“This may be used to help control eating patterns such as portion size or how much salt is added to food.”

Journal Reference:

The taste of cutlery: how the taste of food is affected by the weight, size, shape, and colour of the cutlery used to eat it

Vanessa Harrar and Charles Spence

Flavour 2013, 2:21 doi:10.1186/2044-7248-2-21

Published: 26 June 2013