Eating with the Eyes and “Colour Conditioning”

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Music: “Eat It” from Greatest Hits by “Weird Al” Yankovic. Released: 1999.The ubiquitous “they” say that “you eat with your eyes first”, although the term has been around for so long, no one individual seems to be able to claim the fame for the quote.

"Eating with the Eyes" (Photo Credit:  www.pinterest.com)

“Eating with the Eyes” (Photo Credit: http://www.pinterest.com)

In “The Physiology of Taste” by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, he explores the various ways in which our senses contribute to the enjoyment of the taste of the foods we eat and discusses at length the use of the senses, the influence of smell on taste, the power of taste and much more.

"The Physiology of Taste", Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, translated by M.F.K. Fisher in 1949

“The Physiology of Taste”, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, translated by M.F.K. Fisher in 1949

In his chapter entitled “Meditation XIV” (On the Pleasures of the Table), Brillat-Savarin talks about a gathering of gourmands, namely the clergy, to which he and a friend (non-clerical types) were invited. Brillat-Savarin describes the dishes presented, including a “…virgin rooster….truffled to the bursting point…” He describes the event:

“In effect, all conversation ceased as if hearts were too full to go on; all attention was riveted on the carvers; and when the serving platters had been passed, I saw spread out in succession on every face the fire of desire, the ecstasy of enjoyment, and then the perfect peace of satisfaction”

Clearly, Brillat-Savarin is describing the palpable “eating with the eyes”, in which the guests were eagerly anticipating devouring some of the delicacies being flaunted in front of them. One can imagine the guests salivating and barely restraining themselves before gorging on the delicacies.

Pizza is eaten around the world...only the toppings change.  (Photo Credit:  www.bbc.co.uk)

Pizza is eaten around the world…only the toppings change. (Photo Credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk)

So, if we assume that “we eat with the eyes first”, what triggers this state? Do our eyes have a direct link to our taste buds from former experiences? What if we’ve never had a particular food previously? Do our eyes fail to tell the taste buds what’s down the line?

Is this item appealing to all cultures? (maybe not so much!) (Photo Credit:  www.npr.org)

Is this item appealing to all cultures? (maybe not so much!) (Photo Credit: http://www.npr.org)

 

Conditioning may fool your eyes.  Are these worms on a bun or strips of bologna? (Photo Credit:  www.mommy2 abeautifulgirl.com)

Conditioning may fool your eyes. Are these worms on a bun or strips of bologna? (Photo Credit: http://www.mommy2
abeautifulgirl.com)

Is “eating with the eyes” a luxury for those with the money and leisure time? Presumably, a homeless person, not knowing where his or her next meal is coming from would not be predisposed to “eat with the eyes” in the sense of colour, presentation, etc.  Food becomes an urgent need and, most likely, the colour be damned. Most homeless shelters can barely provide food to those who need it, let alone have the time to present artful meals, although I’m sure many wish they could.

Chefs clearly understand how one "eats with the eyes" (Photo Credit:  www.mundabor.wordpress.com)

Chefs clearly understand how one “eats with the eyes” (Photo Credit: http://www.mundabor.wordpress.com)

I wonder if eating with the eyes is strictly a human phenomenon and is found in all cultures. Presented with an artistically designed plate of scorpions on a stick, would the average North American eater begin salivating? Would that be true if the scorpions were still alive, writhing around on the plate?

This gentleman is certainly eating with his eyes and enjoying his food very much! (Photo Credit:  www.zmescience.com)

This gentleman is certainly eating with his eyes and enjoying his food very much! (Photo Credit: http://www.zmescience.com)

Suppose a totally blind person has no “eyes to eat with“. Does the sense of smell replace that sense and is it as powerful a stimulant to the appetite? Alternately, if a colour blind person cannot determine that his or her food is red or green, will that affect the appeal of the food to that individual?

Which would your "eyes" rather eat?  This burger.... (Photo Credit:  www.redalertpolitics.com)

Which would your “eyes” rather eat? This burger….
(Photo Credit: http://www.redalertpolitics.com)

 

....or this one? (Photo Credit:  www.thewateringmouth.com)

….or this one? (Photo Credit: http://www.thewateringmouth.com)

My eyes certainly want to eat this! (Photo Credit:  www.cheflynnie.wordpress.com)

My eyes certainly want to eat this! (Photo Credit: http://www.cheflynnie.wordpress.com)

This salad has the same ingredients, but arranged differently.  Which do you prefer?  (Photo Credit:  www.yelp.com)

This salad has the same ingredients, but arranged differently. Which do you prefer? (Photo Credit: http://www.yelp.com)

Perhaps a lot of eating with the eyes is simply conditioning. For example, most of us are used to rice being white or ivory colored, so if we encounter rice that is blue, would that affect our appetite and make us suspicious? In order to test this, I conducted an experiment with an unnamed person as the guinea pig. I filled my rice cooker with jasmine rice and water, and added several drops of blue food colouring (see photos).

Mom never cooked rice in this colour!

Mom never cooked rice in this colour!

When the rice was cooked, it took on a lovely turquoise colour, very appropriate for the Southwest.

Turquoise is a predominant colour in the Southwest, so why not turquoise rice?

Turquoise is a predominant colour in the Southwest, so why not turquoise rice?

After putting some pork ribs on the plate, I dished up the rice.

Are you eating with your eyes yet?

Are you eating with your eyes yet?

My guinea pig saw the plate being set down on the table and exclaimed “whoa!” Clearly, in his “conditioned” state, rice is supposed to be white, not turquoise and the shift took him by surprise.

Reaction of unnamed guinea pig, to turquoise rice.

Reaction of unnamed guinea pig, to turquoise rice.

After tasting the rice and being assured that it still tasted like the jasmine rice I usually serve, he had no hesitation in finishing it and having a second helping. Now that he is conditioned that rice can be white/ivory or turquoise, he won’t be surprised the next time. Of course, I’ll probably try another experiment with an equally astonishing colour. Any cook knows that rice can be altered by the addition of saffron or turmeric (yellow/orange), fresh herbs (green), red (tomato juice), etc., but turquoise is not among the usual complement in the colour scale.

I'm not sure what this little critter was....a rat?  A squirrel?  Makes me want to cover my eyes, though! (Photo Credit:  www.myproana.com)

I’m not sure what this little critter was….a rat? A squirrel? Makes me want to cover my eyes, though! (Photo Credit: http://www.myproana.com)

Would we be fooled if we were served a plate of orange-colored potatoes in a white sauce, thinking that the orange colour was from cheddar cheese, even if there were no cheddar cheese in the dish and the colour was simply food colouring? Certainly, food for thought!

Perhaps "eating with your eyes" comes with age?  (Photo Credit:  www.123rf.com)

Perhaps “eating with your eyes” comes with age? (Photo Credit: http://www.123rf.com)

Is there really a difference between serving raw fish and raw insects on sushi rice?  My brain says "no", but my eyes say "yes!" (Photo Credit:  www.huffingtonpost.com)

Is there really a difference between serving raw fish and raw insects on sushi rice? My brain says “no”, but my eyes say “yes!” (Photo Credit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com)

Could this child be colour blind and sees the vegetables as an unappetizing pink? (Photo Credit:  www.huffingpost.com)

Could this child be colour blind and sees the vegetables as an unappetizing pink? (Photo Credit: http://www.huffingpost.com)

No matter where you live in the world, no amount of processed cheese can make this palatable to the eyes! (Photo Credit:  www.funny-pictures.picphotos. net)

No matter where you live in the world, no amount of processed cheese can make this palatable to the eyes! (Photo Credit: http://www.funny-pictures.picphotos.
net)


My EatYourBooks cookbook collection

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About vintagecookbookery

Cookbook lover and collector with a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. Reading and researching food trends, history of cooking techniques and technological advances in cooking, what we eat and why and cookbooks as reflectors of cultures is a fascination for me. As of November 7th, 2013, I hold the current Guinness World Record title for the largest collection of cookbooks: 2,970 at the official count on July 14th, 2013 (applaud now, thank you very much!) The current (unofficial) number is now 6,124. What next? More shelves!
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