Flavor Perception

Published: 02nd December 2009
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Our perception of flavor is the result, primarily, of the combination of two sensory experiences: taste and smell. In addition to the sensory experience, flavor perceptions can be effected by psychological influences like packaging, presentation and/or ambience. Whether you are operating a restaurant or preparing food for your family and guests, considering all of the variables affecting flavor will help provide a great experience for the people you cook for.

An interesting test of the effect of psychological influences on flavor can be executed using flavors known to us that we have definite opinions of. One such test involves serving several different varieties of similar beers to people with a distinct preference for one of the beers in the test (Budweiser, Bush, Miller and Coors for example). Serve each beer in identical glasses at the same temperature without the taster knowing which beer is which and ask them to identify each. The results of this test are most astonishing when the taste-tester is very opinionated about a particular beer.

If you take the time to administer some version of the test described above, you will quickly discover that there is much more to flavor than taste and smell. This knowledge is incorporated in food packaging and should be a factor in the design of food presentation and environment ambiance at restaurants and in the home.

The key operative word in the preceding paragraph is "design." Every chef knows that it is important to use the correct ingredients, in the correct amounts, to get good flavor; and the recipes used are designed. How many of us pay equal attention to the way the food is presented or the environment in which it is presented? Presentation and environment can have a positive, or negative, impact on the flavor of your recipes.

The presentation of food involves artistic flair combined with an understanding of flavor combinations. Great chefs use a number of techniques to enhance the presentation of their dishes including garnishes, small side dishes that add color or texture, and the tableware on which it is served. Study photographs in magazines (like Flavor & The Menu) to see examples of this at work.

Designing, or modifying, the ambience in which food is served often requires more thought. A restaurant serving a particular type of food may capitalize on interior design elements that make a statement about the type of food and contribute to experience the operator wants their customers to share. At home, you can add color or texture to your table settings or add music to the environment to help accent your meals.
A thorough and highly respected full treatment of these concepts is presented in The Flavor Pyramid. You can find articles on The Flavor Pyramid online at Flavor & the Menu. To read a complete article about the Flavor Pyramid download this PDF Building On the Flavor Pyramid.

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