By the time we are 20 years old, we have half the number of tastebuds we had as children1. However, our gustatory perception, or sense of taste, remains a highly impactful and essential part of our sensory perceptions of the world. It powers us to look for and consume the food we need in order to live and be well.
Our Chief Engagement Officer Georgie Stayches wrote about how the catering at an event can play a major role in the event’s success, and why considering menu choices carefully is essential in this blog post ‘The way to your guest’s heart is through food’.
In this blog, the next in our series on sensory event design, let’s look at how our sense of taste actually works.
The taste buds on our tongue are designed to recognise the chemical makeup of molecules in our food and drink. A signal is then sent to the brain with this information, and that signal informs us how we might respond – with pleasure or disgust or some other behaviour. If the signal says something is sweet, that might suggest a food that’s highly calorific and might be beneficial, whereas if the signal is one of bitterness we could be more wary since this taste could be associated with toxicity.
Our sense of taste works in tandem with our sense of smell and odour receptors in the nose contribute to the signal that is sent to the brain.2
There are six main receptors on the tongue and they distinguish between salty, sweet, bitter, sour, umami (a savoury taste), and fatty. The tongue also has mechanoreceptors that can pick up the texture of food and its temperature, such as how hot a chilli might be.
Our mood can be affected by what we taste too. Sweet and salty foods have been shown to light up activity in brain regions linked to happy emotions. This could lead to cravings, where a certain taste elicits a powerful brain response and state. We do have choices around how we might meet a craving and the potential mood benefit, for example, eating fruit instead of lollies or nuts instead of chips. Research has also suggested that our mood before eating may make food taste different, with the experience of bitter and salty flavours receding in those with a low mood or depression and anxiety.3
Our sense of taste is guiding us to find food that contains the key nutrients needed to power our cells and that is safe to consume. And what we fuel our event guests with will have a direct correlation to their energy, attention levels and feelings of safety and satisfaction. As part of menu considerations, some questions we might ask include:
If looking at the time of day of an event when making taste selections seems strange, some subscribe to the idea of a circadian rhythm diet. This method suggests that eating in alignment with our circadian rhythms decreases the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease and maximises energy and wellbeing. The broad idea is to eat with the sun, eat more food earlier in the day and less later in the day, and try eating dinner-like foods for breakfast or lunch for improved energy and satisfaction.4
If reading this blog has made you hungry, or caused you to think about your favourite tastes, or seasonal produce, the biological power of our senses is already on display. Designing an event so it leverages our sense of taste, or any of the senses we’ve explored in this blog series, offers a major opportunity to enhance the experience of people attending. Not only does it create an event that’s more memorable, and reaches the desired targets of learning or networking or relaxing, it also nurtures the physical and mental wellbeing of attendees.
In our next blog and the final blog in this series, we will look at biophilic design – what it is and why it can be one of the simplest and most profound ways to make an event enjoyable, successful and stand apart from the rest.
1. Wlassof, Viatcheslav, How the sense of taste works, December 9, 2014. http://www.brainblogger.com/2014/12/09/how-the-sense-of-taste-works
2. Cameron-Smith, Dr David, Taste, emotions and memories explained, March 29, 2017. https://www.medibank.com.au/livebetter/be-magazine/food/taste-emotions-and-memories-explained/
3. Smith, Kerry, Mood makes food taste different, December 6, 2006. https://www.nature.com/news/2006/061204/full/news061204-5.html
4. Crupain, Dr Michael, What is the circadian rhythm diet? How to eat with the sun, February 22, 2019. https://www.today.com/health/what-circadian-rhythm-diet-how-eat-sun-t149238
Fetching Events & Communications is a boutique agency that works with the community, for the community, specialising in project management, event management, communications and volunteer engagement. Combining our international event experience in media with our communications knowledge and skills, Fetching Events & Communications provides a fully integrated events, volunteer engagement and communications service.