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3 Most Important Elements of a Plate...


emhahn
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I found this site with A Research Proposal: Are Taster Types Differently Influenced Perceptually by Jellybean Color? by one Kathleen M. Brockie.

A few quotes from the introduction:

Alley and Alley (1998) show that specific coloring, color intensity and color-related expectations can modify the impact of color on taste. Clydesdale (1993) does specify that the effect of color on flavor most likely results from learned associations, rather than innate knowledge. Furthermore, color may be more prominent perceptually than flavor because color generates a stronger visual neural response than flavor generates a gustatory neural response (Oram, Laing, Hutchinson, Owen, Rose, Freeman, et al., 1995).
A study conducted by DuBose et al. (1980) had participants rate the overall acceptability, color acceptability, flavor acceptability, and flavor intensity for 44 samples of liquid and solid stimuli. The experimenters tested 16 orange flavored beverages and 16 cherry flavored beverages. The food stimuli were 12 cake samples that were a combination of four yellow color levels, and three lemon flavor levels. The results showed that the perceived intensity in beverages increases as color increases for both the orange and the cherry beverages. This held true in the colored but flavorless samples where participants rated a more intense color as a more intense flavor as well, despite the fact that there was no flavor. This seems to also apply in solid samples where the perceived lemon taste increased when the yellow additive was increased (Dubose et al., 1980).
Clydesdale's study (1993) showed that when colored food had matching color and flavor combinations they were perceived as having a stronger intensity than mismatched color flavor combinations (Clydesdale, 1993). ... Philipsen, Clydesdale, Griffin, & Stern (1995) also found that the absence of color could greatly reduce or eliminate one's ability to identify flavor. …  In general, red colored food is perceived as sweet cherry or strawberry, yellow and green are perceived as sour/citrus tasting, and blue coloring is characteristic of sweet foods (Alley & Alley, 1998).

Edit: Added emphasis to the most striking result.

Edited by g.johnson (log)
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The most striking point for me was: "color may be more prominent perceptually than flavor because color generates a stronger visual neural response than flavor generates a gustatory neural response"

See, however, the more recent Shaw findings above: "people are stupid"

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I find it extraordinary that we are arguing about food presentation and its effect on taste while every culinary school in the country spends time dealing exactly with this issue - what does the dish look like.

In Cooking Primer: Plate Presentation 101:The food presentation equation by Marcela Broussard, she states; "Food presentation can make or break a dining experience (or break a restaurant, for that matter). It may be the secret to culinary success. The food has to taste good, of course, but a lot of mediocre cuisine gets by because it's offered to the diner in an appealing manner. On the other hand, no matter how outrageously fantastic the food may taste--as good, say, as Alain Ducasse's truffled foie gras or Grandma's apple pie à la mode--if it's served to you on a dirty rimmed plate, you probably won't want to eat it." She goes on to say, "Food presentation should be a symbiosis between taste and aesthetics."

In the 1997 edition of Restaurants USA on line, there is a long article entitled "A Feast for the Eyes: Artful Plating" by Cheryl Ursin.

(http://www.restaurant.org/rusa/magArticle.cfm?ArticleID=563)

One of the interesting things she details is Dean Fearing's take on plate presentation. "You can give three different chefs the same five components and they'd each create a different presentation." My guess would be given that the taste and quality of the dish remained at the same level, there are individual preferences for one style over another.

Obviously food presentation is a backdrop and the taste of the food is most important. But, I think it is a mistake to dismiss it as inconsequential.

There is even an article that the color of a food can change how we perceive the taste.

(http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/coltaste.html)

Some years ago, I "worked" the Meals on Wheels event and was plating for Bradley Ogden. We were "serving" over 1,000 plates. I was getting a little sloppy as we were being slammed and Chef Ogden got furious when he saw my plates. He insisted that I plate carefully for each and every one as if I had only 4 to do.

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a lot of mediocre cuisine gets by because it's offered to the diner in an appealing manner

I fail to see how that can be determined, if presentation actually changes the taste of food.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I like the Prof's findings, although I don't know how he finds time to search for these when he should be doing other more important things (see threads passim); the emphasized paragraph is indicative of. However, we would need to know who the testees were, what questions they were asked to "identify" flavor, and so on before we could determine whether the study is relevant to what we're talking about. The study seems to be talking about "intensity of flavor" which is unimportant to our discussion. We are (I believe) concerned with what an ingredient tastes of, not how strongly it tastes of it. And presentation is not (only) to do with matching colors to flavors, it is very much wider than and different from that.

And lizzie, no-one has argued that presentation is unimportant to a dish. The argument is over whether good presentation actually improves the taste. Both your quotes support the view that it doesn't, but that it is supportive of the enjoyment of the dish. I agree with that.

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"On the other hand, no matter how outrageously fantastic the food may taste--as good, say, as Alain Ducasse's truffled foie gras or Grandma's apple pie à la mode--if it's served to you on a dirty rimmed plate, you probably won't want to eat it."

macrosan and FG,

I think this implies that no matter how good something tastes, if it is presented poorly, it affects the way you experience the food and therefore your perception of it.

Edited by lizziee (log)
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a lot of mediocre cuisine gets by because it's offered to the diner in an appealing manner

I fail to see how that can be determined, if presentation actually changes the taste of food.

I don't think anyone suggests that presentation actually changes the physical taste of the food. It changes the way people react to the food and the experience. Most people don't eat their food blindfolded, and their entire experience, including the way they perceive and will report on the food, will be affected by the entire experience -- including presentation, service, ambience, etc.

Perhaps one attempt at an example (although probably not a good one), is the Slanted Door restaurant in Frisco. Although my last meal there was pretty good, I don't think it's close to the best Vietnamese food in the city. Many, many people will say that it is the best Vietnamese restaurant, if not one of the best of any restaurants in the city. I think the fact that Slanted Door has an upscale "Western" look to it will affect the perception many people have about the taste of the food. And they serve stuff in lettuce cups, clay pots and other do-dads that most diners haven't seen before. I think this influences people's opinion as to the taste of the food. Take food from the relatively "unknown" Vietnamese joint down the street and serve it in Slanted Door, and I bet it gets higher ratings than it would get if eaten in it's regular surroundings.

By the way -- I've missed much of this discussion, but is it worth remembering that the original post seemed to be recommendations to those serving food to the general populace? Remember, most people eating at restaurants are not as savvy as people posting here. (Or, as it seems that FG said, they're just dumb.)

Edited by Stone (log)
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Stone,

That is an excellent example. When the Slanted Door was at their old location - funky, intimate, and quirky I loved the food and going there. Since they moved to their new location, the food just doesn't "taste" the same. Is it really different? Have they changed chefs? I can't answer those questions, but I can say that my perception of the food has changed.

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Remember, most people eating at restaurants are not as savvy as people posting here.

Nah, we here on eGullet are just regular folks who happen to have posted 4244 responses to Adam Balics bio.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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However, we would need to know who the testees were, what questions they were asked to "identify" flavor, and so on before we could determine whether the study is relevant to what we're talking about.

I suspect that they were students. They almost always are. I'm sure that those with experienced/trained palates could do better. But I think we'd be very rash to conclude that appearance has no affect on our perception of flavour, no matter how experienced we are.

The study seems to be talking about "intensity of flavor" which is unimportant to our discussion. We are (I believe) concerned with what an ingredient tastes of, not how strongly it tastes of it.

I think intensity does matter. For example we like beef to be beefy: lack of flavour is the perenial complaint over filet mignon. But the other studies show that colour also affect what we taste: yellow drinks taste citrusy; red ones sweet.

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we'd be very rash to conclude that appearance has no affect on our perception of flavour, no matter how experienced we are

By using the phrase "perception of flavour" are you agreeing that perception of flavour and actual flavour are two distinct concepts? Or do you think flavour is meaningless without perception as an integral part of the definition?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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So there we were at the Palm last night (Palm Too, it was) and we ordered tiramisu. What came out was the most unattractive dessert I've seen in many moons. It looked nothing like tiramisu, which isn't the most handsome dessert to begin with but usually looks like Fabio compared to what we were served. It was uniformly grayish-white. It looked like a layer-cake from beyond the grave, coated in a bodily fluid I'd rather not mention.

I took a bite. Ellen took a bite. "This is a lot better than it looks," we both said.

Now how did we know that?

I'll tell you how: the appearance of the product (disgusting) had nothing to do with its taste (pretty good). We were able -- just like all the people on this thread even though so many of them stubbornly refuse to admit it -- to separate the two concepts. Easily. We all do it all the time. I'd like to hear from anybody who has never said "this tastes better than it looks." Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Some odors seem to have the property of increasing the perceived sweetness of a sucrose solution even though they possess no taste themselves. It is unlikely that this type of taste-odor interactions occur at the receptor level. Since odor and taste are subserved by two separate neuroanatomical systems it is more probable that odor-taste interactions occur at the central processing level.
Sensory Expertise: Are experts and novices really different?

    * Expertise level and odour perception : What can we learn from burgundy red wines? (S. Chollet and D. Valentin, poster presented at ESOC 99 - LYON) )

      We compare the olfactive dimensions used by two groups of subjects with a different expertise level to describe and categorise a series of 13 red burgundy wines. A verbal and a non verbal approaches have been used in parallel. The verbal approach included a communication task and a description task. Pairs of assessors were asked to match a series of samples based only on verbal exchanges. All the terms generated were recorded and the terms most frequently used served as a basis for the description task. The non verbal approach included a similarity judgement task. Multivariate analyses have been used to analyse the data. Results show that 1) both groups of subjects were able to perform the communication task reasonably well and to generate a coherent set of descriptors, 2) the two groups of subjects use an equivalent number of dimensions to describe and categorise the wines, and 3) the two groups of subjects use the same dimensions for the non verbal task, but different dimensions for the verbal task. This dissociation between verbal and non verbal tasks suggests that the perceptual representation of wine is similar for the two groups of subjects but that the verbalisation of this representation varies with the expertise level. Subjects with a higher level of expertise tend to use analytical terms whereas subjects with a lower level tend to use holistic terms.

* What's in a wine name? When and why are wine experts ``better" than novices? (D. Valentin, M. Pichon, V. deBoishebert, H. Abdi, poster presented at the Psychonomic Society Meeting 2000 - Los Angeles) ) We compare the ability of expert and novice wine tasters to discriminate, sort, describe and recognize a series of 28 red wines coming from 7 French wine areas. Results show that, whereas both groups of subjects were able to discriminate between the wines, only the experts were able to generate wine descriptions allowing other experts to recognize the wines. This superiority of experts over novices might be due in part to the fact that experts use a more analytical vocabulary to describe the wines but also to the fact that experts have developed a perceptual representation of the olfactory properties of red French wines. Indeed the similarity data (derived from the sorting task) showed that experts, unlike novices, tended to sort the wines by grapes types (e.g., gamay, merlot). These results, contrary to some previous results (Chollet & Valentin, 2000), suggest that the difference between experts and novices is not limited to verbal abilities.

More interesting research. To add to the jelly bean study quoted above which I also read. And to address the FG research on people being stupid.

It seems to me that there are zillions of studies on going about the effect of sensory perceptions and the ability, or lack thereof, within our neural networks to distinguish between various sensory inputs.

A quick google search lost me an hour and gained me a fascinating insight into why presentation can affect taste, as can odor (garlic becomes 60% or something like that less recognizable to people who cannot smell it), and so on. And it informed me that this question is fueling much research that is often contradictory in conclusions. Possibly because the answers are not black and white?

I think extremes - really crappy looking food which tastes really good are easier to be cut and dry about than the point I made in my earlier post - good food that tastes better because of presentation.

I've got lots more to say and I've got two tickets to John Scofield. The tickets are winning.

Later ......

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We were able -- just like all the people on this thread even though so many of them stubbornly refuse to admit it -- to separate the two concepts. Easily. We all do it all the time. I'd like to hear from anybody who has never said "this tastes better than it looks." Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

You're trying to use one example (a fine one at that) to prove an absolute. There are lots of things that taste better than they look. Many things that look better than they taste. That's irrelevant to the premise that appearance, plating, atmosphere, ambience, etc., is very important with respect to how most people (who are not thinking about the issue) will judge the "taste" of the food they've eaten.

You are correct that it doesn't affect the molecules or the taste receptors. But taste, the physical sensation, is one of those odd manifestations of consciousness. It is only the firing of a few billions neurons somewhere in the brain, but it is of course, so much more. And it could easily (and I would say it is) be affected by more than just the molecules that hit the taste buds (or the smell receptors in the nose, etc.)

Perhaps this has some relevance here: Tasters Choice coffee employees 10 people to taste their coffee daily for the purpose of ensuring that it always tastes the same. After years of this, one guy says, "I have to admit it -- the coffee tastes different to me. You all say it's the same, and I don't doubt you. The coffee hasn't changed, I taste it differently." Next to him, a lady says, "I have a similar problem, the coffee tastes the same to me, as you all confirm. But I don't like it anymore. I used to love the taste of Tasters Choice. Now I don't."

Putting aside physical changes, what is going on? They are talking about the experience of tasting that occurs in their brains. It's not objective, not reducible to fact, not even arguable. It's not a question of whether Wilfrid is right.

So you may assert correctly that atmosphere can't affect the taste of food. But you're wrong.

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Why are you so determined to frame it in terms of taste? It's okay to be in favor of attractive food. I'm in favor of it. I think it's great. But it doesn't change the taste of the food. You can cite a million scientific studies about blue food coloring or red food or whatever -- I have acknowledged them and explained why they're irrelevant since the very beginning, yet people keep introducing them as if they change something about the nature of reality. They don't. Appearance and taste are two different things. Everybody knows it. The rest continues to be the same semantic discussion, over and over again.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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For those who asked the jelly bean study, if I remember correctly, included super tasters, regular tasters and bad tasters - whatever the scientific names for those are.

How can appearance affect taste? The fact that the molecular property of the food does not change is not being debated. It is a given. But can appearance change the molecular property of food in the mouth. Yes.

Appearance and odor have both been proven to stimulate saliva. The presence, absence, quantity and chemical compostion of saliva have been proven to hugely affect the human capacity to taste.

There have been many scientific studies done on illnesses which impede saliva generation thus limiting the capacity to taste . The cultural aspects of saliva generating stimuli have similarly been studied. In fact, this difference in saliva generation stimuli and ability to taste has been thought to lead to malnutrition, because it can lead to unbalanced diets.

Can we talk about food again now? I was raised to think that spit and discussions of it were rude.

:)

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My two cents. I agree that taste is for the most part independent of presentation. A "good" taster should be able to ignore the presentation and determine the "objective" taste quality of a dish. There are of course some presentation decisions that do change the taste of a dish, such as putting the fish on top of the puree rather than next to it. But one could make the argument that for that dish, the plating is really part of the preparation process.

I think we would all agree that a given dish would taste the same to us regardless of presentation if we were blindfolded while trying it (putting aside the variations due to plating that I mention above). However, once we can see the dish and its presentation, would that still hold?

I can give a personal example of a case where it wasn't true for me. I like to drink Gatorade when I play sports. I always get the orange one, since that's the one that tastes best to me. Now I know that the orange in the drink is just artificial food coloring, which is probably bad for me anyway. Gatorade recently came out with a "clear" version of their drinks that do not have any food coloring (they look just like water). Now, while I don't have access to the actual formulas for the drinks, I'm almost sure that the regular and clear orange ones have the exact same "objective" taste. But when I had the clear orange drink, I just did not like it, even though I knew it was almost surely my mind playing a trick on me and that I would probably not find any difference if I was blindfolded.

This might just mean that I'm a poor taster (or just plain old stupid). But I like to think of myself as an objective taster, and I believe that in almost all cases when having food, I can distinguish the taste characteristic of a dish from its presentation. I certainly have had lots of cases where I've had wonderful food that was poorly presented and vice versa. Ultimately though, I think that presentation does have an effect on how food tastes to me, no matter how hard I try to be objective. It's not a very big effect, and if I had to put a percentage on it as in the initial post, I'd say that for my perception of taste, 90% is how the food actually tastes, 9% is temperature, and 1% is presentation. Of course, for my actual enjoyment of the overall dining experience, presentation plays a much bigger role that 1%.

Note that the same debate exists in the wine world. I remember reading an interview or a quote of Robert Parker, and he said that a good wine critic does not really need to taste blind. He should be able to separate the objective qualities of the wine and ignore any other biases (towards the producer, the vintage, etc.) The Wine Spectator guys on the other hand are adamant that all tasters are biased, and the only way to be truly objective is to taste blind. They recently had an editorial on the subject, and are always boasting on how all their tasting is done blind (though I think it's only single blind).

So my conclusion is that if there is such a thing as a perfect taster, taste would be independent of presentation for that person, but for most of us mere mortals, no matter how objective we try to be, presentation can have an effect on taste.

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Why are you so determined to frame it in terms of taste? It's okay to be in favor of attractive food. I'm in favor of it. I think it's great. But it doesn't change the taste of the food. You can cite a million scientific studies about blue food coloring or red food or whatever -- I have acknowledged them and explained why they're irrelevant since the very beginning, yet people keep introducing them as if they change something about the nature of reality. They don't. Appearance and taste are two different things. Everybody knows it. The rest continues to be the same semantic discussion, over and over again.

Steven, your problem is that you refuse to see that taste is not just what happens on the taste buds, but is what happens in the brain and how the brain interprets what you are tasting. And during an experience like tasting, the brain, along with the sense of taste, is also at the same time taking in the other 4 senses (of the experience), of sight (presentation), smell, touch and hearing, and I would say memory of previous taste experience and expectations. It's a package deal.

And smart restaurants realize this, and that is why they take the care to make sure that along with a great tasting meal, the presentation and other factors that affect all of our senses will enhance the meal for the best enjoyment of the experience.

edit: oops, Steven, when I said "your problem is" I meant that in an affectionate way. :smile:

Edited by Blue Heron (log)
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FG,

You keep saying that taste is taste absolutely. Then, why is a Ducasse experience, for you, better than others of that same caliber? Is there an intangible quotient to the experience?

Edited by lizziee (log)
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I think you guys are all wrong here and Fat Guy has it dead on. The issue isn't whether presentation does make a difference in how something tastes, the issue is whether it should. And to any of you who claim that taste is influenced by the visuals, you need to do a better job of divorcing those two concepts. Yes presentation might make it more enjoyable to eat, yes more attractive and yes more appealing, but not taste better. It is physically impossible

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No Liz you misunderstand what I've said. Yes I believe that untrained diners can be influenced by presentation. But diners on our level should not be. Our sense of taste should be acute enough to be able to parse those two issues.

There are really two different discussions going on here. The effect of good/bad presentation, which I won't deny, and the scoentific fact that it tastes the same regardless of presentation.

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Steve,

What I don't understand is why you discount the fact that presentation is so important to most chefs?

What distinquishes one chef from another, at the level we are talking about, is the art of cuisine. It is more than the ingredients. It is the fact of that visual and sensual appeal that excites us and pushes us past that just palate feel.

edit: spelling

Edited by lizziee (log)
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