Has anyone ever eaten a wonderful meal with a spork? No? Is that because it’s only drab cafeteria food that comes with sporks? Or is there something inherent about the hybrid utensil that’s capable of souring an otherwise delicious meal?
A new study (PDF) published in Flavour, by Oxford University’s Vanessa Harrar and Charles Spence, reveals that your utensils can very much affect the way you experience everything from the sweetness to the expensiveness of food. We chewed down the academic paper to its seven best bites:
By adding weights to the same plastic spoon, the researchers were able to tell how utensil heft alone impacted the flavor of food. Testing with yogurt, participants reported that the sample was both denser and more expensive when eaten from a lighter spoon. It seems like a no-brainer, then, that we should just make spoons as light as possible. But there’s a catch:
That’s right. The largest, heaviest tablespoon in the study (weighing three times its normal amount), also seemed to serve the sweetest yogurt. Researchers found this was due to both the larger size and the heavier weight. As you might expect, its yogurt was also reported to be the cheapest and least dense.
Interestingly enough, there may be an anthropological play here. From the paper:
Small spoons are often used for desserts, or to stir sugar into coffee or tea. There might be an expectation that food tasted from a small spoon would normally be sweeter than food tasted from a larger tablespoon (more often used for savoury dishes such as soups).
For the next part of the study, researchers put white and purple yogurts onto red, blue, green, black, and white spoons. They found no perceived differences in expressiveness, sweetness, or general liking of the yogurts, but they did find that the purple yogurt placed on the blue spoon tasted significantly saltier. This is in line with an earlier study that showed popcorn tasted saltier in a blue bowl.
There was one strange asterisk, though, in that the white yogurt was actually reported to be far less salty than the purple. The researchers hypothesize this is because we generally expect salt when we see white on blue and the yogurt didn’t answer with enough salinity to appease that expectation.
In both these cases, the results were borderline significant (meaning they may or may not be within a meaningful margin of error), but yogurt tasted on black spoons tended to trend to the sweeter, and yogurt on white spoons trended toward the saltier.
This might surprise no one, but people reported liking the same pink and white yogurts more or less depending on their spoon color. White yogurt on a white spoon was a hit, as was pink yogurt on a black spoon.
When cheese was sampled from a fork, spoon, knife, and a toothpick, the cheese tasted largely the same–except the knife made it taste saltier. This seems strange. At first I thought the knife might just give the cheese more surface area on your tongue–and while that may be true compared to a fork or spoon, that toothpick nulls my argument. Researchers were generally stumped by this result.
For a bit of fun, researchers tossed one “fancy spoon” with a metal tip and an ornate handle into the mix. Tasters didn’t report food being any tastier or more expensive when consumed from this spoon.
In other words, whereas we’ve all eaten our fair share of bad meals with a spork, they probably wouldn’t have tasted much better with the finest of silver.