Hack your lunchbox

The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair has teamed up with Gastronaut Stefan Gates to create a series of videos and experiments exploring how we can trick our senses to alter the taste of food.

Video one: Hack your sight

The first video in the series focuses on sight. What happens when we change the colour of our food and drink..?

Will red make things taste more sweet or sour? Will changing the colour make it better or no different at all?

Watch the video to see the fun experiments, or even better, try it at home or at school by downloading the pdf, which contains all the instructions to try to hack your senses.

So why is this happening?

Until recently scientists focused on smell and taste as the two dominant senses affecting our flavour perception. Now, psychologists and neuroscientists have been exploring how sight, touch and sound can affect our tastebuds.

Every time we eat – from a full on roast dinner to a single square of chocolate - we use a combination of all of our senses, not just taste. The combined effect of all of our senses creates the overall experience and gives us a flavour perception.

Cognitive neuroscientists refer to this as ‘multisensory integration’ – i.e. when all the senses come together in creating flavour or how something tastes.

With sight in particular, our brains have become hardwired to associate specific looks with specific flavours (e.g. red with sweet) and it’s these learned associations that affect our perception flavours. So when we mess with how something looks it will affect the flavour.

Why not have a go for yourself?

 

Video two: Hack your taste

Have you ever made the mistake of drinking fruit juice straight away after cleaning your teeth? Yuck!

The second video in the series focuses on how taste works and what happens when we trick our taste buds.

Watch the video to see how these people get their taste buds tricked. Even better, try it at home or at school by downloading the pdf, which contains all the instructions for completing the experiments.

So why is this happening?

As we saw with our last video we use all five of our senses (taste, sight, smell, touch and sound) when eating to create the overall ‘flavour perception’.

When we eat something – whether it’s ice cream or spaghetti bolognese – the food reacts chemically with the thousands of taste receptors (or mechanoreceptors) that sit on our tongue. These receptors then shoot messages to our brain telling us whether the food we’re eating is sweet, salty, sour, bitter or savoury (umami).

But certain foods will cause the receptors on the tongue to respond differently which alters the taste (and therefore flavour) of the foods you eat afterwards - have a go for yourself!

NB for teachers: This experiment in the pdf above requires something called Miracle Berries (Miraculin berries), which are safe to eat and can easily be bought online.

 

Video three: Hack your sense of touch

Do you want to make your crisps crunchier? If the answer’s “Yeah!” then take part in the experiment below to trick your tastebuds!

The third video in the series focuses on how touch works and what happens when we trick our sense of touch.

Watch the video to see how these people get their fool their sense of touch. Even better, try it at home or at school by downloading the pdf, which contains all the instructions for completing the experiments.

So why is this happening?

As we saw in the previous videos we use all five of our senses (taste, sight, smell, touch and sound) when eating to create the overall ‘flavour perception’.

Touch works by using mechanoreceptors, these receptors work by sending electrical signals to your brain to tell it when you’re touching something. Your mouth has loads of mechanoreceptors because the texture of food is really important to how you perceive taste. Not only do these receptors tell you whether the food you’re eating is sweet, salty, sour, bitter or savoury (umami) but some receptors in the mouth tell us how the food feels.

The reason that texture is important to how we perceive food is fairly simple. If food is undercooked it will have a different texture and taste, meaning that it’s not good for us to eat. Whereas food that is cooked perfectly has a much different texture and taste, telling us that it is good for us to eat.