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It’s common knowledge that our sense of taste is tied to our sense of smell, right? But our brains are complex and taste is also tied to our senses of touch, sight, and even hearing.

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We're all taught that we have 5 senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. And you also learn that smell and taste are really two sides of the same coin, which is why your food becomes super bland if your nose is stuffed up. But your sense of taste doesn't just rely on your tongue and nose.

Everything about the experience of eating or drinking, from the dishes to the background noise, can affect the flavors of your food. Because, really, you taste things not with your tongue, but with your brain. The idea that flavor is basically all in your head is what scientists call neurogastronomy.

Your tongue and nose have receptors that detect flavorful chemicals and send signals to your brain. But what you taste ultimately depends on how those signals get interpreted. Some scientists even claim that more brain systems are involved in tasting than anything else you do.

Like, you need the regions that control senses, memory, and even the muscles that get food into your mouth. On top of all that, your brain is constantly trying to find patterns in the world, to help you make quicker, better decisions. And that means you can hack your sense of taste by changing things that have nothing to do with your taste buds.

For one thing, what your food looks like matters. Before you take a swig of wine, you see its color. And you might know or remember that deeper reds tend to be more bitter, while whites are usually sweeter and fruitier.

So even before you smell or taste anything, you expect your wine to taste a certain way. And scientists have found that expectation can change the flavor your brain perceives. If a white wine is dyed red with food coloring, you might think it smells and tastes more like a Cabernet than a chardonnay.

Or if you taste a mystery green juice, you might guess it's apple or lime, even if it's actually cherry-flavored. In a 2014 study, researchers even found that changing the lighting in a room can affect how intense a wine tastes. For instance, green mood lighting made the wine taste fresher.

So it's no wonder why companies use artificial colorings in their foods. Your sense of touch plays a role in this, too. That's partially because of what gastronomists call mouthfeel— the way your mouth ... feels while you're eating something and shortly after.

It's surprisingly difficult to identify pureed foods, for instance. In blind taste tests of mush, some foods like apples were easier to pick out. But others—even lamb or cabbage, which are thought to have more distinct tastes— were correctly IDed less than 5% of the time.

You can also be influenced by sensation transference, where you take the qualities of other things you feel and ascribe them to your food. So everything about your dishware, from its color and shape to its material and texture, can alter the flavors you perceive. Heavier things are associated with higher quality, for instance.

So when psychologists added hidden weights to serving bowls or spoons, people thought yogurt tasted better. Researchers in a 2010 study even found they could make stale pretzels taste crispier just by having a participant hold a fresh pretzel in their hand while eating. Even what you hear can influence flavor, possibly because of neuronal cross talk between your senses of hearing and taste, or because music can affect your mood.

Psychologists have found that certain styles of music or instruments seem to go with certain tastes— like in experiments, people have said piano music fits well with fruitier drinks. And in Implicit Association Tests, where the speed and accuracy of connecting two things is used to measure unconscious associations, higher notes are somehow considered sweeter. Those associations translate into real flavor differences, like one study found that changing background music while you taste a toffee can make it seem sweeter or more bitter.

Or if you dine at The Fat Duck, a 3 Michelin star restaurant in the UK, you can order “The Sound of the Sea”: an oyster dish served alongside an iPod playing crashing waves. Chef Heston Blumenthal created the dish after teaming up with local psychologists who found that ocean sounds make oysters taste saltier— although they don't have an exact explanation for this multi-sensory effect. Even without music, what you're feeling can affect flavors.

Like, researchers found that simply thinking about someone you love can make foods taste sweeter— even distilled water. That may be because of how things that make you happy and sweet things both trigger the brain's reward system. And if you're upset about something, like your favorite sports team losing a game, your food may taste more sour.

Studies have found that increased levels of noradrenaline— a hormone that is released when you're stressed— can enhance sour flavors. But here's where it gets really cerebral, because this mood-taste connection is a two-way street. Yeah, different tastes can influence how you feel and act.

For example, in one 2014 study, researchers found that people who drank a bitter tea or juice rated themselves as more hostile. Didn't matter if they liked the drink or not— a bitter taste translated to more aggressive feelings. And in a follow-up experiment, participants actually took out those aggressive feelings on their experimenters by rating their performance more negatively.

Similarly, in a 2018 study, participants from the UK and Vietnam that drank a sour drink took more risks in a money-making game, while those that drank sweet or umami ones played it safe. So all this may seem a little freaky, but the upside is that you might be able to use this knowledge to get more from your meals. Like, maybe serving the right food in the right dishes during dinner could make things seem a little fancier.

Who knows! You might as well put the connection between taste and your other senses to good use— and experimenting with what food you're eating is part of that too. Thanks to Blue Apron for sponsoring this video.

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And it's filled with recipes but also lessons, including videos on how to hold a chef's knife or how to prep a Cornish game hen, which is not something you always need to know, but when you need to know it, it's very helpful to have a video! Learning and eating: two of my very favorite things! So click on the link in the description to check out Blue Apron for yourself.

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