Not By Taste Alone

I use a variety of approaches when I work with clients. One of them focuses on my clients’ thoughts/beliefs surrounding food and examining such areas as who they are as eaters, feelings that trigger eating, one’s fullness mindset as well as how their perceptions of food affect their lives and their weight. Through such inquiries, one realizes the concept of willpower goes out the window.

An intriguing article in the November 2 issue of The New Yorker, Nicola Twilley’s “Accounting For Taste,” expanded my thoughts about how we perceive food. She writes about Charles Spence’s (a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University) research—“. . . Spence said, consumers are constantly, if unwittingly, proving his point that taste can be altered through color, shape, or sound alone.” Please read the piece when you have a chance.

Some Spence’s findings:

  • “Strawberry-flavored mousse tastes ten percent sweeter when served from a white container rather than a black one.”
  • Coffee tastes nearly twice as intense but only two-thirds as sweet when it’s drunk from a white mug rather than a clear glass one.”
  • Adding two and half ounces to the weight of a plastic yogurt container makes the yogurt seem about twenty-five percent more filling.”
  • “. . . curve shapes can enhance sweetness . . . cheesecake tasted twenty percent sweeter when it was eaten from a round white plate rather than a square one.”
  • “. . . participants perceived salty popcorn as tasting sweet when served in a red bowl.”
  • Soup presented in a blue container can make food seem “significantly saltier.”

And you thought you could rely on just your taste buds.

Yes, food companies are in contact with him—“Spence estimates that seventy-five percent of his work is industry-funded.” Spence’s above comment about altering taste through color, shape, or sound connects to how food corporations manipulate our taste buds through their manipulation of the sugar, salt, and fat contents in their processed foods. It’s all about profits and to keep us coming back for more and more and more . . . .

Please note, Spence also wants his research to be used in beneficial ways. For example, he is working with a children’s cancer center to tweak the eating environment to counter the metallic taste of food and nausea which are common chemotherapy side effects.

The grocery store has become a minefield. How do we maneuver our way through it? One way is to avoid as much processed, packaged food as we can and to eat quality organic, whole foods whenever possible. Another way it is educate ourselves about how food corporations are manipulating us. As I mentioned in my posts about the The Clean Fifteen™ (6/8/15)) list or The Dirty Dozen™ (6/4/15) list, we need to think twice about what we place in our grocery carts.

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