Flavour is mainly from the nose!

Flavour is mainly from the nose!

YOU'RE eating one of the juicy strawberries filling the shops right now. It's bright red and soft, with just the right amount of resistance. You picked it out of a round, pale blue bowl and you can hear children playing in the street outside as you savour it, while sunlight streams through the window.

How much of that fruit's deliciousness comes from your tastebuds?

According to the experts, not much at all - and their findings are leading us towards a food revolution.

Researchers say that 80 to 95 per cent of what we think of as flavour comes from receptors in the nose, and that what we see, feel and even hear also has a huge impact on how we experience food.

That's why top restaurants are turning to neurogastronomy to decide how meals should be prepared and served.

Professor Charles Spence, of Oxford University, has been working with the world's best chefs to show them how to enhance the pleasure of eating for sceptical, seen-it-all customers.

"To understand flavour, we need to know how the brain works," says Prof Spence. "It's important to think about packaging, the dining environment.

"Chefs understand that the mind of the diner is at the heart of everything they do."

The scientist is currently working with Heston Blumenthal to create "signature spoonware" - playing with weights, material and textures to complement the chef's experimental flavours.

How would a copper spoon affect your appreciation of your food? Such concepts are now considered so important that they are taught to young chefs training at Blumenthal's Fat Duck restaurant.

Prof Spence is also collaborating with Colombian chef Charles Michel on an intriguing project that tests how people respond to a meal that looks like a Kandinsky painting, when eating it with a paintbrush and listening to Wagner at the same time.

On a similar note, he is working with the London Symphony Orchestra to look at how diners are affected by the singing of Pavarotti.

He emphasises that these ideas are not confined to fine dining.

Major brands including Nestle, Kraft and Proctor & Gamble have been visiting his Oxford lab in an effort to harness psychology and neuroscience to better reach the consumer - and the concept has begun to infiltrate home cooking.

"Heston would pour liquid nitrogen over something until he was left with a blob of foam, which would melt on the tongue and, poof, emerge from the nose in a cloud of smoke like a fire-breathing dragon," says the researcher.

"But anybody and everybody can use this idea. It has started to capture the public imagination. People think, 'I can try that at home when having a party.'"

We have just attended his "tasteology" session at Rockpool in Sydney's CBD, in conjunction with gin producer Tanqueray, during which he demonstrated a few simple experiments using gin and tonic as his testool.

Diners were told to hold their noses while taking a small sip of the drink and swirling it around the tongue. After noting a dissatisfying sensation similar to having a cold, we were instructed to release our nostrils and exhale. Immediately, a full bouquet of botanicals - angelica root, juniper and coriander - assaulted our senses.

The professor explains that gin and tonic works perfectly as a palate cleanser because the notes of the gin are "decoded by the nostrils". The subconscious work of identifying them helps "reset the nose" and clear the mind to fully take in the next course.

We are served small dishes including gingerbread venison and juniper, grapefruit sorbet, chicken with liquorice and lemon tart. With drinks matched to the ingredients, and a palate cleanser between courses, each feels like an explosion of flavour.

It is not just what is consumed that achieves this, it is how it is consumed. A drink tastes better if you are holding a heavy glass, because it gives the perception of quality, and a large circumference allows drinkers to inhale the bouquet.

Colour is also important - we perceive red as sweet, for example, which is what makes blush-coloured apples so tempting. The size of the ice matters, because its chinking sound sends messages to the brain about refreshment and pleasure. Rubbing the rim with lime adds to the sense of cleansing through the citrus smell filling our nostrils.

Even the effervescence of the tonic makes a difference, says Prof Spence, because flavour follows touch. He suggests placing a Q-tip on the tongue and moving it around to note how the flavour is most intense at the point of contact.

“It's all about how well senses come together in the brain," he says. “To create feelings of pleasure anticipation you combine hands, tongue, nose.

“Then the ambience can be changed by the music you play in the background, whether high pitched or low and brassy.”

His concepts reminds me of synaesthesia, that rare condition of cognitive pluralism, in which people experience names as tastes, places as sounds, or colours as fragrances.

With our brains attacked by a barrage of stimulation each day, neurogastronomy provides an opportunity to become more focused, and appreciate life in all its glorious dimensions.

For the original article from The Australian click here.