The University Network

Why Food Can Taste Different Through VR

Our five senses come into play when we taste food.

The ambience is important too. Most of us would agree that grabbing a quick burger at the local diner is not quite the same as enjoying steak frites at an upscale French restaurant.

That our environment influences our food taste is driven home by a team of researchers from Cornell University who recently used virtual reality to demonstrate that our taste of food — real food — can be changed by our physical environment.

“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,” Robin Dando, an associate professor of food science at Cornell and senior author of the study, said in a statement.

In the study, 50 participants were required to use virtual reality headsets while they tasted three samples of blue cheese. Unbeknownst to the participants, all of the samples were identical.

The participants were placed in three diverse virtual world — a standard sensory booth, a park bench and the Cornell cow barn — to watch customized 360-degree videos during the taste test.

After tasting the three samples, the participants were asked to rate the samples by pungency and saltiness.

The researchers found that the pungency of the three samples, although identical, was rated much higher in the virtual cow barn setting than in the virtual sensory booth or the virtual park bench.

When it came to the saltiness of the three samples, however, they didn’t find any statistical difference among the three samples.

The study is published in the Journal of Food Science.

The researchers used this study to show that virtual reality can be used as a convenient and affordable way for food sensory testing.

“This research validates that virtual reality can be used, as it provides an immersive environment for testing,” explained Dando. “Visually, virtual reality imparts qualities of the environment itself to the food being consumed – making this kind of testing cost-efficient.”