Have you ever thought about why you can’t taste anything well when you have a cold? I had never really thought about it before because I just assumed that the brain switches off certain functions when we are unwell. However last week I was invited to a sensory experience with Haagen Dazs Ice Cream with Professor Barry Smith, Founding Director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses at the University of London. He pioneers research in and works extensively on the multi-sensory perception of flavour. He took us through some simple tests to challenge the way we taste. You can do these tests at home and see how you get on.
We were presented with three glasses with liquids of different colours. We were asked to place them in order from which tasted the sweetest. I was completely influenced by the colours placing the darkest one as the sweetest.
We were asked to put on some nose pinchers so that we couldn’t smell – ie simulating a blocked nose. Then we were presented with a bowlful of vanilla sugar. I simply could not taste any vanilla. A sweetness from the sugar ever so slightly but no hint of vanilla. As soon as the pinchers came off I could smell the vanilla and the taste was absolutely there too. Try this at home because it really does work.
So I was impressed with both of the above but this final test blew me away. The Professor put on some music – it didn’t sound much like music to be but more a droning, humming noise which was most unpleasant. He then gave us a tub of strawberry ice cream – Haagen Dazs of course. It really tasted awful I’m sorry to say. The texture was fine but I got no creaminess or any hint of the strawberry. After the noise went off and he played some pleasant classical music it was an entirely different story. The ice cream was as wonderful as you’d expect from Haagen Dazs. This is one of the reasons that airline food tastes so bad. The airplane noise blocks our tastebuds. So no matter how lovely the food looks, it will probably taste poor – even in First Class!
Taste does not work alone
In summary taste does not work alone. What we see, touch, smell and hear when eating also impact the way we taste our food. It makes total sense now that he’s explained it and research is unveiling there are potentially up to 33 senses vs the five we think we know. Scientists suggest that there are at least two separate ways in which flavour information is sensed. Think about whether you’d eat something that wasn’t presented well vs a Michelin starred meal that looked like a work of art? What about if something was slimey or spiky to the touch, would you eat it as readily if it weren’t? Does something in a single consistency taste as interesting as something with different textures? These are real world experiences that are being studied to further understand how the brain processes senses.
So how does this all relate to Haagen Dazs Ice Cream? Well for a start I will stop wasting money buying ice cream to eat in the car or to cheer me up. I’m less likely to get any pleasure out of it in those scenarios. I’ll stick to consuming a whole potful of Haagen Dazs Cookies and Cream on a Friday night whilst curled up on the sofa watching a nice, fluffy film (vs a scary one). This is why the ice cream tastes so good. Nothing to do with the real ingredients, the real biscuits, the proper chocolate or the full fat cream. Nope. Nothing at all.
Thank you to the team at Haagen Dazs for inviting me to this sensory experience and for the lovely discount voucher and ice cream cup.