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Eating with all five senses (=五感gokan in Japanese) is something people in Japan do effortlessly as if it’s their inert nature. In order to create one meal, quite a few different small plates and bowls are used. The food, crockeries, placemats, cups and flowers on the table are effortlessly but aesthetically chosen to please the eyes. This is based on a belief that all five senses (sight, smell, sound, feel, taste) make the food more palatable and enjoyable. There is one more benefit; if the food is more enjoyable then one is less likely to overeat.
Smell of food
A pleasant smell of food enhances appetite and the taste. We can conduct a simple experiment to see how important smell can be. Pinch your nose and eat two different foods with similar texture (for example jellies with different flavours) one after the other. See if you can tell the difference.
‘Eating with ears’ – sound of chewing
Professor Charles Spence from Oxford University has been examining the importance of senses to food behaviours and taste. Crunchy, crusty, crispy…. These sounds remind you of a certain taste and gives you pleasure. In another study Prof Spence explored and suggested that non-food factors such as tableware, cutlery and environment also affect our senses when eating. They can both enhance and impede the eating experience.
Feel and taste
We are sensitive to various textures of food, taste sensation on the tongue, and the temperature of food. The texture of plates, bowls and cups give a different feel. Some people like drinking tea from a mug while others prefer a cup and a saucer. In case of Japanese tea more delicate porcelain teacup is suitable for green tea. Lastly, don’t forget the joy of different tastes; sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami flavour (deliciousness). Combination of different foods creates subtle but rich flavour in food.