You Can Make Your Food Taste Better by Putting it in a Bowl

If you want to make your food taste better, you might think to add a little salt or hot sauce. You might even stick in the microwave to warm it up. But science suggests an equally simple trick you've likely never considered before — just put it in a bowl.

Bowls Make Food Taste Better

The idea is one possible takeaway of a fascinating recent deep dive into the niche topic of tableware trends from Quartz food reporter Annaliese Griffin. The long article sets out to answer a question you might have wondered about recently: Why are so many restaurants suddenly serving food in bowls? But along the way, it takes a detour into the fascinating science of how the shape of the dish you use affects the taste of your food.

Your first reaction to this topic is probably incredulousness: how could moving that stir-fry from a plate to a bowl possibly alter how much you enjoy it? But Griffin talks to Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford, who confirms this is not just possible but likely.

"The tableware we use influences the way we experience the food we eat. When we sit down to a meal ... our brain forms a basic set of expectations about how it will taste and how satisfying it will be. Elements like lighting, music, tableware all contribute to this baseline in a much bigger way than we realize," Griffin writes, summing up her conversation with the professor.

In short, food that's presented in an appealing way actually ends up tasting more appealing. And bowls, because of both the hearty dishes we associate with them and our tendency to lift them right up to our noses, set us up to experience a meal as hearty and satisfying.

"That weight in the hand is likely to make your brain think the food is more substantial and you're likely to rate it as more intensely fragranced and aromatic than for exactly the same food sat passively on a plate," Spence explains.

Eat and the World Eats With You

Not only will a warm bowl make your usual Tuesday night noodles taste better, it will more generally give you a cozy, warm glow, according to science. "There is research out there showing that if you feel something warm in your hand the world looks like a better place," Spence adds. Slurping your dinner out of a bowl isn't just an instant hack for tastier meals, then, but also a shortcut to a more optimistic outlook. Time to put away those plates in the back of the cabinet and move the bowls closer to the front.

For more science behind delicious food, check out Charles Spence's book "Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Jessica Stillman May 9, 2018

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