The future of multisensory eating
Spence has penned The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining, in which he shares his findings so far and speculates what's to come. While he acknowledges the opportunity for companies to engineer their packaging and product experience, he recognizes the trend away from processed food, meaning any applications for mass-produced meals will have to be very calculated.
“One opportunity I see is to change packaging sounds to a create distinctive, signature sound of opening or use,” Spence says. “Another idea is to create a sound that conveys some functional benefit in terms of product experience. We are often looking for a sweet spot at the intersection of those two things, where the sound of opening and use is distinctive enough to be ‘owned’ by a particular brand, but at the same time conveys a functional benefit.”
Yes, that's a lot to take in, but return to the basic example of chips; Spence theorizes that companies could make the bag rattle louder (SunChips, anyone?) so that consumers perceive the contents as crunchier.
Spence has also moved on to examining the visual cues that can affect the dining experience, including colors. In one study, for example, he found that people plating food onto the same color plate -- in this case, red pasta sauce on a red plate, or white pasta sauce on a white plate -- served themselves significantly larger portions. The practicality of this knowledge is pretty obvious to anyone who's trying portion control, or is currently at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
“There is certainly an emerging body of knowledge, and the more evidence we get that vision and hearing are connected, the stronger the reason to believe that when we start investigating sound and touch, or touch and scent, that they, too, will be connected in much the same way,” Spence observes. “Underpinning much of our research is belief that there are many fundamental issues and questions about our experience that no one investigates.” You get the feeling that the "no one investigates" part is genuine, as he continues offering potential research angles, like whether or not eating with your hands rather than cutlery can make your food taste better.
Despite the granular focus of his work, Spence believes that mindful eating is the best way to eat, in order to get the most out of the flavor. So the next time you're snacking while watching the television, remember that your favorite show could be keeping you from enjoying those Pringles to the fullest. If for no other reason than you'll have a harder time hearing that crunch.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Ashley Lauretta is a freelance journalist who's tempted to travel to Berkshire solely for Blumenthal's Sound of the Sea. Follow her to see if she ever makes it there: @ashley_lauretta.