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“Why you DON’T want to be born with silver spoon in your mouth” is an online newspaper article which highlights how the food we consume tastes different depending on the choice and type of cutlery we use. The author Ben Spencer, a science reporter for the daily mail presents Dr. Zoe Laughlin research conducted on different foodstuffs and cutlery types. The research involved the use of spoons made from seven materials; silver, gold, stainless steel, copper, tin, chrome, and zinc. Fifty individuals were requested to eat and suck from each spoon and rate its taste. The tests were further conducted on a variety of other foodstuffs and the results noted on how each metal combined with salty, sweet and acidic flavors.
The essence of this write up is to establish whether there is truth to the findings of Dr. Zoe Laughlin research. The paper further goes on to presents the research presented in the media article, gives a review of the findings and explains the scientific reasoning behind the research presented. In conclusion, the research paper presents a critique of the research conducted by Dr. Laughlin based on existing facts and research while applying a neuropsychological approach.
Synopsis and Assessment of the Media Article
Dr. Zoe Laughlin presented her research at the Human Appetite Exhibition of 2015 which took place at the Science Museum in London. The goal of the exhibition was to show and add new findings to the growing theory that there is much to the way we experience food other than the taste and flavor of the food (Spence et al., 2014). The findings to the research showed that silver knives, spoons, and forks make certain foods more so sauces taste unpleasant. Stainless steel cutlery, which is the most common cutlery type in many households was found to have a better eating experience as compared to silver cutlery. Gold cutlery was found to be the best type for giving the person using it with the best eating and culinary experience.
In terms of the flavor of food being consumed be it salty, acidic or sweet; gold cutlery offered the best tasting experience. This is evident to Dr. Laughlin work from where she states, “Gold was the tastiest. It is the most inert material, so it doesn’t really influence the food. Whether it was by itself or with food, gold performed the best (Laughlin et al., 2011)”. This is because gold does not have a metallic taste attribute thus one gets to experience the food as it is since it reacts least to the food. In addition, her research showed that silver cutlery made food taste more unpleasant since they have a metallic component in them which blends with the taste of the food. Furthermore, silver cutlery reacts badly with acidic foods more so that in fruits and the Sulphur in eggs. In the case of stainless steel cutlery, the research found that the cutlery offered a better culinary experience as compared to a majority of all the other test cutlery. However as stated by Dr. Laughlin, “stainless steel was the second-best cutlery, but you haven’t lived until you have eaten with gold (Laughlin et al., 2011)”. Her research also found that zinc and copper performed well when used on sweet foods more so on sweet desserts.
The article further goes on to expound on the research findings by elaborating on another exhibition; The Cravings Exhibition. This exhibition was conducted to explore ways in which the circuits in our brains determine the flavor of the foods we consume while showing how this can be influenced by a variety of other issues. Professor Charles Spence a key contributor to the exhibition explains that the perception of the food we consume is affected by the sensory properties of the food and all other external factors surrounding the eating and culinary experience. Professor Spence research establishes that glass makes tonics and gin taste better and that use of a dining cloth would improve the flavor of the meal. His research also established that blue plastic spoons make food taste saltier, while black spoons make the food taste less sweet and that white spoons make the food taste creamier.
The reason behind this logic is that our brains process information about what we eat based on what we see, smell and hear. Our visual perception highly influences the perception of how the food will taste even before it reaches our mouth. As such Professor Spence hopes to use his research findings to help model ways in which food can be made to taste better by using different cutlery to trick the senses and perception to the food without necessarily changing the ingredients. Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, another key contributor to The Craving exhibition also hopes to take the positive research findings to explore ways in which cutlery can influence and make the dining experience in the restaurant industry. Chef Heston notes that in a memorable meal one does not only remember the food but also the multisensory experience involved when taking the meal (Spencer, 2015). As such the exhibition seeks to show cutlery influence the eating experience which in hand can shape and improve one’s appetite for food.
Dr. Laughlin in conjunction with a major airline she works for hope to redesign modern cutlery by exploring the shape, color, and material it is made of to improve the influence the perception and flavor of the food. Her findings also explore the cutlery shape and how it influences the eating experience. As her research shows, oval spoons have the best results but for the best results, every person has their own view of how their cutlery should be. Her research hopes to find and establish ways in which an individual can have their own custom-made cutlery. This she hopes would be in an age when a customer can visit a cutlery shop, have their mouth scanned with a 3D camera to establish the customer preferences such as the size of the head, curve, and length of the spoon.
Scientific Review of the Media Article
As of recent research, it has been seen that not all metals taste equally metallic when placed in the mouth. However, while a lot of scientific research has been done to establish that there is a metallic taste sensation arising from metal ions in foods and solutions, comparatively less is known about the taste of solid metals. Active research is thus being conducted to establish how solid metals more so those used in cutlery and the effect they have on the taste of food. Dr. Zoe Laughlin research offers a perfect basis upon which knowledge and scientific findings on how the taste of food can be influenced by solid metal cutlery.
The scientific reasoning behind the taste attributed to cutlery lies in the explanation of the electrode potential of the cutlery metal. Standard electrode potentials of metals are found to be good predictors of how solid metals taste. As such, cutlery made from metallic materials with a positive standard electrode potential such as gold, chrome, and stainless steel has a high score test for being least metallic. This because ions in the cutlery react less when in contact with the food thus having less or no effect to the taste of the food. On the other hand, silver, zinc, tin and copper cutlery consist of materials that have a negative electrode potential. Thus it may be noted that cutlery made of such materials pose a taste influence on the food since the ion in the metal reacts more with the food thus disrupting or changing the original taste of the food.
However, eating is a multisensory experience. Intrinsically, it is thus logical to assume that the eating part only tells how the food tastes. The mouth is made up of flavor receptors all in place to transmit information about how the food taste to the brain. Ideologically one may believe that the food we consume is mainly determined in our mouths. Contrary to this ideological thinking, research suggests that the eye forms the main basis of how we perceive food even before we taste the food. The spoons used while consuming food offer a subconscious preference of what the food tastes like. Even if there is truth to Dr. Laughlin research, the taste to the food is slightly influenced. This because the eating experience involves experiences ranging from the taste, feel, aroma and visual perception of the food. As such, the perception of taste formed by the different cutlery materials only forms a portion of the overall judgment made on how the food taste. This can be backed by the fact that even before we put food into our mouths our brains have made a judgment about it, more so on the taste experience, it may offer.
As explained by professor Spence of experimental psychology “People’s perception is typically dominated by what their eyes see (Spencer et al., 2014)”. From this analysis, it may be deduced that Dr. Zoe Laughlin research partly presents the reality behind the taste we experience from food. Questions also arise from the credibility of her research, since her findings only establish that cutlery from different metals influences the taste perception but fails to address how taste perception can be influenced when metal salts are added to the composition of the food itself.
In summary, Dr. Laughlin research presents valuable information on how materials constituting to metallic cutlery affect the taste of the food we consume. Of the various cutlery types researched on, her research found that gold, stainless steel, and chrome made cutlery had the best tasting experience since the ions in the cutlery react least with the food. For the other metallic made cutlery, her research established they offered a pleasant tasting experience due to their ions reacting with the food material being consumed. Conversely, her research comes in handy in an age when the culinary and food-based industry is endlessly looking for new ways to offer new ways in which people can enjoy the eating experience. By using cutlery which reacts least with food while incorporating the aroma, feels and visual perception of the food, Dr. Laughlin findings can prove to be vital in improving and influencing the eating experience.
- Ben Spencer Science Reporter For The Daily Mail. (2015, February 11). Silver cutlery makes food tastes bad, expert reveals. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2949481/Why-DON-T-want-born-silver-spoon-mouth-Silver-cutlery-makes-food-tastes-bad-expert-reveals.html
- Laughlin, Z., Conreen, M., Witchel, H. J., & Miodownik, M. (2011). The use of standard electrode potentials to predict the taste of solid metals. Food Quality and Preference, 22(7), 628-637.
- Spence, C., Piqueras-Fiszman, B., & Blumenthal, H. (2014). The perfect meal: The multisensory science of food and dining. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell.
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