Talented chefs capitalize on the fact that diners eat with their eyes first by plating a meal so that it looks as good as it tastes. But other human senses can affect how taste is perceived too, as researchers discovered with a cup that can change its center of gravity and how heavy it feels in the hand.
Even an amateur sommelier will tell you that drinking wine from a glass tastes better than drinking the same wine from a paper cup. A myriad of factors affect the experience, such as the specific shape of the wine glass that does a better job at presenting both the taste and smell compared to a paper cup. Glass is odorless, but the paper and glues used to make a disposable cup will undoubtedly be noticeable alongside the smell and taste of a fine wine.
Knowing wine from a glass tastes better than wine from a paper cup can have a subconscious effect on how tastes are perceived later. Your brain expects wine from a glass to just taste better. That’s what researcher Masaharu Hirose, a student at the the University of Tokyo, and their school adviser Masahiko Inami found through an unusual experiment.
After touring Europe and noticing how wines tasted different from country to country where the shape and weight of the serving glasses also varied, Hirose wondered if the same results could be achieved experimentally, but with a glass whose weight could be altered without changing the shape or appearance of the vessel itself in any way. The resulting contraption looks bizarre: It perches a cupholder (so the cup itself can be easily replaced for hygiene reasons) atop a handled mechanism that uses a motorized sliding weight to cleverly change its center of gravity as someone lifts the cup to their mouth to drink. As the weight slides toward the direction of the user, the cup feels heavier in hand. When it slides away, the cup feels lighter.
Hirose and Inami will be presenting their creation and the research behind it at the upcoming Siggraph 2021 conference in August. In a video shared on YouTube, they reveal the reactions of a handful of people who tried it, from a larger test group of about 20 people. When the cup feels heavier in hand, the users report a stronger taste, with one user going so far as to say the exact same wine they tasted previously “became delicious” from the heavier cup.
The taste difference isn’t as dramatic as Coca-Cola suddenly tasting like Sprite in a heavier cup, but the experiment adds more credence to the idea that how food is presented and served can play a very important part in how it tastes. Maybe if Coca-Cola had introduced New Coke in heavy solid steel cans instead of aluminum back in the ‘80s, the recipe change may have actually been a huge hit. (But probably not.)