Why Our Mouths Water: The Five Senses Explained June 17, 2019
You might think eating is pretty simple. Food goes in the mouth, we chew, we enjoy (hopefully) and we swallow. But in reality, how we eat and our reactions to food are actually pretty complicated.
The smell of the food, its texture, colour and appearance, the sound it makes when we chew, all contribute to our reception of foods and to what is generally known as the ‘flavour’ of food. A combination of these factors tells us whether the food is delicious, good, unpleasant, or downright disgusting.
At HelloFresh, we’ve unpacked each of the five senses and how they determine what you like and don’t like to eat.
1. Sound: It’s All in the Crunch
Let’s test it. When thinking about food, how do you react to the following words?
Crisp, crunchy, juicy.
And then, what about these words?
Squeaky, soggy, slushy.
If featured beneath a dish on a menu, we bet you’d go with the first.
We love foods that generate sound. We particularly love crispy foods and one of the reasons is their ability to stimulate hearing. In our heads, noisy foods signal freshness. Take a soggy bag of crisps. The taste may be the same, but if they are soggy we’ll assume they’re bad no matter if the taste has not changed.
Noisy foods sound loud in our heads and, because of this, command you think about them and concentrate on the taste. Take this Sesame and Sriracha Whiting, the crunchy slaw, crispy whiting (thanks to the breadcrumb coating) and fresh spring onions make for a meal that is quite literally music to our ears.
2. Taste: How We Learn to Love Foods
Much of what we call taste is actually flavour. As we explained in our latest Fresh Times article, humans have five detectable tastes. These are sweet, salty, bitter, acid and umami.
We naturally favour the taste of sweeter foods. This goes as far back as when humans were foraging for food, we learnt to avoid bitter foods as it is a sign they’ve gone off.
But, what about people’s love of coffee or beer? Exposure to different tastes plays a big part in liking them. Our brains struggle to process novel things, so it’s actually very common to not like foods on the first try. Eventually, we associate coffee with a kick of energy and we start to like it.
This is the same reason why as children we don’t like particular veggies but as adults, we do. Through social learning, we discover the health benefits and through positive association, they taste good.
3. Smell: What Gets Our Mouths Watering?
Next time you go to eat, pinch your nose while you chew.
Chances are you won’t be able to taste a whole lot. This is because smell and taste are intrinsically linked. When we chew, aromas are released that activate our sense of smell by way of a special channel that connects the back of the throat to the nose.
But what smells gets our stomach rumbling and mouth watering the most?
Food cooking in high temperatures diffuses odorous molecules (that’s a smell to you and me) more effectively. This is why grilled foods or oven-baked foods produce a better smell than something cooked in a high volume of water, such as boiled vegetables.
Sugar-rich mixtures like honey or products like butter are two ingredients which, at high temperatures, release smells that are extremely appetising. Try cooking our Honey and Sumac Duck Breast for smells that are bound to get your tastebuds tingling.
4. Sight: We Love Looking At Food
343 million of us have used the hashtag ‘Food’ on Instagram, making it one of the most used hashtags across the world. Clearly, we all love looking at food. This is because tasting food begins in the brain when we see it, so, when we look at images of delicious food, we practically taste it.
Food scientists and chefs will agree that to fully appreciate what you eat, the sight of your food is as important as taste. Vibrantly coloured plates, like our Roasted Sweet Potato and Sweetcorn salad, are particularly good at grabbing our attention. Nobody wants a beige buffet! Lack of colour signals to our eyes and brain that the food isn’t fresh. Plus, vibrantly coloured fruits and veggies are full of protective nutrients and the brain recognises this.
5. Touch: How Texture Changes Taste
How food feels affects our enjoyment of the thing. The texture of food is what scientists call rheology, which focuses on consistency and flow. But the perception of a food’s rheology – what scientists call psychorheology – is what makes a difference in the foods we like and dislike. Sour sweets, for example, are coated in rough sugar because we perceive rougher foods as being sourer.
To the western palate, sliminess is often greeted with suspicion. We found that the top 20 foods fussy eaters disliked included mushrooms, tomatoes, peaches and cucumber, which were berated for their slug-like, slimy textures.
The real reason we don’t like these foods is that we associate the texture with rottenness, but, like everything, this can be unlearned through repeated exposure. Our Spinach and Caramelised Onion White Pizza has a crispy base that perfectly counteracts with the mushroom, onion and spinach all of which are guilty of that “slimy” texture, so this dish is a great way to introduce these veggies into your diet!