The future of food (Wired UK)


The look and feel of utensils can change the way we eat and how much we enjoy our food

Science Museum


“We’ve become ashamed of making love to the food
we eat,” says Charles Michel. A young Franco-Colombian chef, Michel
has bold ideas about the future of food. From chocolate mousse made
with mashed up bees to innovative bowls and spoons that will make
us eat more healthily, he’s hacking food in remarkable
ways.

A classically trained chef who spent his early
years in France and Italy, including a stint at the three
Michelin-starred Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio,
Michel has since split his time between Europe and Colombia,
researching culinary innovation.


Michel is currently working on what he hopes will be the largest food perception experiment ever

Alejandro Salgado


“Our brains evolved to like and perceive food
via all the senses,” he says. “By definition then, we can hack food
visually, but it can also happen in all our senses.” Recent food
fads — “the all-too-famous foams and spherifications”– have given
rise to a new culinary imagination and for Michel it is our
perception of food, rather than its physical or molecular
properties, that can have a huge impact on our tastebuds and
waste-lines.

He’s currently working with the Crossmodal Research
Laboratory — a sensory research centre  at Oxford University
— to conduct what he hopes will be the largest food
perception experiment ever. The research, which anyone can take part in online, will look at how
orientation in plating can change how much you enjoy a meal and how
much you’d be willing to pay for it. But how food is arranged on
the plate is just the start of the little-known science that shapes
our diets.


Michel’s Kandinsky-inspired salad

Comes Cake


Every dish, Michel reckons, has an optimal
orientation. He sees the experiment as a sort of crowd-sourced
culinary design. Michel and a team of collaborators hope more than
50,000 people will take part. The experiment is part of Cravings, a new exhibition at the Science Museum in London
that looks at how we are controlled by our food.

To put the theory to the test researchers at
Crossmodal Lab arranged a salad to look
like Kandinsky’s Painting Number 201. When 60
people tasted three salads, all made of the same ingredients but
arranged differently, they said the Kandinsky salad was the
tastiest. Participants were also willing to pay twice as much for
it.


Eating from a gold spoon changes how viscous food feels in the mouth

Science Museum


Working with designer and silversmith Andreas
Fabian, who has a PhD in spoons, Michel is also designing
experimental cutlery and plates that, by design, can target
automatic behavioural responses. Such innovations could help people
lose weight and eat more healthily without even realising it. When
covered with gold leaf, for example, the perceived value and
enjoyment of food could be heightened. How viscous food feels in
the mouth can also be changed by eating from a golden
spoon.

In an experiment conducted last year Michel found
people were willing to pay substantially more when eating with
better-quality, heavier cutlery, as opposed to cheap utensils.
“Choosing the right cutlery can hack positively what you think
about the food, even if you have no idea that the cutlery is the
factor enhancing flavour and enjoyment.”


Experimental spoons on show at the Science Museum’s Cravings exhibition

Science Museum


Michel explains that what we taste is often an
illusion. Working with a team of researchers he’s currently
experimenting with fooling people into sensing a taste on their
tongue when they are only actually tasting water. He calls this a
“virtual taste illusion”. “We have some preliminary data and still
need more evidence, but we really believe that part of our everyday
taste experience might be shaped by expectations and belief,” he
says. Essentially, we can be tricked into tasting something that
isn’t there.

“Apparently, without in-mouth tactility, there
would not be much taste left, hence thinking about ‘taste’ alone
might be narrowing down the topic too much,” Michel argues, adding
that our sense of smell is potentially more important than our
tastebuds when determining how much we like our food.


Researchers have found that eating from a bowl with a rounded bottom makes people feel full on less food

Science Museum


Even music can affect our enjoyment of food. How
sweet, salty or sour something tastes can change depending on the
background music, an effect known as “sonic seasoning”. And
f
ood you literally can’t put down could also influence
how full we feel. Research conducted by the Crossmodal Lab in 2012
showed that eating from a bowl with a rounded
bottom
 makes you feel full on less
food.

But what about the future of food? Michel sees
practical applications for his research in changing our everyday
dietary habits.

“Research is starting to give insights on how to
design more pleasurable experiences in order to orient consumptions
of healthier stuff. What we need to do is to make healthier and
sustainable foods to be more delicious, it’s as simple as that,”
Michel says.


Our perception of taste is influenced by everything from how food looks to the music playing in the background

Alejandro Salgado


Entomological gastronomy could play a key role
and Michel believes we should all be eating more insects. These
“delicious, nutritious and sustainable protein sources” have
already cropped up in restaurants in New York and London, but to
many in the Western world chewing on grubs and larvae is still a
disgusting prospect.

“One of the biggest challenges of this century
is to reduce meat-consumption, because it’s not sustainable. We
have to do something, and we better do it quickly,” Michel says.
He’s currently researching three aspects of insect food aesthetics
— making better arguments to persuade people to eat them, the way
they are presented on the plate and the labels used to describe
them. He’s also been experimenting in the kitchen and described his
chocolate mousse made from bees he breeds in his garden as
“delicious”.

His research into edible insects also has
practical uses in deep space. Michel has been speaking to British
astronaut Tim Peake about the challenges of eating well when in
orbit. Not only is eating in microgravity messy, it also tastes
very different. Space food tends to be bland because the amount of
salt has to be substantially cut to stop sodium from damaging
astronauts’ bones.

Michel reckons a phenomenon known as ‘perceptual
constancy’ could be used to provide astronauts with tastier meals.
“If your first bite is saltier than the second, you don’t realise
that the second had less salt in it if you believe they’re the
same,” he explains.

And in the future, with manned missions to Mars
and beyond,  space food will have to be even more innovative.
“In a few decades ships will leave for long periods and the ship
has to be completely isolated. Part of the food will probably have
to be produced in the ship, using a closed recycling
system.”


Space food tends to be bland as it has to be very low in sodium

Science Museum


Or, to put it another way, astronauts could be
eating bugs. Last year volunteers spent 105 days eating worms in a
sealed laboratory in Beijing as part of a confined ecosystem of
plants, worms and humans. Future space missions could rely on such
systems. For his part, Peake says he’d be more than happy to chow
down on worms in space.

But for the most part Michel has his feet firmly
on the ground. The research being carried out by him and his
colleagues at the Crossmodal Research Lab could have a big impact
on how our diets. He believes people should see the kitchen as a
laboratory, “a place where scientists, artists, philosophers and
entrepreneurs can think and re-evolve the way we eat”.

By ensuring big ideas about the future of food
are available to everyone, Michel believes we can achieve
meaningful change. But in the short-term, we can all make a start
by getting in touch with our primal sensations and
desires.

“The instincts that make us human, like eating
from the same plate with people we love, licking the plate, sucking
our fingers, slurping noisily — all these acts can be done
elegantly or, may I say, sensually. When did our animal instincts,
the ones that make the basis of our humanity, became something
vulgar?”

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4 March 2015 | 2:53 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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