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How Cutlery Affects Our Sense of Taste

(Photo: Sarah Lee/The Guardian)

Zoe Laughlin, the director of the Institute of Making, says that, "my ambition is to make the best spoon in the world." Oliver Wainwright of The Guardian met her to learn about how important it is to choose the right eating utensils in order to taste particular foods. He writes:

I reach for a spoon and plunge it into some yoghurt. The resulting mouthful tastes a bit fizzy, as if the yoghurt’s gone off – the trademark tangy tingle of zinc. A second spoon gives a salty metallic kick – the steel – while chrome makes no difference at all. Sadly, there is no magnesium spoon; if you ever put an old school pencil sharpener on your tongue, during an idle moment in maths class, you’ll know that it gives even more of a thrill than popping candy. (Or was that just me?)

In a blind tasting, Laughlin’s guinea pigs found that copper and zinc were the sourest, while the spoon to end all spoons was, of course, made of gold. “Mango sorbet with a gold spoon is just heaven,” she sighs. “Mango never tasted so mangoey.” But too bad if you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth: in the blind tasting, it came out near the bottom.

It all has to do with the “reduction potential” of the different metals – the ease with which they oxidise – which affects how many atoms come off in your mouth. The relatively inert gold is best suited to subtle, creamy foods, Laughlin found when she put on a seven-course banquet with a Michelin-starred chef, because it has the least metallic taste. Cod on a zinc spoon, on the other hand, was revolting. Time for Heston to appoint a spoon sommelier, perhaps?

Like, gag me with a spoon! But make sure that it's the correct spoon. To know for sure, consult designer Andreas Fabian, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on spoons. He's working to optimize the tactile experience of eating:

He unravels a black pouch, containing a collection of oddly fetishistic implements, like the toolkit of an aesthete-torturer. There is a pair of golden tongs – half knife, half chopstick – and a silver-plated tuning fork, for pronging chunks of food with a twang, along with several glass wands with rounded, pendulous ends.

“This one is to replicate the pleasure of licking your finger,” he says, inviting me to dip a gold-leafed wand in a jar of warmed Nutella. Then there is a glass bowl covered in rabbit fur, designed to encourage a more tactile experience with your soup.

-via Marginal Revolution

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For pudding, yogurt, and other custard-like items, there's only one spoon material for me. Good ol' plastic, preferably clear, and preferably not cheap. It has a soft, warm mouth feel, rounded edges all around (assuming you get the good stuff), and imparts no flavor whatsoever.
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