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Cutlery Can Change Flavors, Study Says

Cutlery Can Change Flavors, Study Says

A recent study shows a psychological link between cutlery and perception of flavor

A study revealing new links between food and psychology may be changing the way we eat.

Yahoo News reports that a study published in the interdisciplinary journal Flavour has determined that our experience with our food is altered by the choice of cutlery.

In one study, yogurt was eaten with plastic spoons of varying weights. Participants were asked to rate the yogurt based on sweetness, density, and estimated price. The resulting data showed that the yogurt eaten on lighter spoons was perceived as sweeter and denser than that eaten with heavier spoons. Participants found the experience of eating with the lighter spoon more enjoyable overall.

A second experiment tested 30 participants’ experience of cheese. Of the same cheese eaten with a toothpick, knife, fork, and spoon, the cheese tasted saltiest when served on a knife.

The findings of this study could have a strong impact on the advancing fields of health and diet. Researchers suggest that the next step in nutrition initiatives could involve altering cutlery to change the perception of food to make it taste saltier or sweeter without increasing these levels.

Simply by changing the color of a mug or the material of a fork, consumers could experience “unhealthy” tastes, while decreasing their intake of harmful sodium and sugars.

A typical Thai meal includes five main flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and spicy. Indeed, most Thai dishes are not considered satisfying unless they combine all five. While the seasoning can be spicy for a foreign palate, Thai food ensures that a balance of all flavors is present.

When eating out, or making a meal at home, a group of Thai diners would eat a variety of meat and/or fish dishes, plus vegetables, a noodle dish, and possibly soup. Everything is shared, except the soup each person might order, or each person gets a personal bowl to get a serving of the soup. Dessert may consist simply of fresh fruit, such as pineapple or any of the thousands of tropical fruits that are common in the country (guava, durian, mangosteen, papayas, bananas, tamarind, or mangoes, amongst many). Or it could be something more elaborate, like colorful rice cakes, rice dumplings coated in coconut, grass jelly, or a bean dessert.

Thais eat slowly and enjoy the food, as a meal is also an opportunity for sharing with loved ones.

Shrimp Scampi (accompaniment to Prime Rib holiday dinners)

With Prime Rib being the centerpiece of many holiday dinners, I thought I would share a recipe that accompanies it beautifully. The majority of my family enjoys beef, but I have found having the addition of shrimp to our holiday dinners is not only a special treat, but it also makes some of my guests, who prefer less red meat, happy because they have another option. Shrimp is a great way of doing this, so today I’m sharing my Shrimp Scampi recipe.

If you think making Shrimp Scampi is hard, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that it’s not. It’s very simple, but yet elegant enough to have your family and friends thinking you are getting all fancy on them.

To make Shrimp Scampi, you will need…what else? Shrimp. You can use just about any kind, but for me, I used a 2 lb. bag of Bay Harbor Frozen Shrimp (raw without tails), which is on sale this week at Smart and Final for $11.98 (which works out to be $5.99 per pound). Cooked shrimp is also on sale at Smart and Final, if you prefer to use that.

Some of the other ingredients I needed to pull together was minced garlic, parsley flakes, olive oil, butter, white wine, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.

One of the first steps in making my Shrimp Scampi is melting butter and heating it with olive oil in a skillet. After it’s all melted and heated together, you add your garlic to it and cook the garlic for about a minute. You don’t want to cook it any longer than that as garlic does burn easily and can turn bitter.

After cooking the garlic for a minute, you are ready to add your thawed (and drained) shrimp. Put them into the butter/garlic mixture and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Gently combine everything and continue cooking just until your shrimp turns pink and is no longer grey. Be sure to keep watch – shrimp doesn’t cook very long.

Now that your shrimp is pink, it’s done. Using a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp from the butter sauce to a bowl. Cover and keep warm.

You are now ready to add your white wine and lemon juice to the butter sauce.

Stir in the wine and lemon juice into the sauce which is heating over medium-high heat. Continue heating and stirring the mixture until it thickens a bit.

After it’s thickened, toss the shrimp back into the skillet, coating it with the butter sauce. Sprinkle in the parsley flakes and combine.

Spoon the shrimp into a serving dish or directly onto individual plates. Drizzle with a bit more sauce, if desired, and you can even top with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs.

Pudding Shot Tips

  • If you are not serving the pudding shots after they are refrigerated for 4 hours, you can place lids on the cups until ready to decorate and serve.
  • Decorating with whipped cream and sprinkles should be done shortly before serving.
  • If you wish, you can “pipe” (squeeze) the pudding shots mixture into the cups by placing the pudding into a large zipper-style food storage bag, cut off one corner of the bag, and squeeze the pudding into the cups.
  • Pudding Shots can be frozen. They can be enjoyed straight from the freezer or you can make your pudding shots in advance and freeze until the morning of the day you plan to serve them.
  • While you can eat pudding shots by squeezing the contents of the plastic cup into your mouth, but you may want to serve them with small tasting spoons.

Very Berry Scones

What’s not to love? Packed with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, these very berry scones are a flavor-packed classic. You can’t beat a mixed berry scone unless you add very berry glaze. I use the Simply Mixed Berry flavor here, which is fruity and tart.

From mixing, the blueberries and blackberries will leave streaks of dark blue/purple in the scone dough. It’s gorgeous! And the berry glaze is a lovely shade of pink. Berry pink glaze > boring white glaze. Right??

What Are Natural Flavors?

Part chemist and part artist, Wright&aposs job as a flavorist is to be able to translate the magic whoosh and be able to make your brain recognize that what you&aposre eating or drinking does in fact taste like you think it should. This is where those molecules come into play and it gets a bit science-y (check out this Harvard study for the scientific breakdown). A strawberry soda, for example, has "strawberry essences in a strawberry flavor," not fresh strawberry juice, says Wright. Fresh strawberry juice doesn&apost have much of a shelf life, and the extract needs to be combined with other flavors (such as jasmine, vanilla, or raspberry) to make it intense enough to flavor a product, she adds. From there, an aromatic component (usually in the form of an extract like the vanilla you use to bake with) gets diluted (with oils, water, etc.) before going into your soda, yogurt, fruit snack, or whatever it may be.

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How to Change Your Taste Buds to Eat Healthier Foods

Do you know people who say they hate…absolutely abhor all vegetables, especially the green ones? You know, the picky eaters,


Mixing a little of something you don’t like with something you do like works well. I have been reading that cabbage juice is good for the gastrointestinal tract. I have tried to drink cabbage juice in the past and it was very harsh by itself. So, this morning I juiced carrots and apples along with the cabbage. Although I can still taste the cabbage juice, the carrot and apple are so delicious, that I enjoyed the combination and will continue to use cabbage in my juice. My brain says, “Yum”.

These are great tips for developing healthier eating habits. Limit flavors in a single meal is a new one for me. I would not have guessed that limiting variety in a meal would help you feel fuller sooner. Eating the raw veggies first and the cooked last makes sense.

Eating steamed broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip greens, etc is fabulous! Non starchy vegetables are great both raw and cooked. In fact, they may be much more digestible cooked than raw.

I love my steamed vegetables. Try the softer music as a change at meal times. I really works. Our taste buds do become more acute as we age. And as the article states…try those vegetables the were distasteful as a child. You may find a big difference!

And also go back and try those vegetables you didn’t care for as a child. I’ve found a new love of brussel sprouts and asparagus warmed on the grill with a little oil and sea salt is wonderful. Yum

Thanks for the information. That is true go back and try something you did not like at first. I now eat avocado and asparagus and they both are good to my taste buds. The sweet toothe craving I now eat fruit in the place of the sweet cakes.

I agree you can change your taste preferences. When I eliminated all junk food from my house, the whole food started to appeal to me more. When I walk by the bananas on the counter, they look delicious and I look forward to eating them for breakfast.
I just brought home a fresh basil plant. The aroma of the basil leaves smells good and I look forward to using the basil in the recipe I selected. We can train our bodies to desire the healthy foods.

Thank you for the great ideas. I never knew that loud noise could affect the taste of your food.

To Compose the Perfect Bite, Listen to Your Food

In the last decade or so, restaurant critics in North America began noting that eateries were becoming increasingly loud, according to Spence. Some writers, including those at The New York Times and New York City’s Village Voice, began adding noise level as a part of their reviews.

“Those levels do now seem to be above 100 decibels in a number of restaurants,” which, especially for people working there, can damage hearing over time, says Spence.

But those loud volumes might be doing more than hurting our ears—they might also suppress how we perceive the saltiness and sweetness of foods, according to research published in Food Quality and Preference in 2010.

In the study, the researchers asked participants to eat chips and cookies while listening to white noise at either high or low volumes, or in silence. They found that the eaters perceived saltiness and sweetness as less intense when they ate the food in the presence of loud background noise, in contrast to when they ate it with quieter or no background noise.

“It’s a bold sort of effect, given the right situation,” says Andy Woods, who lead the study and who is currently head of online research at the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford (which Spence runs). “If you reduce the intensity of saltiness by 20-30 percent, that’s going to have a very significant impact on your enjoyment of the food.”

Woods likens the phenomenon to what happens when you hear loud music while trying to listen to someone speak at a normal level—the music simply drowns out the person’s voice.

On the other hand, some research suggests that, under the right conditions, loud noise might actually enhance certain flavors. For example, one recent study, published in June in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, found that background noise like what you encounter on an airplane—notorious for being extremely loud for passengers, typically reaching around 85 decibels at cruising levels—may in fact boost the taste of umami, a savory flavor known as the fifth taste and found in foods like tomatoes and mushrooms.

“Instead of merely being immune to the effects of loud noise, auditory conditions in air travel may actually serve to enhance this already appetitive and sought-after taste quality,” wrote the researchers, who are affiliated with Cornell University’s Department of Food Science.

(This specific study only recreated airplane cabin decibel levels, and didn’t simulate other factors that can be experienced in flight, such as changes in cabin pressure. However, British Airways and a research firm called Leatherhead Food Research ran a study a few years ago and found that umami flavor was enhanced at high altitudes. Another airline, Lufthansa, also found in 2010 that cabin pressure seemed to slightly heighten umami flavoring.)

There isn’t enough brain research yet to explain exactly why some flavors seem to be suppressed by surrounding noise while others might be heightened, according to Spence. He says that neurogastronomy—“the study of the complex brain processes that give rise to the flavors that we all experience when eating or drinking”—is still a relatively new discipline, having only emerged over the last decade or so.

Moreover, other studies suggest that it’s not just the volume of sounds that seems to affect flavor—the type of sound might play a role, too.

A few years ago, psychology professor Adrian North, then at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, set out to see if certain styles of music could influence imbibers’ perception of wine flavors.

“The music was chosen to be ‘powerful and heavy,’ ‘subtle and refined,’ ‘zingy and refreshing,’ or ‘mellow and soft’”—qualities that can also be used to describe wine, explains North, now at Curtin University in Perth, Australia.

Participants drank red and white wines while sitting in a room where one of the four styles of music played softly in the background. When they were finished drinking, they were asked to describe the wine. “What we found was that the ratings of the wine tended to mirror the ratings of the music that was playing in the background,” says North. Furthermore, “nobody mentioned the music.” (The results were published in the British Journal of Psychology in 2012.)

North says the major takeaway from this experiment is recognizing the role of music in our daily lives. “Music is now part of life, not necessarily a focal object,” he says, like it was when you used to have to sit down in the living room to listen to a vinyl record, for example. “Given that it’s so present these days, it’s just impacting the way in which we perceive the world.”

Spence has also tested how the style of pervading sound influences taste. In 2009, he co-created a seafood recipe with chef Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck restaurant in England. Named Sound of the Sea, the dish (which has shifted ingredients over time but is still available at the eatery) is plated on edible “sand” and splattered with what appears to be sea foam. Diners are asked to put on headphones connected to an iPod placed inside a conch shell and listen to a soundtrack of waves crashing or the cries of gulls while eating.

Several years ago, Spence had some diners listen to cutlery noises instead of the beach soundtrack. “Those who had the Sound of the Sea rated the seafood as significantly better tasting or enjoyable,” he says. The experiment (referenced in the Journal of Sensory Studies in 2010) shows how sound might be used to emphasize or draw people’s attention to certain flavors of the dish. In this case, the maritime atmosphere might have accentuated the taste of the seafood, Spence says.

In light of findings like these, North suggests it would be smart for cooks, restaurants, and others involved in food marketing to understand how music might influence the taste of their food.

Spence agrees. “We all think—chef, psychologist, food critic alike—that we can just taste the food on the plate, or the wine in the glass,” he says. “Our experience and our enjoyment of taste and flavors of food at home, in the air, in a restaurant, is as much about everything else as it is about the ingredients and how they’re prepared.”

Of course, Spence adds, preference will always depend on the individual, too. But now there are reasons to think beyond the tongue and nose when considering how we enjoy food. “Sound is the forgotten flavor sense. What we hear has a much bigger influence than any of us realize.”

Computers May Someday Beat Chefs At Creating Flavors We Crave

Does bell pepper and black tea sound appetizing? A computer may think so.

Mario Batali, watch your back.

Computer scientists at IBM have already built a computer that can beat human contestants on the TV quiz show, "Jeopardy." Now it appears they're sharpening their intellectual knives to make a computer that might someday challenge the competitors on "Iron Chef."

This is no trivial pursuit. Beating humans in a quiz show was a high-water mark for the computer science field. It meant designing a computer that understood how humans think. Now the plan is to design a computer that can understand how humans dream up new ideas, including new recipes.

"The goal in computational creativity is to come up with new things that have never been seen before," says Lav Varshney, a computer scientist at IBM. (Watch him explain the idea in the video below.)

Why focus on food? "Because food is so visceral," says Varshney. Everyone eats. It helps define our culture."

Culinary creativity isn't just about coming up with something novel. Varshney and his colleagues are hoping to make a computer that will be able to come up with recipes that taste good and don't add to our waistlines.

So how do you turn a computer into a culinary genius? The first step is to give the computer access to a database of recipes that are already being used successfully. "Then we remix them, substitute things, do all kinds of other modifications and generate millions of new ideas for recipes," says Varshney.

How about some chocolate drizzled over blue cheese? Ryan Smith/NPR hide caption

How about some chocolate drizzled over blue cheese?

"The second step is to take those millions of ideas and find the best ones. To do that we try to predict what humans will find flavorful, based on some basic ideas from chemistry and psychology."

For example, they started with an idea known as the flavor pairing hypothesis. "The basic idea is that two ingredients that share a lot of flavor compounds will go together well in Western cuisine," says Varshney. (We wrote about a University of Cambridge study on this concept just last year.)

But Varshney and his colleagues are not just interested in things that are flavorful, but also food combinations that are perceived as novel — like bell peppers and black tea, blue cheese and dark chocolate — even turmeric and black currants. They have some ideas from information theory and psychology that will help them come up with more.

The computer has already spit out some interesting suggestions. For example, last week Varshney and his colleagues tried a computer-generated recipe that was a mash up of a Spanish paella and an Indian curry. "It had turmeric and some other Indian spices and potatoes, pork and beef and then it has a kinda of a mango rum topping," says Varshney.

And how did it taste? "I'm actually vegetarian so I didn't eat that one, but the team did," he says. "They thought it was pretty good."

Varshney is hoping that their work will lead to make school lunches more attractive to students. They also hope it will help combat obesity by finding dishes that will satisfy people's food cravings without the accompanying calories.

Varshney says the work to create to a computerized top chef is just starting. IBM doesn't expect the computer will be ready for prime time for five years or so.

(19 votes, average: 4.79 out of 5)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1 x
  • Diet: Vegan


Here’s how to make the best homemade margarita recipe! Learn the ingredients and ratio to make the classic and popular riffs on this drink.


  • 1 1/2 ounces ( 3 tablespoons ) tequila blanco or reposado
  • 1 ounce ( 2 tablespoons ) Cointreau
  • 3/4 ounce ( 1 1/2 tablespoons ) fresh lime juice or flaky sea salt, for the rim
  • For the garnish: Lime wedge


  1. Cut a notch in a lime wedge, then run the lime around the rim of a glass. Dip the edge of the rim into a plate of flaky sea salt (or for a festive look, use our Margarita Salt).
  2. Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with 4 ice cubes and shake until cold.
  3. Strain the margarita into the glass with the salted rim. Fill the glass with ice and serve.

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