Year 11 | 18 August 2019 | TO ENTER | TO REGISTER

The cutlery could affect the taste of food

The University of Oxford demonstrates that the properties of the cutlery can indeed affect people's taste perception of everyday foods, most likely when expectations regarding the cutlery or the food have been disconfirmed

The colour of the tableware can affect the flavour of a dish. If a glass has a cold colour, a beverage served from it may well be rated as more thirst-quenching. The colour of the plateware can also affect the perceived saltiness and sweetness of the food tasted from it The effect of colour (or colour contrast) on flavour perception and consumption behaviour might be mediated by emotion, especially since thoughts of food and emotions activate similar brain areas.
Expectations and experience with eating certain foods from certain pieces of cutlery might mediate the effects of cutlery shape on taste perception. As cheese is often served with toothpicks at cocktail parties, or from a knife in a cheese shop, we wondered whether eating cheese with the aid of these tools would make the cheese appear more expensive or more liked.

In the present study, researchers report three experiments designed to investigate whether food tastes different when the visual and tactile properties of the plastic cutlery from which it is sampled are altered. We independently varied the weight, size, colour, and shape of cutlery. We assessed the impact of changing the sensory properties of the cutlery on participant ratings of the sweetness, saltiness, perceived value, and overall liking of the food tasted from it.

The results revealed that yoghurt was perceived as denser and more expensive when tasted from a lighter plastic spoon as compared to the artificially weighted spoons; the size of the spoon only interacted with the spoon-weight factor for the perceived sweetness of the yoghurt. The taste of the yoghurt was also affected by the colour of the cutlery, but these effects depended on the colour of the food as well, suggesting that colour contrast may have been responsible for the observed effects. Finally, we investigated the influence of the shape of the cutlery. The results showed that the food was rated as being saltiest when sampled from a knife rather than from a spoon, fork, or toothpick.

The results of the three experiments reported in the present study extend the findings of recent research that has demonstrated that the properties of the tableware can affect people's perception of food samples. The results reported here extend these previous findings by demonstrating that the absolute weight (context free) does not seem to be the perceptual quality that is transferred from bowl, or cutlery, to food. Rather, it would appear to be the expected weight of the tableware, a relative attribute that depends on the cutlery's appearance, the physical materials, the type of food being consumed, and potentially individual differences in tactile preferences, that might most appropriately explain the effects on taste.
Can red, or other specific colours, promote consumption or else perhaps discourage it? In addition to the small effects of colour reported here, other studies demonstrated that people consume less when a snack is presented on a red plate, or a drink has a red label. Here, researchers would like to suggest that red could, for example, be used to serve food to people who need to reduce their food intake, but should certainly not be used for those who are underweight.

Taken together, these results demonstrate that the properties of the cutlery can indeed affect people's taste perception of everyday foods, most likely when expectations regarding the cutlery or the food have been disconfirmed.
Researchers discuss these results in the context of changing environmental cues in order to modify people's eating habits.

by T N
02 september 2013, Food & Fun > Knowledge