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Put a Fork in It: What You Eat with Affects the Taste of Food

taste of foodI got married almost straight out of college, making registering for wedding gifts not only an exercise in how many barcodes we could zap with the handheld laser, but a necessity in stocking our apartment. We didn’t have anything except the random assortment of things left over from our college dorms. Needless to say, we needed everything, down to the essentials: towels, sheets, plates, utensils.

My now-husband and I didn’t think much of our choices at the time. If we saw something that functioned and was affordable to our also recent-college-graduate-friends, we zapped it. We skipped the fancy china knowing we would never live that kind of lifestyle, and didn’t even look twice at the fancy silverware.

But maybe we should have. Turns out what your utensils are made of affects how your food tastes. So does the color and type of utensil. A study in Flavour revealed the differences in flavors and perceptions of different utensils on varying foods. For example, yogurt eaten with a plastic spoon made people feel what they were eating was more dense and expensive. Ironic much?

Eating from a knife resulted in cheese tasting saltier to the study participants than cheese eaten off a fork or toothpick, and the color of the utensil affected the taste based on the color of the food they were eating. Yogurt was perceived as sweeter when eaten off a white spoon than a black spoon.

I’m always surprised that the Chinese take out we get too many times a week doesn’t come with utensils. But now knowing the affect utensils can have, maybe bringing dinner home and using real silverware makes it feel like a higher quality meal. Perhaps, too, there’s something to be said about how I eat my cereal out of a small mug but still use a regular size spoon, or some people eat oatmeal out of soup bowl and use a teeny tiny baby spoon.

So not only does the taste of food involve smell and appearance, but it also involves what we eat with. These subtle differences may be used for both good and evil: Marketers and manufacturers could use this research to design packaging and presentation that makes you want to eat more, whereas people may be able to select their utensils in a way that will help them eat less, thus fighting our obesity problems one tiny bite at a time. Eating off a smaller plate and using a bigger fork help signal people to eat less. Now choosing a fork made of a specific material may help too.

If that’s not enough to think about, where you eat matters too.

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