Eating with your eyes

From the earliest age, young children are naturally drawn to things that they find attractive, and food is no exception. Indeed, we often choose a dessert or a meal which is well presented or has appealing colors, but does this have an impact on the taste? Research has found the answer.

The study took place at Oxford University and was carried out by Charles Michel, a French-Columbian chef and trainee experimental psychologist and Charles Spence, a professor in experimental psychology. A sample group of 30 men and 30 women were given one of three different types of salad. All of the salads had the same ingredients but they were presented differently: the first was inspired by a Kandinsky painting (although candidates were unaware of its artistic nature), the second was a more traditional salad, and finally the third, in which each element was separated and arranged neatly. Unaware of the existence of the different types of salad, each participant ate their salad alone in an environment resembling a restaurant. Each participant then completed two questionnaires, rating the different aspects of their meal on a scale of 1 to 10 before and after tasting.

Before tasting, the ‘Kandinsky’ salad had the best score, in particular for its complexity and its artistic undertones. The participants were even prepared to pay twice as much for a Kandinsky salad, than for the other two more ordinary salads. The same observation was made after tasting: once again the Kandinsky salad was the most highly rated.

In conclusion, the research suggests that participants realize and appreciate the effort that certain meals require, and this in turn can change their perceived value. Chefs, who often rely on their intuition and expertise in presenting their meals, could take a different approach to culinary esthetics based on psychology and sensory science.
Source: Charles Michel et al. A taste of Kandinsky: assessing the influence of the artistic visual presentation of food on the dining experience. Flavour, June 20th, 2014, 3:7. doi:10.1186/2044-7248-3-7

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