Food/psy­chol­ogy

Country Life Every Week - - Books - Emma Hughes

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

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