How much do you know about the power of colour, weight, shape and texture on the mind? Our senses modify the way we perceive the world. While a broad range of these links are explored in my book, for this short post I thought it might be fun to investigate some of the strange effects that impact table place setting ideas.
Did you have coffee today? Perhaps a hot chocolate or a cup of tea? Did you pay much attention to the cup, mug or cardboard container? I am betting that you will after reading this post. There is a strange, hidden machinery at work in our minds that messes with the senses.
Have you noticed that café latte served in a white, ceramic mug tastes more intense in flavour than in a clear glass mug? At least this is the case for most people, according to research headed by George Van Doorn in Australia, and Charles Spence at the University of Oxford.
By contrast, if you like a sweeter taste, clear glass has us perceiving the drink as sugary. This also occurs with a blue container.
If you prefer hot chocolate, the taste of this benefits from an orange cup with a white interior.
Shape and feel of a container also matter. Coffee tastes more bitter in an angular cup for instance, and a craft beer tastes fruitier when served in a rounded glass rather than one with straight sides.
Does all this sound ridiculous? Well, it turns out that perception is not quite as trustworthy as we might think. Our senses play tricks on us, and there are more examples, all based on carefully structured experiments.
Have you ever weighed a plate in your hand or felt disappointed in an airline meal as soon as you pick up the flimsy cutlery? It turns out that a restaurant experience is fundamentally affected by the cutlery and crockery! Place setting matters.
The colour of the plate and even the weight of the cutlery makes a measurable difference to the way food tastes. A white plate, for example, results in a dessert tasting more intense and sweeter than a black setting, despite the artistic statement.
Similarly, a heavy dish leads to greater flavour intensity. Shape can also have an effect, with rounder plates producing a sweeter taste for desserts.
If you like popcorn, then you may like to consider that a red or blue bowl as the receptacle results in a sweeter taste whereas a blue bowl highlights the salty flavour!
As for the weight of cutlery, specifically, food eaten with heavier implements comes across as more pleasant and is judged to be of higher quality than the same food eaten with lighter weight but similar-looking cutlery.
What could possibly be going on here? Well, it is still somewhat of a mystery why our minds make this cross-overs between what we see and feel with how things taste. Certainly, the colour, weight, surface shape or texture don’t change the chemicals reaching our senses, but scientists have a few suggestions to explain the effect.
Some links may be in-borne, for example the way we instinctively associate red with winning. In other instances, we can get used to the colour of a food wrapper and learn to associate it with a certain taste. Then, when the colour cue is missing, the flavour can come across as missing something too. This happened when Coca Cola changed the colour of their cans many years ago.
Words can also carry impressions across our sensory system. For example, feeling heavy plates or cutlery, or even seeing them, can cause us to think about the concept of heaviness. This concept then transfers to the food as a heaviness or intensity of flavour.
If you want to do your own experiment at the next dinner party about what works perhaps take a lesson from Sigfredo Fuentes who is at the forefront of exploring these links and on the hunt for changes in our body and behaviour that signal how we feel. Look for pupil dilation and a person who leans forward slightly, as a signal that they are experiencing a pleasant sensation.
As for table place setting ideas, for best results you might try heavy white plates with a round shape, weighty cutlery, round glasses for beer or wine, and angular white ceramic cups or mugs for that after dinner coffee.
In the next post we will explore the effect of mood on memory.
Till next time – B.W. Cribb