A study we reported on in September found that using a large spoon can make you eat more than you intend. But can the size of your eating utensils—as well as their color, shape and weight—affect how your food tastes? Though it may sound kind of crazy, a new British study published in the journal Flavour lends support to the notion that the visual and tactile properties of cutlery can influence your eating experience, for better or worse.
In a series of experiments at Oxford University, researchers had participants describe the sweetness, saltiness, density, sharpness, value and overall liking of foods sampled under varying cutlery conditions. Among the findings:
- White (plain) yogurt eaten from a white spoon was perceived as sweeter and more expensive than when eaten from a black spoon.
- Yogurt sampled from a small plastic spoon tasted less sweet than yogurt eaten with a big plastic spoon.
- Cheese eaten from a knife (as opposed to a fork, spoon or toothpick) was rated as saltier.
Earlier research found that the color of other types of tableware also affects people’s taste perceptions. For example, beverages served in blue and green glasses (“cold” colors) were perceived to be more thirst-quenching than those served in red and yellow glasses.
How do the sensory attributes of tableware influence taste perceptions? One theory is that people form expectations of what a food will taste like based on previous experiences (snacks might taste saltier when associated with the color blue, for example, if you’re used to seeing them served in blue bowls). Then there is the idea of “sensation transference,” such that the color and weight attributes of the tableware transfer to the food itself. Eating off a heavy spoon, for example, may make a food seem thicker and denser.
The study had many variables and caveats— and its findings didn’t all jibe with previous research—so it’s hard to generalize about what sort of tableware you should use if, say, you want to cut down on sodium or sugar. Plus, the effects may vary culturally and from person to person. Still, as the authors said, their findings demonstrate that “even before we put food into our mouths, our brains have made a judgment about it, which affects our overall experience.”
Thus, changing your utensils, even slightly, might not only help you make healthier food choices, it may also increase the pleasure you derive from your meals. The trick is to find out which attributes work in your favor.