foto1

 5 min

"the neon illustion is pretty cool"

interview

Charles Spence, the gastrophysicist of all gastrophysicists

The neon fruit illusion is pretty cool"

"

Ubel Zuiderveld Xiao Er Kong

“The food scientist changing the way we eat.” That’s how the British newspaper The Guardian qualified experimental psychologist professor Charles Spence. Spence runs Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory and is a director at Kitchen Theory. Colors, size, our companions at the dining table, the plates we use, music we play, sound, vision and smell; they all affect our eating and drinking experience.

Although his recent book is about “sense hacking” (“how to use the power of your senses for happier, healthier living…”), Spence is best known for titles like ‘The Perfect Meal’ and the best selling ‘Gastrophysics’. In fact it’s not an exaggeration to name the Oxford professor the prototype gastrophysicist. Large food companies gather in line at his research institute to find out how they can enchant consumers with their products.

The time that we simply ate what we were told to eat, is not far behind us. Food had to be tasty, of course, but was mainly considered at as source of energy. Our grandmothers and grandfathers didn’t discuss about the experience of taste, tight-lipped they consumed their calories. Except a handful of studies at the end of the last century, had hardly any scientific data available about the influence of external factors on the way we enjoy, or don’t enjoy, our meals. 

Among some others, Charles Spence fed us with proven and in some cases juicy details. Did you know that after we take a picture of our dish with the smartphone, our food tastes better? Or this one: rock music promotes the spiciness of spicy dishes. Another one: when dining with at least three other table mates, your food intake can increase up to 75 percent. And one more example: a dessert that’s served on a white plate tastes sweeter than served on a black plate.

Well, let’s hear the latest from mister Charles Spence, 52 himself.

Which of your own research results on the experience of food is the most dear to you?

“My favourite research has to be on the impact of sound on taste. Because it was the sonic chip study, which won the Ig Nobel Prize for Nutrition in 2008, that really propelled me into food research. 

The most fun has to have been the experiment I conducted together with top chef Heston Blumenthal at Science Oxford about fourteen years ago. We served 150 delegates at an Art and the Senses conference, held in Oxford, an oyster, and separately a scoop of bacon and egg ice-cream. Half the audience ate the oyster while listening to the sound of the sea, the rest while listening to farmyard chickens. Amazingly, those who listened to the sounds of the sea said that their oyster tasted better but no more salty. 

It turned out that it was possible to bring out the bacony flavour by playing sounds of bacon sizzling in the pan, while we enhanced the experience of the eggy note in the ice-cream by playing the sound of farmyard chickens squawking in the yard. 

We would never have run these studies if we hadn’t had 150 people paid up for a food and science experience, and until the last minute didn’t know what to do. Such a crazy idea that should never have worked and yet it did. And from these results emerged the Sound of the Sea seafood dish – the signature dish at chef Heston Blumenthal’s world-famous The Fat Duck restaurant.”

Which other recent studies in the field of food and taste experience from other sources than yours amazed you?

“The neon fruit illusion is pretty cool. Basically, by flicking between two different lighting distributions that look identical to the naked eye, it is possible to make fruits such as peppers glow neon. 

This was first presented as a visual illusion at a perception conference, but I am very curious to see whether it might be possible to give foods a pulsing heartbeat using this technique. 

More generally, the idea that magic might be brought to the experience of food and drink fascinates me currently. People love food, they love magic, but what would it be like to actually eat (or drink) magic?”

Technology travels fast. What will, in your opinion, be the impact in general of technology on our dining experiences in the years to come?

“I think that Augmentend Reality and Virtual Reality will likely find a natural home in the field of food product development, e.g. assessing how people would react to giving one’s drink, or its packaging, a different color. 

On the other hand, I do not see much scope for AR and VR in a fine-dining context for the reason that wearing headsets tends to be a bit cumbersome, and can also interfere with the social aspects of dining, which after all, is key.

While tech conferences often show new technologies and devices that promise to update the experience of eating, my sense is that it will be the ubiquitous tech that most people already possess that will be more likely to make an appearance at our dinner tables in the years to come. Be it smart phones or tablet computers. We have been working on using mobile devices the vehicle for sonic seasoning – seasoning your food through sound – all without the calories etc. 

I am also interested in how chefs are starting to play with serving food off tablets. Might it be possible to recreate some of the world-famous dishes in the comfort of one’s own home – something like the Sound of the Sea dish from The Fat Duck, for example. 

Also I am intrigued to see how the growing interest of tech companies such as Sony and Panasonic, ends up bringing technology to the context of dining in the years ahead.”

Gastrophysics, The New Science of Eating by Charles Spence was published by Penguin Books Ltd. The same publisher recently issued his new book Sensehacking, How to Use the Power of Your Senses for Happier, Healthier Living. 

charles-spence_1.jpg
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© Charles Spence

© Sam Frost

© Charles Spence

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 5 min

Offline: This content can only be displayed when online.

The neon fruit illusion is pretty cool"

"

Charles Spence, the gastrophysicist of all gastrophysicists

foto1

Ubel Zuiderveld Xiao Er Kong

“The food scientist changing the way we eat.” That’s how the British newspaper The Guardian qualified experimental psychologist professor Charles Spence. Spence runs Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory and is a director at Kitchen Theory. Colors, size, our companions at the dining table, the plates we use, music we play, sound, vision and smell; they all affect our eating and drinking experience.

Although his recent book is about “sense hacking” (“how to use the power of your senses for happier, healthier living…”), Spence is best known for titles like ‘The Perfect Meal’ and the best selling ‘Gastrophysics’. In fact it’s not an exaggeration to name the Oxford professor the prototype gastrophysicist. Large food companies gather in line at his research institute to find out how they can enchant consumers with their products.

The time that we simply ate what we were told to eat, is not far behind us. Food had to be tasty, of course, but was mainly considered at as source of energy. Our grandmothers and grandfathers didn’t discuss about the experience of taste, tight-lipped they consumed their calories. Except a handful of studies at the end of the last century, had hardly any scientific data available about the influence of external factors on the way we enjoy, or don’t enjoy, our meals. 

Among some others, Charles Spence fed us with proven and in some cases juicy details. Did you know that after we take a picture of our dish with the smartphone, our food tastes better? Or this one: rock music promotes the spiciness of spicy dishes. Another one: when dining with at least three other table mates, your food intake can increase up to 75 percent. And one more example: a dessert that’s served on a white plate tastes sweeter than served on a black plate.

Well, let’s hear the latest from mister Charles Spence, 52 himself.

foto2

Which of your own research results on the experience of food is the most dear to you?

“My favourite research has to be on the impact of sound on taste. Because it was the sonic chip study, which won the Ig Nobel Prize for Nutrition in 2008, that really propelled me into food research. 

The most fun has to have been the experiment I conducted together with top chef Heston Blumenthal at Science Oxford about fourteen years ago. We served 150 delegates at an Art and the Senses conference, held in Oxford, an oyster, and separately a scoop of bacon and egg ice-cream. Half the audience ate the oyster while listening to the sound of the sea, the rest while listening to farmyard chickens. Amazingly, those who listened to the sounds of the sea said that their oyster tasted better but no more salty. 

It turned out that it was possible to bring out the bacony flavour by playing sounds of bacon sizzling in the pan, while we enhanced the experience of the eggy note in the ice-cream by playing the sound of farmyard chickens squawking in the yard. 

We would never have run these studies if we hadn’t had 150 people paid up for a food and science experience, and until the last minute didn’t know what to do. Such a crazy idea that should never have worked and yet it did. And from these results emerged the Sound of the Sea seafood dish – the signature dish at chef Heston Blumenthal’s world-famous The Fat Duck restaurant.”

Which other recent studies in the field of food and taste experience from other sources than yours amazed you?

“The neon fruit illusion is pretty cool. Basically, by flicking between two different lighting distributions that look identical to the naked eye, it is possible to make fruits such as peppers glow neon. 

This was first presented as a visual illusion at a perception conference, but I am very curious to see whether it might be possible to give foods a pulsing heartbeat using this technique. 

More generally, the idea that magic might be brought to the experience of food and drink fascinates me currently. People love food, they love magic, but what would it be like to actually eat (or drink) magic?”

Technology travels fast. What will, in your opinion, be the impact in general of technology on our dining experiences in the years to come?

“I think that Augmentend Reality and Virtual Reality will likely find a natural home in the field of food product development, e.g. assessing how people would react to giving one’s drink, or its packaging, a different color. 

On the other hand, I do not see much scope for AR and VR in a fine-dining context for the reason that wearing headsets tends to be a bit cumbersome, and can also interfere with the social aspects of dining, which after all, is key.

While tech conferences often show new technologies and devices that promise to update the experience of eating, my sense is that it will be the ubiquitous tech that most people already possess that will be more likely to make an appearance at our dinner tables in the years to come. Be it smart phones or tablet computers. We have been working on using mobile devices the vehicle for sonic seasoning – seasoning your food through sound – all without the calories etc. 

I am also interested in how chefs are starting to play with serving food off tablets. Might it be possible to recreate some of the world-famous dishes in the comfort of one’s own home – something like the Sound of the Sea dish from The Fat Duck, for example. 

Also I am intrigued to see how the growing interest of tech companies such as Sony and Panasonic, ends up bringing technology to the context of dining in the years ahead.”

charles-spence_1.jpg

Gastrophysics, The New Science of Eating by Charles Spence was published by Penguin Books Ltd. The same publisher recently issued his new book Sensehacking, How to Use the Power of Your Senses for Happier, Healthier Living. 

© Sam Frost

© Charles Spence

© Charles Spence

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Food Inspiration Magazine is the online magazine for foodservice professionals in search of inspiration and innovation. With the magazine we collect, enrich and spread inspiration. The free subscription magazine is published eight times per year and is an abundant source of inspiration for food and hospitality professionals. Our readers can be found in the U.S., Northern Europe, Latin America and Asia.
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