Food Scientists Find That Virtual Reality Can Make Cheese Taste Better

Food scientists at Cornell University recently used virtual reality to test how people’s perception of real food can be altered by their surroundings, according to research published in the Journal of Food Science. Study author and Associate Professor of Food Science Robin Dando said:

“When we eat, we perceive not only just the taste and aroma of foods, we get sensory input from our surroundings – our eyes, ears, even our memories about surroundings.

The purpose of this project was to develop an easy-to-implement and affordable method for adapting virtual reality technology for use in food sensory evaluation”.

About 50 panellists used VR headsets as they ate three identical samples of blue cheese. They were placed in one of three virtual settings — a standard sensory booth, on a park bench or in the Cornell cow barn — via custom-recorded 360° videos.

The panellists were unaware that the cheese samples were identical and rated the pungency of the blue cheese significantly higher in the cow barn setting than in the sensory booth or the virtual park. To control for the pungency results, panellists also rated the saltiness of the three samples — researchers found there was no statistical difference among them. Dando added:

“Our environs are a critical part of the eating experience. We consume foods in surroundings that can spill over into our perceptions of the food. This research validates that virtual reality can be used, as it provides an immersive environment for testing.

Visually, virtual reality imparts qualities of the environment itself to the food being consumed, making this kind of testing cost-efficient”.

Analyst Comment

Of course, this won’t be news to those that follow the development of molecular gastronomy or are fans of chefs such as Heston Blumenthal who has worked with a range of scientists to understand how sound and other sensory inputs change the taste of food. Blumenthal supplies headsets with ‘the sound of the sea’ at his Fat Duck restaurant. If VR is as immersive as it seems to be, the technology’s use should not be a surprise. (BR)