Taste: It's all in the mind

How we percieve the taste of food is affected by more than flavour

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Altitude

Aeroplane food doesn’t have the best reputation in the world, but this may have something to do with the fact that altitude is meant to affect our taste buds. Studies suggest that hormonal changes occur at altitude, which alter our sensitivity to the taste of certain foods. This theory is supported by taste experiments conducted in a pressure chamber, which simulates plane cabin conditions.

Earlier this year, famed chef Heston Blumenthal famously tried to reimagine plane food by designing a high-altitude bento box, which contained surprises as varied as gum strips coated in green tea and lime, wine gums made with real wine, orange and beetroot jelly, and cold gazpacho soup. As much as these treats were appreciated by the passengers, BA ruled that the preparation was simply too time consuming. Best stick to your day job then, Heston.

Where to try: Other than tuck into the in-flight chicken dish next time you jet off on holidays, see if your taste buds notice any difference at the world’s tallest restaurant, At.mosphere, on the 122nd floor
of the Burj Khalifa – for the record, that’s more than 442m high.
(04 888 3828).

Colour

Other than representing danger and anger, red also increases the appetite, which may explain why so many fast-food chains adopt the colour in their signage and decor. In her book Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, food expert Karen Page claims that the deeper the colour of a food (she uses berry sorbet as an example), the more flavour is perceived (‘perceived’ being the operative word here).

A group of researchers in a 2009 study for the journal Psychological Behaviours discovered that visual cues, including colour, can enhance the feeling of hunger, even when someone is full. The study shows that people who are prone to weight gain are more susceptible to these visual cues than those with a quicker metabolism.

Where to try: If red’s the colour, try Red restaurant, a chic lounge at Raffles Dubai that serves tasty dim sum snacks.
(04 314 9770).

The red colour theme may also go some way towards explaining the popularity of Chinese food, though the prevalence of red has more to do with the country’s socialist leanings than a ploy to sell noodles. There aren’t many better Chinese restaurants than China Sea in Deira.
(04 295 9816).

As far as red foods go, we’re particularly partial to the Thai red curry at Mango Tree in Souk Al Bahar.
(04 426 7313).

Name

What’s in a name? According to nutritional scientist Brian Wansink, quite a lot. The University of Illinois professor says people perceive foods with creative names as more calorific (and more satisfying) than they actually are. ‘If there's a connection to something nostalgic (“Grandma's Favourite Sugar Cookies”), a region (“Real Texas Barbecue”) or a sensory description (“Sticky Chewy Pecan Cheesecake”), food somehow tastes better.’

Where to try: Dubai has a disappointing dearth of cleverly named restaurants. However, Jimmy’s Killer Prawns in Motor City is worth a visit for the name alone.
(04 355 5182).

Also try Persian restaurant Shoo Fee Ma Fee at the Madinat Jumeirah.
(04 366 8888).

And if ever there was a restaurant that put a smile on our face, it’s Smiling BKK on Al Wasl Road.
(04 349 6677).

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