The expression “eat with your eyes” is certainly true because when a dish is visually appealing, it’s more appetizing. A rotisserie-roasted chicken makes your mouth water more than a pale poached chicken breast. A salad made with colorful leafy greens, red peppers and carrots is more attractive than a bowl of plain iceberg lettuce. The shape and consistency of the food is something that we also see. Bite size is often more appealing (that why you eat more hors d’ oeuvres than you should at a party) and looking at inferior consistency is unacceptable (think runny scrambled eggs). We also look at portion size and make the decision if we will be satisfied, hungry or stuffed before we even take the first bite. Along with sight, odor is another factor in determining our food choice. Hot foods are more aromatic than cold foods because heat causes compounds in the foods to become more volatile (like a gas). The nasal cells can detect them easily and send a message to the brain that there are warm baked chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven.
As many of us have experienced, eating with your eyes can be misleading. There are times I have regretted eating a fancy dessert because it really didn’t taste as good as it looked. Taste is probably the most complex of all the senses when it comes to food selection, and it’s by far the most influential. The process relies on saliva to dissolve the food. When the taste buds, located in the mouth and on the tongue, are exposed to the saliva and food mixture, they send a message to the brain and we recognize the different tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory). Unfortunately, as you age your taste buds decrease in number, so you may find yourself using a bit more sugar and salt. Additionally, if saliva production is diminished due to aging or medication, taste will also affected. Interestingly, food temperature also alters taste. Try these experiments: 1. Compare and taste hard ice cream right out of the freezer with the same ice cream that is semi-melted and notice if they differ in sweetness. 2. Try a taste of cheddar cheese at room temperature and compare it to one that’s right out of the refrigerator. Which has more cheese flavor?