Experimental psychologist and author Professor Charles Spence joins By The Glass to chat about the science behind the pleasure of eating, working with Heston Blumenthal and why no one likes a soggy crisp.
Working out of Oxford University, Spence’s food lab delves into the deeper science of how we enjoy our food. His crossmodal food studies don’t just look at what makes up a meal, but what surrounds it, including lighting, sounds, setting and even the composition of cutlery.
Spence has worked for a number of multinational companies, advising them on multisensory design, and even collaborated with Heston Blumenthal to explore the effect of sound on taste.
His latest book Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating explores the sensory aspects of dining, external to the meal itself. A key part of the book is an emphasis on how diners or restaruanteurs can create ‘sticky memories’, which are experiences “that will stay with you or your diner for longer, and encourage you to go back for more.”
“It’s how we can apply the latest of psychological science, neuroscience and gsatrophysics to the design of every day experiences to be healthier, more stimulating, more fun, more memorable because they’re designed for how the brain works, not just the designer’s intuition or the way things have always been done,” says Spence.
In a taste test of crisps with By The Glass, Spence describes the importance of sound on the eating experience. Chips that come from a more crackly bag will taste crispier to the person consuming the chips, he says. Indeed, he has proof to back it up, having published multiple papers on the topic of chip crispiness.
“There’s probably nobody on planet earth who’s done more research on crisp packets than myself,” he says.
Describing his time working with Heston Blumenthal as compared to larger companies, Spence says it was “very pleasant, not your average kind of psychology meeting.”
“It was liberating to see with chefs like Heston, if you find some idea that he likes, he can make a dish that embodies the science in a delicious manner.”
Blumenthal and Spence experimented with diners in multiple settings, in one instance exploring the impact of sound on two sets of oyster-eating diners. One group listened to sounds of the ocean as they ate, while the other listening to clucking chickens. The first group found their oysters to be far tastier.
“Sound in food is a really, I think, powerful driver for us,” says Spence, “ and most of those snack foods we eat, the biscuits and the crisps and the nuts and popcorn all make a noise, so what is that’s so appealing about noisy food?”
Outside of sound, Spence is interested in testing and quantifying all manner of external effects on the dining experience, including the shape, weight of items in a table setting and the effects of different colours on food packaging.
Listen on to learn more about Spence’s fascinating studies.
Theme music courtesy of Max Savage
Image by By The Glass
Recorded live at Mache