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Perception of taste influenced by other senses

New research shows that how we perceive or expect food to taste largely influences how we actually experience the flavor when we eat it.

You've no doubt had a burger that ”looked” tasty, and it's very likely you could tell from looking at your aunt's cabbage surprise that it was going to be pretty bland. Why is this; how come we're able to see how food is going to taste? As it turns out, scientists have discovered that this phenomenon isn't simply a result of remembering what tasty food is supposed to look like. Our vision, and indeed our other senses too, actually effect the flavor.

Dr. Terry E. Acree revealed the discovery at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society."There have been important new insights into how people perceive food flavors," explains Acree, "Years ago, taste was a table with two legs: Taste and odor. Now we are beginning to understand that flavor depends on parts of the brain that involve taste, odor, touch and vision. The sum total of these signals, plus our emotions and past experiences, result in perception of flavors, and determine whether we like or dislike specific foods."

Mmmm, looks good


Surprisingly, our vision has a powerful enough impact on flavor that it can actually overwrite the taste of something. As an experiment Sauvignon Blanc, a white wine, was colored red; tasters reported experiencing the flavors usually characteristic of red wine. Similarly, smell can override taste as well; smell a strawberry or caramel before drinking water and the water will taste sweet.


Acree explains that looks aren't everything: Stews or chillies don't exactly look good from an objective point of view. Appearance-wise, they remind mostly of feces or vomit, but our past experiences and expectations of flavor make them appear savory. Equally, the desire for new experiences or novelty may override taste, smell and vision to entice us towards a new flavor.


Understanding the effects of interactions between smell, vision and taste is important, says Acree. In a world full of finicky and unhealthy eating, finding ways to make healthy food seem more appealing is something that could benefit many people.

David F.
A grad student in experimental physics, David is fascinated by science, space and technology. When not buried in lecture books, he enjoys movies, gaming and mountainbiking

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