Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on June 21, 2021
Supermarket Foraging

Supermarket Foraging


Some scientists think part of the reason humans evolved to see color was to find more energy-rich foods in the landscapes where they lived. Today, most Americans simply walk into a grocery store to find things to eat. But we still forage with our eyes. For example, you skip those apples that have too many dark spots, or buy the spinach that’s a rich green that looks fresh and nutritious. 

A Feast for the Eyes

A Feast for the Eyes


It’s often said that we eat first with our eyes. But studies of brain and behavior seem to back that up. Gorgeous photos of food in books, on cooking shows, and social media can trigger pleasure centers in the brain. That might lead you to eat when you’re not hungry. On the other hand, some types of images could help promote a healthier diet.  Scientists continue to study the issue.

A Salad Isn’t Just a Salad

A Salad Isn’t Just a Salad


The way food looks not only entices you to eat it, it can actually change the way it tastes to you. Some research suggests that food tastes better when you see it than if you eat something blindfolded without knowing what it is. In one study, just the artful arrangement of a salad on a plate changed the way people perceived the flavor of the same preparation.

Is Tomato Juice Better on a Plane?

Is Tomato Juice Better on a Plane?


Possibly. One study found that people noticed the savory “umami” taste of tomato juice more when they were in a setting designed to feel like an airplane. Scientists think the noise of a flight -- about 85 decibels -- may make your taste buds more sensitive to that flavor. But it had the opposite effect on the sense of sweetness and didn’t seem to affect sour or bitter tastes.

Swayed by Smell

Swayed by Smell


Most scientists agree that much of what you perceive as taste comes from your sense of smell. But aromas can sway your food choices even when you’re not aware of them. For example, people at a meal who smelled melon without knowing it were more likely to order a vegetable dish to start. Those who smelled pear were more likely to order a fruit-based dessert.

The Crunch of Quality

The Crunch of Quality


The sound of fish frying or popcorn popping can rev up your appetite. And that crunch you get from potato chips can affect how they taste to you. When the crunch sound of chips was secretly raised or lowered through a pair of headphones in a study, people rated the louder chips better. Many said the “quiet” chips were stale and likely past their expiration date. 

Music: The Perfect Ingredient

Music: The Perfect Ingredient


You may be able to bring out different flavors from your favorite chocolate if you change the music that plays while you eat it. In one experiment, people noticed more sweetness and creaminess in chocolate when they listened to easy-listening songs, compared to hip-hop or heavy metal. It was the same chocolate -- the only thing that changed was the music.

Rough Around the Edges

Rough Around the Edges


Do rough foods taste more sour? Maybe. Scientists gave a small group of people two sour candies to try. They were the same in every way except that one was rough in texture and the other smooth. People rated the rough candies as more sour. It’s not clear why, but it may be that in the U.K., where scientists did the experiment, people associate the rough coating with a common sour candy sold there.

Weight Matters

Weight Matters


Something as simple as the weight of the dish you eat from can change the way you perceive the food. Scientists gave the same yogurt to people in bowls that ranged from light to heavy and asked them to rate the quality and flavor. People consistently rated yogurt in heavier bowls as the best quality and the stuff in the lightest bowls as cheapest and least appealing.

Show Sources


1) Dmitrii Balabanov / Getty Images

2) pxhere

3) DragonFly / Getty Images

4) Aureliy / Getty Images

5) RazoomGames / Getty Images

6) Kwangmoozaa / Getty Images

7) DragonImages / Getty Images

8) MixitIstock / Getty Images

9) pamela_d_mcadams / Getty Images



Rachel Herz, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, Brown University.

Appetite: “Texture and savoury taste influences on food intake in a realistic hot lunch time meal,” “ ‘Smooth operator’: Music modulates the perceived creaminess, sweetness, and bitterness of chocolate.”

Brain and Cognition: “Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation.”

Flavour: “A taste of Kandinsky: assessing the influence of the artistic visual presentation of food on the dining experience.”

Food Quality and Preference: “Does the weight of the dish influence our perception of food?” “Priming effects of an olfactory food cue on subsequent food-related behaviour.”

Frontiers in Psychology: “Smelly primes -- when olfactory primes do or do not work.”

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance: “A crossmodal role for audition in taste perception.”

Journal of Sensory Studies: “The Role of Auditory Cues in Modulating the Perceived Crispness and Staleness of Potato Chips.”

Michigan State University Extension: “Eating with all five senses: Sight.”

Neuropsychologia: “Cross-modal tactile-taste interactions in food evaluations.”

Herz, R. Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship with Food. WW Norton, 2018.