Virtual Reality Changes the Taste of Food

Our tiny sensory organs known as taste buds are capable of distinguishing at least five and most likely more tastes. What constitutes the resulting taste also relies on touch and smell. Now, according to an article in Tech Times, food scientists at Cornell University have altered a person’s taste just by changing the surroundings displayed in virtual reality (VR).

In a study published in the Journal of Food Science, Robin Dando, associate professor of food science and senior author, describes the phenomenon: “When we eat, we perceive not only just the taste and aroma of foods, we get sensory input from our surroundings – our eyes, ears, even our memories about surroundings”

In the study, 50 subjects used VR headsets as they ate three samples of identical blue cheese. The surroundings presented in 360-degree VR were a standard sensory booth, a park bench on a pleasant day, and a cow barn.

The results were that even though the cheese samples were identical, the cheese was rated much higher in pungency when the sample was eaten in the virtual cow barn as opposed to the other two settings.

The goal of the study was to adapt VR technology to conduct further research in how food is perceived by our senses. Dando explains that “We consume foods in surroundings that can spill over into our perceptions of the food…This research validates that virtual reality can be used, as it provides an immersive environment for testing. Visually, virtual reality imparts qualities of the environment itself to the food being consumed – making this kind of testing cost-efficient.”

Very little is known about how we actually process taste. Now, using virtual reality, we can more easily experiment with how the physical environment factors into the equation.

Reality Changing Observations:

1. What could be some commercial applications for VR as it relates to our experience of food?

2. Why study our sense of taste?

3. If you could eat your favorite food in your favorite place, what and where would it be?

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