Neurogastronomy Comes into Its Own, in Restaurants and the Snack Aisle

Food and Science have had an intimate relationship since humans first learned that fire could make things taste better, but when molecular gastronomy entered the common lexicon that relationship became one of the hippest trends in hospitality. Neurogastronomy represents the next phase of this relationship, and the focus is not just on changing food but on changing the entire experience of eating.

Neurogastronomy is the study of the human brain the way it perceives taste. This ranges from questions like, what color plate makes my lava cake taste better? to do people with weight problems eat more because their tongues are different? Understandably, that breadth of study has implications for many, from chefs and restaurateurs to doctors and dietitians. Chef Heston Blumenthal of the three-Michelin starred Fat Duck is focused on how discoveries in this field could make healthier food more satisfying through, for example, the principle of encapsulation – using bursts of flavor rather than dispersed flavor for a greater effect. Blumenthal is even working with NASA and the UK’s space agency to bring astronauts tastier zero-gravity meals.

If neurogastronomy gains enough traction, we may see more and more mass-marketed foods using these techniques in the snack aisle as well. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the ingredients and nutritional content of their food, and more suspicious of labels like “Natural” or “Low Fat.” A greater understanding of taste perception could be good for everyone if it allows companies to meet that demand without sacrificing flavor.

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