How we taste can be dramatically affected by suggestions and expectations.
Does pouring plain old tap water into fancy bottles make it taste better? Yes. At least in it did in a Penn & Teller episode on bottled water (please watch this video- very entertaining). Penn & Teller went inside a southern California restaurant that featured a water sommelier that dispensed extravagant water menus to the patrons. The patrons had no idea that all of the fancy bottles of water were filled with the same water from a water hose in the back of the restaurant. Patrons were willing to pay $7.00 a bottle for L’eau Du Robinet (French for faucet water), Agua de Culo (Spanish for ass water), and Amazone (filtered through the Brazilian rainforest’s natural filtration system).
How do cues prior to ingestion predict flavor perception?
Yeomans et al. (2008) looked at expectations about food flavor by using an unusual flavor of ice cream: smoked salmon.
One group ate the ice cream from a dish labeled “Ice cream” and another group ate the ice cream from a dish labeled “Frozen savory mousse.” The experience of the food in the mouth generated strong dislike when labeled as ice-cream, but acceptance when labeled as frozen savory mousse.
Labeling the food as ice-cream also resulted in stronger ratings of how salty and savory the food was than when labeled as a savory food. The individuals that ate the frozen savory mousse found the ice cream less salty and bitter, and found its overall flavor more pleasant (Rosenblum, 2010).
Forty-nine graduate students at a wine and cheese reception were presented with wine with a label indicating it was from either California or North Dakota. Those who believed their wine was from California perceived the taste of both the wine and the cheeses as better. In a second study, 39 patrons attending a prix–fixed dinner at a university–affiliated restaurant were given a glass of either North Dakota–labeled or California–labeled wine with their meal. The amount of leftover food and wine was measured.
Those whose wine was labeled from California consumed 12% more of their entrée and consumed a greater weight of wine and entrée combined compared to those served North Dakota–labeled wine. The researchers concluded that not only does taste expectation influence one’s taste ratings of accompanying foods, but that it also influences consumption of accompanying foods (Wanskink et al., 2007).
From Rosenblum (2010, p.117):
You’re forgiven for allowing your expectations to sway your enjoyment of wind and food. It’s not your fault; it’s your brain’s. Brain imaging research shows that as subjects sip what they believe is an expensive wine, brain areas associated with pleasure are more greatly activated than if they sip the same wine but are told it’s cheap.
As far as your brain’s pleasure region is concerned you actually do get what you pay for.
Note: Taste and flavor are terms that are often confused. Taste is determined by the gustatory system (sensory system of taste) located in the mouth. Flavor is determined by taste, smell and chemosensory irritation (chemosensory irritation, is detected by receptors in the skin throughout the head; and in particularly in regards to food- receptors in the mouth and nose. An example is the burn of hot peppers and the cooling effect of menthol.)
Rosenblum, LD. (2010). See What I’m Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses. New York, NY: Norton.
Wansink, B., et al. (2007), “Fine as North Dakota Wine: Sensory Expectations and the Intake of Companion Foods,” Physiology and Behavior, 90:5 (April), 712–16.
Yeomans, MR., et al. (2008). The role of expectancy in sensory and hedonic evaluation. The case of smoked salmon ice cream. Food Quality and Preference, 19, 565-573.