There are all sorts of influences on our enjoyment of food beyond the taste.The weight of the knives and forks we use to eat influences our enjoyment of a meal. Food is judged to be of higher quality when eaten using heavy cutlery. Crockery makes a difference too. If you hold the bowl you are eating from, the weight in your hand will make you feel more satisfied with whatever amount you eat. A study used three bowls filled with same amount of yoghurt. The bowls only differed in weight. When people held the bowl in their hand whilst eating the yoghurt, the yoghurt in the heaviest bowl was rated as having more intense flavour, more expensive and more liked than that from the lightest bowl.Desserts taste sweeter on a round white plate, which is a simple thing to buy if you want extra sweetness without adding on extra calories. Strawberry desserts were rated as 10% sweeter and 15% more flavourful when eaten from white plate compared with black plate.The feel of the place we eat in makes a difference too. Background noise levels influence enjoyment of food. Music playing helps if it is appropriate to the kind of food being served. Sound has such potential to alter how we taste that in fact the intensity of bitterness and sweetness of some bittersweet toffee was altered by 10% just by varying the pitch of a soundtrack playing over headphones.The overall atmosphere of the place we eat influences our experience of the food. The same meal was rated as more acceptable when served in a 4 star hotel restaurant setting than in army training camp. Even though the food was the same.And finally, the extent to which we concentrate on what we are eating makes a huge difference to how much we taste our food and to how much intensity and how much pleasure we get from each bite. Studies have found that people rate sweet, sour and salty drinks as less intense when they are engaged in a demanding secondary task than when they are concentrating on the food.
These findings are all described in “Gastrophysics” by Charles Spence, who studies neurogastronomy (the complex brain processes that give rise to flavour perception).