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Research into cutlery and food flavours

When you eat, your taste experience depends on a whole range of factors. Among them, British researchers have found, are the size, colour and weight of the cutlery you’re using. Scientists from the University of Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology carried out three experiments, the results of which we’ve summarised below.

Cutlery material and size are relevant

The first experiment looked at the effect of the size and weight of the cutlery you eat with. 35 test persons were set to eat yoghurt with five different spoons. There were two teaspoons and two dessert spoons made of plastic, one of each was additionally weighted. The fifth spoon was also made of plastic, but it looked like stainless steel. The researchers found some interesting effects. Eating yoghurt with heavy spoons, the test persons reported that the yoghurt was watery and poor quality. Yoghurt eaten with teaspoons tasted sweeter than the same yoghurt eaten from the larger dessert spoons. The researchers believe that it’s not the absolute weight that is decisive, but rather the expectations that people have of a particular material. The extra sweetness reported may have a connection with the fact that sweet desserts are generally eaten with small spoons and your brain may automatically expect something sweet on a teaspoon.

Colour contrasts influence your taste experience

The second experiment tested the influence of colour on your eating experience. 40 test persons were served white and pink yoghurt on red, blue, green, white and black plastic spoons. Participants reported that white yoghurt served on a white spoon was very sweet, pleasant and high quality. Yoghurt served on a black spoon was thought to be the least sweet. The other colours didn’t seem to have any effect on the taste. The researchers postulated that it’s the contrast between the food and the cutlery colour which makes the difference.

Knives for saltiness

In the third experiment the researchers looked at the relation between the shape of the eating implements and the taste of the food. 30 test persons were given a piece each of a mild young cheese and a mature, spicy one. They were offered the cheeses on a knife, a toothpick, a fork and a spoon. Participants judged the cheese offered on the knife as being saltier than the others. The researchers’ explanation here was that we don’t generally eat from a knife, so this contrasts with our expectations and we really focus on the flavour of the cheese.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de