Monday, 25 October 2010

Food, glorious food, don't care what it looks like...


I don't think I've ever seen Oliver, but this song was on a record I had when I was little. Last week we had a training session in work after our regular assessment. We did an experiment which was to show how much our sense of taste actually is influenced by what our food looks like. In a group of 3 people we had a taster, a  helper and a note-taker. The taster was blindfolded and had a divers nose-clip on their nose, meaning that the only way of perceiving food was the taste buds on the tongue, giving you salt, sour, bitter, sweet and umami, plus texture. I was the taster for the first series in our group - and at first I thought the first sample could have been a thick creamy yoghurt, but my second thought was jam. After tasting all three samples (being blindfold this was where the helper was required - spoon-feeding the taster like a baby, and giving water in between each sample), the nose-clip was removed, thus restoring the sense of smell, and all three samples were tasted again. It was indeed jam - apricot (which took me a minute to home in on, at first I thought it could have been plum), blackcurrant and strawberry. It was funny because the one I could have sworn from the texture was strawberry was actually the blackcurrant. While I picked them all up on taste, some people in other groups didn't get the blackcurrant till the blindfold was also removed. The second series, after switching roles around, was savoury - puréed parsnip, swede and broccoli. In this case the taster picked up the fact that it was something savoury, but the broccoli caused a lot of trouble in all the groups. Mind you, even on sight I wasn't sure what it was, I thought it could have spinach mixed in with potato or something, or peas, and like all brassicas it oxidises quickly to lose its fresh taste and aroma. It wasn't till I remembered the taste of a creamed broccoli soup that I actually worked out what it was, so obviously for me the crisp crunchy texture of broccoli must be a large part of the way I identify it.  I could hear the conversation in another group - their taster thought it was earthy, rather like mushrooms but the wrong texture. An interesting experiment! And believe me, it's not easy to talk with one of those clips on your nose.
Afterwards we were shown a video clip of Heston Blumenthal conducting  the same experiment, where someone was totally sure that sweetcorn was apple.


  1. Interesting. I suppose this could be why we tend to lose our appetites when we're sick and all stuffed up.

  2. I can totally identify. I have not had my sense of smell for about 8 weeks with a head cold that just will not go away. The food really doesn't satisfy when you can't smell.