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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

Many of the foods that we enjoy are unhealthy: high in fat, sugar, and salt, and tend to be low in vitamins. Despite rigorous information campaigns aimed at informing people about the risks associated with such consumption habits, we are generally rather poor at changing our (mostly automatic) consumption behaviours.

Recently, Marteau and colleagues have suggested that one way in which to change our automatic behaviours toward food products may be to change food product design or to somehow alter the environment in which those food products are selected or consumed. While food science and technology has mostly focused on changing the sensory attributes of the food itself, a cognitive neuroscience perspective has also demonstrated the influence that changes to the tableware can have on the taste and flavour of food.

In the present study, pblished on Flavour journal (2013, 2:21), Vanessa Harrar and Charles Spence of Crossmodal Research Laboratory,, University of Oxford (UK) 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. The researchers independently varied the weight, size, colour, and shape of cutlery. They assessed the impact of changing the sensory properties of the cutlery on participants’ 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, they 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.

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. We discuss these results in the context of changing environmental cues in order to modify people’s eating habits.

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