It might surprise you to learn that the tongue isn’t the only organ that influences taste. Smells stimulate receptor proteins in our bodies that permit us to discern a food’s flavor without having to imbibe it first. The science goes beyond odorants, however, and the effects are even stranger.
New findings published in the Journal of Retailing revealed that physically touching food before it enters your mouth enhances sensory perceptions in the brain, making food taste better than it does when you use a utensil. For whatever reason, this effect was only observable in those who adhered to some kind of diet plan.
Participants who routinely consume whatever they want whenever they want did not experience any noticeable differences in taste when they did not employ cutlery. This division revealed a few more neurological mechanisms—many of which provide valuable insight into the obesity crisis and portion control.
‘It’s an interesting effect. It’s such a small tweak but it can change how people evaluate your product,” Lead researcher Professor Adriana Madzharov explained to Daily Mail. “The two groups do not appear to process sensory information in the same way. ‘For people who regularly control their food consumption, direct touch triggers an enhanced sensory response, making food more desirable and appealing.”
The researchers from Stevens University in New York began with the recruitment of 45 participants. Each was administered a questionnaire surveying their sense of self-regulation, a cube of Muenster cheese and then tasked with holding their food samples for a few moments before consuming it.
The control group held their cheese cube on a cocktail stick, while the experimental group held their cheese cube in their hands. When each volunteer swapped groups, those who reported a general adherence to dietary self-control agreed that the cheese tasted better when they held it in their hands before consumption.
In an attempt to replicate this contrast, the researchers recruited more than 140 undergraduate students.
Some of the participants were told to imagine that they were on a restrictive diet, and the rest were told to exclude weight gain and health metrics from consideration.
After the two groups were established each participant was supplied with four mini-donuts. Half were given cocktail sticks while the remaining half were not. Yet again, respondents given the hypothetical diet prompt surveyed the taste of the donut models more enthusiastically when they held it in their hands first, compared to participants who confessed poor impulse control.