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Make mine an owl hoot and a Singleton

A product's appearance and presentation is critical to its success because, Mary explains, what we see will influence what we taste

Mary Lewis Lewis Moberly

Research estimates that 85% of our perception, learning, cognition and activities are mediated through vision. In humans, vision reigns supreme over the other senses. This is why how your product looks and is presented is so critical to its success: 'You taste is what you see'.

Tasting a product is always an essential (and pleasurable) part of any design briefing! Glenmorangie Lasanta is extra matured for two years in Oloroso Sherry casks. The label is a deep reddy brown to suggest the taste of deliciously sweet sherry flavoured sultanas, orange segments, walnuts and butterscotch.

Whereas Nectar D'Or, matured in wine barriques from Sauternes, has a gold base label to enhance the association with and the flavours, of this sweet, golden wine.

Research demonstrates time after time, that consumers either subconsciously or consciously judge a wine by its bottle and label design. Indeed the same wine will be described differently both in terms of taste (and price) dependent on its design.

Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University set up The Colour Lab, which formed part of the Campo Viejo 'Streets of Spain' event.

Over 3000 people took part, and in the red room the fruity notes in the wine were brought out, but in the green room the fruit profile disappeared. Working with Ferran Adria, Spence also looked at the effect of colour of crockery on the flavour of food. A pink strawberry dessert tasted sweeter served on a white plate, than a black one. Introducing a square or angular plate, intensifies the difference, with roundness accentuating sweetness.These findings have interesting implications for the design of drinking environments and how drinks are served.

There is also a growing debate about the role of our other senses on our perception of taste. The new science of 'neurogastronomy' is based on the realisation that everything we eat or drink is processed by all our senses. Stale crisps taste fresher if they still make the crunchy sound of fresh ones and Spence famously collaborated with Heston Blumenthal to suggest playing sounds of the sea to enhance the detection of seafood flavours.

The dish in question actually looked like sand and surf despite being a mixture of tapioca, fried breadcrumbs, crushed fried baby eels, cod liver oil and langoustine oil topped with abalone, razor clams, shrimps and oysters and three kinds of edible seaweed so the visual sense was still likely to be paramount!

Other multi-sensorial experiments include The Singleton Sensorium where enthusiasts

tasted the single malt in three different rooms, each projecting different colours, props and soundtracks. Spence claims that if you drink a malt in a room carpeted with real grass, accompanied by the sound of a lawnmower, and all bathed in green light, the whisky tastes 'grassier'. Greatest pleasure and the sense of 'woodiness' was derived in a room that included tree trunks and a wooden bench with a soundtrack of owl hoots and a double base. I speak from personal experience when I report that the room with red light and a berry aroma enhanced the sweetness of the malt.

In the future, instead of reading taste descriptors and potential food pairings on the back labels of alcohol packaging, we will see a move towards including sounds, fragrance or lighting suggestions. And this is surely why that wine you enjoyed so much on holiday sadly doesn't taste quite the same at home!


4 June 2014