Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating Prof Charles Spence (Viking, £14.99)
Have you ever wondered why you only ever order tomato juice on a plane? or how, although you’re happy with one helping when you’re dining toute seule, you can find space for seconds and even thirds when you’re surrounded by friends? Take my hand, readers, and follow me down the rabbit hole. you’ll never look at a wooden spoon in the same way again.
We all know that we eat with our eyes, but, as oxford researcher Prof Charles Spence demonstrates time and time again in this pick-and-mix bucket of a pop-science book, we also eat with our ears, our noses and our hands. ‘Taste,’ he explains, is ‘fundamentally a cerebral activity’; our senses are interlinked, so they all have the potential to impact on the way we perceive food and drink.
Tomato juice, it turns out, has dominant notes of umami: the only one of the five tastes not affected by the levels of background noise during a flight. and a convivial atmosphere makes us consume more enthusiastically— we can put away a belt-busting 75% extra when eating in a group of four or more people.
Prof Spence knows, um, his onions: he teamed up with Heston Blumenthal to create some of the revolutionary dishes on the menu at the Fat Duck in Bray— remember the egg-and-bacon ice cream?—and he was awarded an international prize for his work on something called the ‘sonic crisp’ (paging Douglas adams). For chefs and restaurateurs,
Gastrophysics maps out a route to the Holy Grail: it’s packed with simple ways to enhance diners’ experiences so they’re inclined to pay more for the food, more often. Heavier cutlery, for instance, makes people feel that they’re eating something of higher value.
However, home cooks can mine it for tips, too. Let’s say you’re desperate for bed, but your guests are taking their time over dessert—prof Spence suggests you stick on some jazzy music. The greater the number of beats per minute, he says, the faster they’ll eat. Food for thought, certainly.
Lucy in the sky with dinner: these diners are having the unique experience of being suspended 30ft above the ground