How Packaging Can Trick Your Tastebuds

By Clara Olshansky |

© The Fresno Bee / MCT / Getty Images

A heavier container could make your yogurt feel more filling and chocolate with round edges can taste to you than square chocolate. Findings like these are what experimental psychology professor Charles Spence of Oxford University has spent his life researching—how all our senses can mess with what we taste: from Coca-Cola to Cadbury, packaging cues can define the way we think of what we eat.

It all started with a Pringle: Spence began his research into how other senses affect taste by examining how the sound of a Pringle's crunch can change how fresh we think it is. This experiment, later named the sonic chip experiment, manipulated its tasters into thinking the chip's crunch was louder or softer than it was. Subjects who heard louder sounds rated the chip as crisper and fresher than those who'd heard quieter crunches.

And it didn't end there; the sonic chip experiment launched a whole slew of other investigations. In fact, Spence co-authors 50-100 papers a year, a rate one of his scientific colleagues described as "pathological". He has found that spikier salad leaves taste more bitter, xylophone music can make an ale taste creamy and sweet, and cookies taste crunchier when served on a rough-sanded surface.

Though seemingly silly, Spence's findings could make the world a better place. Though seventy-five percent of his research is funded by major food and beverage companies, he's also looking into how aesthetic changes could be used to help everyone. In Spain, Spence is working with a children's cancer center to discover what tweaks they can make to foods' presentation to reduce the metallic taste and nausea that chemotherapy brings about. In the U.K., he's met with the government's Behavioral Insights Team to see how his findings could help combat obesity. By the time he’s through Spence will give an entirely different meaning to eating with your eyes. And your ears, nose and fingers.

To learn more, buy Spence's book The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining on Amazon.

[h/t: The New Yorker]

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