The Forgotten Senses of Flavor


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Chefs rely on frequent tasting of sauces and stews to ensure the flavor of their dishes are just right. While taste is an important aspect of flavor, research shows the keys to a memorable meal go beyond that. How food looks, smells and even sounds can make all the difference.


People can “see” flavors before actually tasting a food or beverage, says food sensory analysis expert Rena Shifren, PhD, president of ProSense Consumer Research Center in Tucson, Ariz.

To prove her point, she had a room of attendees at an Institute of Food Technologists meeting identify a variety of different-colored jellybeans — first with their eyes open and then with their eyes closed. Flavor identification was easy when they could see the jellybeans, but more difficult when they had to rely solely on smell and taste.


People first smell the aroma of a food or beverage in anticipation of the flavor they are about to taste. Once consumed, vaporized volatile organic compounds from the food or drink are released and travel up the retronasal passage to the olfactory bulb, where the compounds are translated to flavor by the brain — “I’m eating a strawberry!” the brain thinks. But, if the sense of smell isn’t working — say, due to a cold — that process breaks down and foods can taste bland.


While it may seem a bit outlandish, the sounds that a food creates during the process of eating can also enhance or detract from flavor. Just think of the last time you heard a crunch or a sizzle from your food and how it affected your desire to eat it — or eat more of it. Sound gives our brains clues to the texture of a food, which might translate to freshness or quality in our brains. A bite of crisp, juicy apple or one that’s soft and mushy — which would you prefer?

Experimental psychologist Charles Spence, a professor at Oxford University and head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory, believes sound is forgotten as a flavor sense. “What we hear while eating plays an important role in our perception of the textual properties of food, not to mention our overall enjoyment of the multisensory experience of food and drink,” Spence told Food Navigator.

In his laboratory, Spence evaluated how subjects perceived crispness and freshness by manipulating the sounds of noisy foods using headphones. Louder and higher frequency sounds were associated with fresh, crisp foods, while quieter and diminished frequencies were linked to stale, soft foods.

The sound of food is an area that food marketers could take advantage of for improving the overall eating experience, especially for aging adults, Spence advised.

So there’s more to eating than just the taste of food on our tongues. We also eat with our eyes, our noses and our ears! Together the five senses act like a symphony in our brains and make eating a pleasurable act.


Staple Items in a Nutritionist’s Fridge

There are a few items that I always have in my fridge….

1. Cut-up Veggies: Easy to take to work or have as a snack with hummus

2. Fresh Berries: My favorite cereal or yogurt topper

3. Cottage Cheese: Perfect side to a sandwich or turkey burger (my go-to dinner)

4. Greek Yogurt: Packed with protein and very filling

5. Eggs/Egg Whites: 1 whole egg and egg whites on an english muffin with fajita seasoning is to. die. for.

6. Whole Wheat English Muffins: to go with my eggs or with almond butter.

7. Lunch Meat: easy lunch. I usually go with turkey, swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mustard.

8. Water Alternative: I get sick of drinking plain ol’ water all the time. Sparkling water or  a 1/2 water 1/2 gatorade concoction is what E and I enjoy

9. Minced Garlic: I put garlic with basically anything that I sauté.. I could eat it by itself–definitely my favorite cooking flavor

10. Yellow Mustard: Low in calories and high in flavor 🙂

11. Salsa: On eggs, with blue corn tortilla chips or as a salad dressing, you just can’t go wrong.

12. Isagenix Cleanse: I love my Isagenix products and always have a bottle of cleanse on hand for those much needed detoxification Monday’s

13. Left Overs: I could probably make a cookbook with all the delicious meals I have created using leftovers. Perfect to take to work for lunch

14. 1% Milk: For my cereal, of course. I can’t do skim milk… too watery for me.

15. Wine & Beer: OK, I’m a dietitian, but you have to have some leeway.


What’s in your fridge?