To make your yogurt seem more decadent, eat it from a plastic spoon, suggests a new study, which found that the color, weight and shape of utensils influences our experience of the food we eat with them.
The findings add to plenty of other evidence that the taste of food varies depending on the accessories we use to eat it. When people drink from a glass that has a color perceived as “cool,” for example, they find the beverage more thirst-quenching. And food eaten out of a heavier bowl seems like a larger portion.
To see what kind of influence utensils might have on food experiences, researchers from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom conducted a series of experiments. They added hidden weights to some plastic spoons, for example, and asked people to rate the sweetness, density and expensiveness of yogurt. They also played around with the color and shape of cutlery.
People perceived yogurt as denser and more expensive when eaten with lighter spoons, the researchers report today in the journal Flavour, probably because those spoons matched their expectations. But yogurt tasted with that spoon was also rated as less sweet than when eaten with heavier or larger spoons.
When using a blue spoon, people thought pink yogurt tasted saltier than white yogurt, possibly because salty snack foods in the U.K. often come in blue packages with white lettering — leading to unrealized salty expectations from the white yogurt. And people thought yogurt tasted sweeter when they ate it with a white spoon than with a black one.
In a final experiment with different types of cheese, the researchers found that people rated cheese as saltier when they sampled it with a knife instead of a fork, spoon or toothpick. This may have been because eating with a knife is an unusual behavior, the researchers speculated, or because it reminded people of using a knife to try samples in a cheese shop, where cheeses tend to be more aged and therefore saltier.
Together, the findings add yet more evidence that subtle details about way we eat influence how we experience the textures and flavors of our food. The results may also lead to new strategies for more or less healthful eating.
Offering cheese on a knife, for example, might be a good way for stores to get people to buy more cheese, since saltiness is appealing to most people. And altering the color, weight or shape of spoons could cause people to eat more or less food.
“How we experience food is a multisensory experience involving taste, feel of the food in our mouths, aroma, and the feasting of our eyes,” said co-author Vanessa Harrar in a press release. “Even before we put food into our mouths our brains have made a judgment about it, which affects our overall experience.”
“Subtly changing eating implements and tableware can affect how pleasurable, or filling, food appears,” she added. “So, when serving a dish, one should keep in mind that the color of the food appears different depending on the background on which it is presented (plate or cutlery) and, therefore, tastes different.”