Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Multi-Sensory Perception

Published 18th September 2010

The pleasure of eating food dependents on our multisensory perceptions. Our oral or ‘taste’ sensors perceive texture and temperature, and when food hits our taste buds it registers as sweet, sour, bitter, salt, or savoury (also known as ‘unami’) flavours. But there are other senses at play and the popularity of molecular cooking has highlighted the roles of these multisensory receptors. Ferran Adrià of El Bulli restaurant in Spain quotes ‘Cooking is probably the most multi-sensual art. I try to stimulate all the senses.’

I am intrigued by Heston Blumenthal’s (Fat Duck restaurant UK) exploration of the relationships between the senses and a food experience.

What you see is not always what you get and if you saw Heston’s beautiful fruit on the first series of Heston’s Feast; visually your mind registers ‘luscious sweetness’. However Heston’s mandarins were made from chicken livers, apples with minced pork and plums from bull’s testicles - a real shock to the senses. Here in our region we have ‘miracle fruit’ that if eaten just before another food, it reverses the taste. So biting into a sour lemon produces a sweet taste; confusing our perception.

Heston’s signature dishes ‘The Sound of the Sea’ is seafood served on a glass-topped wooden box containing edible sand and seashells, foam and edible seaweed, along with an iPod for the consumer to listen to the sound of waves crashing on a beach and seagulls overhead. A series of tests on this dish at Oxford University revealed that sound can really enhance the sense of taste.

With taste in the mouth, the olfactory sense (of smell) identifies aroma. The aroma of coffee brewing or a cake in the oven is a great stimulus to the appetite. Once again in Heston’s television show ‘Kitchen Chemistry’ he demonstrated feeding his blindfolded, nose pegged chef a spoonful of mashed strawberries. The chef tasted sweetness and only when he uses his nose, he perceives strawberries.

It’s great to know that eating has so many nuances and using all your senses of visual, smell, sound, taste and even touch can further enliven its pleasure.

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