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"We Eat First With Our Eyes" Color, Presentation in Food

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

Introduction: The brain and food It was Apicius, the 1st Century Roman gourmand (see Apicius, 1936), who purportedly coined the phrase “We eat first with our eyes” (Delwiche, 2012).

Color, presentation, shape, size - we subconsciously notice all these things in a split second and we form immediate opinions about food. After all, food is very personal.

I recently read a blog post where the author asked "WHAT WOULD THE WORLD BE WITHOUT COLOR?" It was a great question and it got me thinking about food and color.

While other senses, such a smell, play a big part in how we perceive food and drink, it's sight that plays the biggest part in our expectations. Children tend to look at food and reject it and must be encouraged to taste before saying no. However, the tendency seems to stick with most people even as adults. The mere sight of a dish, it's colors and presentation can turn us on or off.

Sometimes we have preconceived notions and ideas and any difference from what we consider to be the norm is a turn off. It can also be rather humorous. I don't have large storage bowls that are round, only square. I brought soup into my parent's house one night.

My mother, "Soup goes in a round bowl."

Me, "What?

Mom, "You can't put soup in a square bowl."

Me, "Are you kidding me?"

We now have a standing joke, soup cannot be stored or served in a square bowl, at least according to my mom! I must say, I do intend to purchase large round glass storage bowls so mom will feel better.

Now, every time I bring something into their house in a square bowl, they tell me they can't eat it. We've gotten cousins, siblings and friends in on this theory, all in the name of fun. (Why I don't eat meat anymore)

I am tempted to make eggplant but unlike my sister's pictured above, who did it the "right way" in an oblong serving dish, I will serve it in a round dish. Will it be acceptable? We shall see.

I showed someone a picture of my smoothie on the left. They were turned off. It looks like mud they said. If it had been chocolate milk, it might be appetizing, but as a smoothie, no. The one on the right was acceptable and looked inviting. Color played a big part.

Color isn't everything though. The food must be presented well. The display above, both the salad and antipasto, catered from a well-known restaurant, were strategically designed not only with consideration given to color, but also eye-appealing arrangement.

Eye appealing doesn't always mean one will like the taste. I have never liked beer, but every so often, I insisted on trying it, only to confirm to myself I don't like it. Why did I try it? Because it looked good and tempted me. The only beer I've ever liked was in Mexico. But the beer here in America sometimes looked so good, I simply had to try again and again.

Smell also plays a huge part in our desire for food. Have you ever walked or driven past a restaurant and caught a whiff emanating from the kitchen? Did you ever decide to go in because of it?

When my mother made meatballs (recipe) on Sundays, the aroma drifted outside and into the neighbor's homes. Everyone loved it. One neighborhood dog used to come to the door for a handout every Sunday. She loved fried meatballs.

The garlic is what drew people and furry friends every time. Mom would get phone calls when we first moved to the neighborhood and neighbors would ask what she was cooking that smelled so incredible.

Odor can backfire though. The smell of roast beef cooking has literally always made me nauseous since I was small child. I also never liked the taste. I know people who love the aroma of coffee brewing but won't drink it.

We eat with all our senses. Nothing is more satisfying than the crackling sounds of breaking lobster or crab legs. two of my favorites.

I remember hearing the "pop" when my dad and grandfather would shuck clams when I was a kid. The sound brings back fond memories of their enjoyment and laughter as they sat in the yard talking, eating and teasing one another. While I don't eat anything raw, ever, the sound is still dear to my heart and reminds me of my grandfather who has passed.

We subconsciously associate sound with food all the time too. Nothing is more enticing than the sizzle of zeppola frying. It can send chills of anticipation for the fluffy, sweet treat to be served.

Who remembers the excitement of hearing popcorn popping as you sat in the den watching your favorite holiday special?

Touch plays a huge part in our food desires also. A crispy crust pizza is much more inviting to most than a mushy crust. Pasta cooked al dente is more pleasing to the palate than soft or sticky clumps.

Funny story: When we were kids and my mom was feeling silly, she used to tell us that we could tell when spaghetti was done cooking by throwing it at the fridge. If it stuck, it was done! Yes, my mom threw spaghetti at our fridge, and yes, it stuck when it was done. Tried and true method. Sadly, it doesn't work on modern refrigerators.

Touch is also a huge part of cooking. I loved to cook from when I was a young kid.

Funny Story: When I was about twelve years old, my mom was going out with my grandmother and asked me to clean the peppers. I happily obliged. As I was washing and chopping, my fingertips started to burn. I couldn't imagine why. It had never happened before. I kept at it and by the time I was done, my fingertips were raw and washing my hands didn't help. When mom came home, I told her. That's when she realized, she had forgotten to tell me they were very hot peppers. Luckily, they hadn't burned my nose. I've never handled hot peppers again.

Sight (color and presentation), smell (the distinct aroma of garlic and onions sautéing when you make red sauce), sound (the crunch of shredding lettuce), touch (the smooth texture of the punchbowl cake) and taste (sweet, sharp, spicy, savory) all played a big part in the food presented in the above collage.

Of course, taste, is of the utmost in the end. But everything else plays a huge role in how we choose what is appealing to us and what we desire when it comes to food. Pay attention the next time something appeals to you. Ask yourself why.

Do you have any stories involving any of the five senses and how they make you feel about food, good or bad? Share in comments on this post. Happy eating!

If you have any cooking questions, feel free to ask in the comments. I will answer as quickly as possible. Remember, you may not think so, but you can cook!

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