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The science of taste and flavour

4 min read
AUTHOR: Ross Carver-Carter
An outline of a women's face, her brain a multi-coloured cloud of dust and smoke representing the science of flavour/psychology of taste

Taste, one of the five key human senses.

It allows us to access a whole world of flavours in food, enriching our eating experience and dictating our palates. But have you ever thought about what’s going on when we take a delicious bite of food?

Far from being a lone sense, taste is a marriage of them all; sight, sound, smell and texture. Much like a classical music piece, taste is composed by an orchestra of senses where the whole is greater than its parts.

For example, the launch of clear cola drinks in the early 90s was a failure as consumers associated cola flavour with a brown colour. Despite containing the same ingredients as coloured cola, it tasted different to consumers.

Curated from the Food Matters Live podcast, the following episodes delve into the fascinating science of taste and explore how it’s being used to help those with sensory disruptions during cancer treatment. We also ask whether we could harness sensory science to encourage healthier eating patterns among consumers.

How to enjoy food again when illness affects your senses

Without taste, the world would be a much duller place.

For many, that became a sad reality during the Covid-19 pandemic, with reduced taste and smell a common symptom of the virus. Whilst temporary in most cases, others experienced long-term sensory disruptions. It goes without saying that reduced taste can take the joy out of eating, making meals a chore and daily calorie requirements harder to reach.

But less known is that loss of taste is a lived reality for many cancer patients. Considering proper nutrition is a key pillar in cancer care, reduced smell and taste can undermine the efficacy of cancer interventions.

In this episode, our host speaks to the inspiring Ryan Riley, Co-Founder of Life Kitchen. Life Kitchen is a not-for-profit cookery school for people whose taste has been affected by cancer treatment.

Ryan shares his motivation for starting the charity and explains how insights from oncology nutrition can be applied to those experiencing long Covid.

Flavour – is it all in the mind?

In this fascinating episode of the Food Matters Live podcast, we explore the evolutionary role of taste and learn how sensory scientists can trick the senses to enhance flavour.

From bitterness helping us avoid poisons, to making foods more palatable for hospital patients, taste and flavour have played, and continue to play, a key role in keeping us alive.

But what tricks can be used to enhance flavour? What role do emotions play in the eating experience? And what can be done for people who have lost their sense of taste as a result of Covid?

Joining our host Stefan Gates to tackle these questions and more is Betina Piqueras Fiszman, Associate Professor at Wageningen University. Stefan also finds out whether or not he’s a “supertaster”, something you can find out at home with a simple test!

Mind over matter? The role of sensory science in our eating experience

Those who study the orchestra of our five senses and their impact on taste are called sensory food scientists. The food industry spends an increasing amount of time, energy and money on sensory science, carefully studying and manipulating the taste, smell and texture of the food products on our shelves. 

But sensory science doesn’t stop there. Companies also pay attention to the sounds that packaging makes and the colours of food products too, all of which can affect taste.

In this episode of the Food Matters Live podcast, we discuss the latest findings from sensory science and ask whether we can use these techniques to eat more healthily. Joining us is Kezia Cruz, an experienced Food Scientist and Dr G.B. (Garmt) Dijksterhuis, Senior scientist at the Department of Experimental Psychology, Utrecht University.

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Solve your ingredient innovation challenges and discover new solutions at the live event series, Taste of Better. After successful events in London and Manchester, we’re gearing up for our biggest show to date at the historic Ascot racecourse. Apply for your complimentary ticket and experience the latest flavour, texture, and colour breakthroughs to solve your formulation challenges.