Looking at a broader definition of the term ‘Gastrophysics’.
Gastrophysics is a field of study concerned with new science of the table – the study of ‘the everything else’, the study of ‘off-the-plate dining’. Those who research Gastrophysics are inspired by the neuroscience, but are much more interested in studying people’s real-world food behaviours as much as possible.
The research results in a greater understanding of perceptions and associations we build with food, which ultimately helps us understand the relationship we have with food and the food choices we make on a day to day basis.
Innovative chefs are now working with scientists to understand these concepts and use them to develop even more entertaining, satisfying and enjoyable experiences. These chefs are taking a more holistic approach when it comes to planing their guest’s experience. Menu, dining room setting, colours, lighting, music, cutlery, service and every last detail related to the dining experience and the diners journey is all meticulously thought out. The goal is to stimulate the senses, and impact the diner on a multitude of levels from flavour appreciation to emotional engagement.
To begin with it is important to understand why the senses are important in the first place!
Humans can only make sense of life, interact and communicate using their senses. We have no other way of receiving information – which forms our perspective and reality. Life therefore can be seen as a continuous series of sensory experiences which create our existence.
Eating (particularly ‘dining’) is considered among the most sensory of all activities in which we part take. We draw on all our senses when we eat; sight, smell, touch, taste and sound.
Depending on the sensory cues of a food we make several judgments; so a very simple example would be a long shaped, yellow-ish food that smells of isoamyl acetate (a main aroma compound in bananas) – immediately we could identify that as a banana (as long as we have been exposed to bananas previously). Now before eating this banana we will have certain expectations; if the skin has strong green tones we would expect it to be unripe, a yellow skin with a few brown spots would indicate it is ripe or perhaps over ripe, if it is totally brown we would assume it to be decaying.
These visual cues set further expectations regarding texture; so when we peel the unripe banana it should expose a firm pale yellow flesh, the ripe banana will likely have a softer texture and slightly more yellow colour, and as for the brown over ripe banana we would expect something quite mushy and ‘bruised’. In the meanwhile all of this will set expectations in our mind regarding the freshness, quality, nutritional content, sweetness, flavour and the overall satisfaction derived from consuming the product.
So the above is a good demonstration on how colour cues alone can set all sorts of expectations! Crisps, or crunchy foods of any type are a great example of the importance of sound when we make judgments on that food’s quality and desirability.
Based on research (for which he won a highly coveted IgNobel prize in 2008) Professor Spence found he could make a 15 percent difference in people’s perception of a stale chip’s freshness by playing them a louder crunch when they bit into it. Other researchers conducted tests in the Netherlands and Japan in which they asked volunteers to crunch on chips in time with a metronome, while researchers played crunching sounds back, in perfect synchrony, through their headphones.
All was well until the researchers replaced the crunching with the sound of breaking glass—and “people’s jaws just freeze up!!”
Our next page in this series will look at the potential for gastrophysics to aid in improving the world’s growing health/dietary issues.