Previously confined to fine dining restaurants and establishments, multi-sensory dining has recently become much more widespread. Awareness of the effect that sight, sound, smell, taste and touch can all have on our perception and experience of food has grown, and can be applied to home-cooking as much as restaurant dishes.
On a quest to celebrate the quality and integrity of the ingredients used in their ice creams, Häagen-Dazs invited Professor Barry Smith, founder of the Centre for the Study of the Senses in London, to be one of three expert ‘Masters of Real’ at a pop-up academy and tasting event. Professor Smith talked about the importance of ingredients on the senses, and led detailed experiences around aroma, sound and sight, looking at the interplay between these individual senses. Did you know high and low frequency sounds affect perception of sweetness and bitterness? And that certain colours are often associated with particular tastes?
We asked Professor Smith to explain a little bit more about what multi-sensory dining really means for our taste-buds.
Tell us a little about your background?
Originally, I was trained in philosophy and cognitive science but I have been moving more and more into sensory science since I launched the Centre for the Study of the Senses at the Institute of Philosophy, where I work with psychologists and neuroscientists on the nature of perception.
How did you first become interested in multi-sensory perceptions of flavour?
I was writing a little about wine and telling people about the tastes of wine and why one wine was better than another and I suddenly began to ask myself, how does tasting work? So I talked to my colleagues in psychology and neuroscience and I discovered it was a very complex process, combining inputs and interactions between our senses of taste, touch and smell to create perceptions of flavour. I soon realised that we had the senses all wrong. We have many more senses than five and that most of our perceptions are multi-sensory.
Most people would naturally think that taste is our strongest sense when it comes to the enjoyment of food – but how much does the tongue actually contribute to tasting?
All the tongue can contributes to what we’re tasting is salt, sweet, sour, bitter, umami (or savouriness), and also metallic. And yet, we can taste, melon, pineapple, beef, lamb, chicken, cinnamon, mint, strawberry, raspberry. We don't have raspberry receptors on our tongues. This is all the result of smell.
What would you say is the second sense we should try to take into account when preparing food?
The sense of smell makes a huge contribution to what we call taste, which is really flavour. And it is not smell as we usually think of it when we inhale odours from the outside. It’s the odours rising from the mouth to the nose when we chew or swallow that creates the combined sensations of taste and smell that we call flavour. When we eat a dish or taste a wine, we think we are getting all the flavour from the tongue, but very little comes from the tongue, as we can tell if we eat while using a nose clip. This is also why we say we cannot ‘taste’ very much when we have a bad cold.
Which sense do we commonly think little about and should we focus on more?
Smell is important when we are tasting, but so is touch. How creamy, chewy, oily or sticky something is makes a difference to its flavour. Another sense is due to irritation of the trigeminal nerve that serves the eyes, the nose and mouth. This is the one that rings bells when we eat too much wasabi. Trigeminal sensations are how we experiences spices. They make mustard taste hot and peppermint taste cool in the mouth even when they are at the same temperature.