Perfect parties… on a plate: How cutlery and crockery are just as important as food in making the perfect meal
New study shows food tastes different depending on what plate its onProfessor Charles Spence advised those planning a dinner party to spend as much time on the table setting as the food
Fiona Macrae Science Correspondent
01:59 GMT, 1 January 2013
01:59 GMT, 1 January 2013
If your dinner parties always go a little awry, don’t blame the cooking – it might be the plates.
Crockery, cutlery and music contribute at least as much to the enjoyment of a meal as the food itself, studies show.
Volunteers who ate a strawberry dessert from a white plate thought it tasted 10 per cent sweeter than those who ate the same pudding from a black one.
According to the study popcorn tastes less salty if served in a red container than a blue one
Oxford University psychologist Professor Charles Spence, who carried out the experiments, also found that food tasted better when it was eaten with heavy cutlery and crockery.
He said: ‘For years, we have been spending a lot of time thinking about the taste and colour and sound of the food itself.
‘That is all very important but there is a whole area emerging that it seems that no one has ever thought about – the everything else that goes with food.
‘We never eat food by itself, it is always with cutlery, on a plate that’s on a table.
‘And when you change these things it seems to matter.’
A series of experiments carried out by Professor Spence show that something as simple as the colour of a plate or the weight of a spoon can make a difference.
Strawberry desserts taste 10 per cent sweeter on a white plate than a black one according to the research
In the experiments, popcorn tastes saltier when eaten from a blue bowl than from a red one.
Professor Spence, who has worked with a variety of top chefs including Heston Blumenthal, said that colour contrast may play a part in the phenomenon. Force of habit may also be important.
Salty crisps are often packaged in blue bags, perhaps explaining why the popcorn tasted saltier when eaten from a blue bowl.
Weight is also important, with heavier cutlery and crockery making food taste more appealing.
Professor Spence said: ‘If you make the spoon heavier, the food tastes better and if you make the bowl heavier, the food tastes better.'
This may be because we tend to associate weight with worth.
Those planning a dinner party, the professor advises spending at least as much time thinking about the table setting as they do on the food.
He says that when everything from the colour of the plates to the weight of the cutlery is factored in, at least half of the enjoyment of a meal may lay in how it is served rather than in how it tastes.
Other ideas include matching the background music to the wine.
Research from the US and UK concluded that Cabernet Sauvignon is all the more delicious when accompanied by The Doors’ classic People are Strange.
The high pitch and fast beat of Atomic by Blondie is said to enhance the taste of Chablis and Chardonnay, while Enya’s Orinoco Flow might help Syrah slide down more smoothly.
And Professor Spence has shown that Pavarotti’s rendition of Nessun Dorma brings out the tanginess of dark chocolate and coffee-flavoured desserts.