Expensive taste

Taste is a subjective thing. While your friend thinks her new cream pants are the awesomest things ever and that she looks wonderful in them…you would rather appear stark naked in public than wear the things. It’s not just fashion, or other obviously subjective judgements, where taste is influenced by a range of factors. As we have illustrated in this news column previously, taste can be influenced by things as potentially unrelated to the food as the colour of the plate you serve it on. Now a new study suggests that how much you pay for your food can also influence how it tastes to you.

For the study researchers offered subjects in their study a choice between paying $4 or $8 for an all-you-can-eat buffet. The subjects were asked to rate the food and the restaurant rating their first, middle, and last taste of the food on a nine point scale.

The two groups ate about the same amount of food but those who had paid $8 rated their food as tasting an average of 11 per cent better than those who had paid $4. Those who paid less were also more likely to report that they had overeaten and felt guilty about their meal. As the meal went on, those who had paid the cheaper price rated their meal as tasting less and less good.

This illustrates how taste is influenced by more than what is going on in your mouth and how small changes in other factors can significantly alter the experience of your food.

It makes you realise that “reality” is dancing in the shadows of illusion and that perception is everything. Foods do not have a taste that is stable and unassailable; taste is a subjective perception dependent on a range of environmental and personal factors. One woman’s delicious pie is the next man’s bland pastry. It makes you think twice about convincing someone to try your favourite food and as far as this study is concerned, it suggests that at your next dinner party you might try charging your guests for the meal; they won’t eat more but they will appreciate it more.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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