Other Food Sensations - Texture, Touch, Sight and Sound
How we enjoy food is more than just a matter of its flavours and tastes. The gestalt of food and drink is exeprienced through all our senses - sight, touch & texture and sound - and these are not just about the food and drink themselves, but also affected by the ambience of the physical environment around us. These external factors can influence how we perceive what we ingest, even to the extent of tricking these senses. Food and drink is enjoyed most in good company, and in an atmosphere that is just right - a mood full of gemütlichkeit or hygge.
The first sensation of many foods is that of sight. We are primed towards a flavour experience by our eyes in a Pavlovian-style response.
Sight is an important part of sensing food. We taste with our eyes, choosing well presented, fresh-looking foods over limp and grey looking ingredients. Simply carefully looking at ingredients or dishes presented to us provides significant information about them, but on the other hand, sight also can fool us and lead to preconceptions. Even before we take a bite or a sip of something, we have formed an idea in our heads about it, creating expectations - true or false. For example, tests on syrups for children have shown that they begin to perceive a minty taste for green syrups, even if the end syrup contains no mint flavour. Seeing foods and drink provides loads of data that influences our senses, corrupting our other perceptions even to the point of pure fiction. To prove this to yourself, try a genuinely blind tasting.
Texture and Touch
The texture, or mouthfeel, of food and drink is closely associated with flavor. Texture is the tactile sensations of food and drink that we experience on the lips, the lining of the cheeks, the palate and the tongue. It is primarily the sense of temperature - heat and cold - and the structure of the food and drink.
When food or drink is too hot, our whole mouth contracts and fights against the pain or discomfort, and our other senses are temporarily shut down. To taste foods and drinks, it is generally best to let it cool slightly, but this in turn can influence how we perceive the primary taste types. On the other hand, crispness of vegetables gives a positive sense of freshness, but the slimy feel of oysters takes some getting used to.
Saliva lubricates the buccal mucosa, which enables a continuum of tactile sensations - bitterness, dryness, bite, as well as body, viscosity, roundness and consistency. Some tactile feelings can become confused with tastes, e.g. tannins feel physically astringent and taste bitter to the extent that one becomes confused with the other.
Many countries eat food direct from their fingers, and even where cutlery is used some foods - asparagus, fruit, nuts, sandwiches, canapés and snacks - are all eaten from the hand. So touch is fundamental to the experience of foods. For people who eat with their hands - Africans, Arabs and Indians - they say they value the sensuous connection with food, the sense of sharing as food is often taken from a communal bowl and the sheer practicality of using the ready-made utensils we were all born with, or as The Shah of Iran is reputed to have said: eating food with a knife and fork was like making love through an interpreter.
Hearing leads to taste preconceptions. Sound provides a great deal of information - verbal and non-verbal - that can influence how you feel about food. We all know how our feelings and anticipation of food sensations can be influenced by music (and types of music), and the crunch and "snap-crackle-pop" of foods, let alone the chatter or marketing spiel of street-food vendors. Ambience is crucial to enjoyment of food, with sound core to that experience.
- Mindess, A. (2012) Eat with Your Hands for a Sensuous, Intimate, Mindful Meal, Bay Area Bites, 22 February 2012, accessed 11 July 2016 
- Berry, J. (2004) The spice is right, The Daily Telegraph, 20 March 2004, accessed 11 July 2016 
- Delmas, F.-X., Minet, M., Barbaste, C. (2007) The tea drinker's handbook, New York, Abbeville Press. ISBN 9780789209887.