The perception of taste and flavor requires inputs from multiple senses. A recent review out of the UK shows the importance of mouth watering in the perception of taste and flavor in humans. The study analyzed and then directly observes the effects of several food-related, environmental and psychological factors like attention, mental images and food labeling on the flow of saliva. The relation of the extent of salivation to taste and flavor perception has not been given enough emphasis previously. This review highlights that in a commercial setting such as a restaurant, individual differences in salivation play a major role in customers’ preferences that chefs, etc. can do little to change.
Enough emphasis has not been given to the role of mouth watering or salivation on the perception of taste and flavor of food. Saliva helps food to stimulate the taste buds. Particular tastes like sour and salt and the texture of food influence the salivation process differently for different people. Since 1960, research has shown that many factors influence the process of salivation directly. Saliva acts as a medium for the taste buds to develop a palate for food with intense taste, especially dry foods. Change in the level of saliva inside the mouth through radiation or any physiological problem can influence the response to a taste or flavor. The volume and composition of saliva differs in individuals. Formation of saliva increases while eating or before eating. Saliva secreted by salivary glands also helps in further processing of food such as enzymatic digestion and swallowing. The objective of this study was to review the influence of flavor on multiple senses, behavioral and cellular levels and its application in a commercial context. This review emphasizes other factors that influence saliva secretion along with the taste and texture of food.
Several studies that measured the effect on salivary production from food-related experiences like seeing and preparing food, hearing a food name, and anticipating or smelling a food item were reviewed. Environmental factors like ambience and the effect of descriptive labeling of food were also tested as modulating factors for salivation. This was to understand the effect of food related, environmental and other factors like labeling and description on the efficiency of salivation.
* Food-related sensory stimuli play an important role in influencing mouth watering. It was not possible to discern the dependence of salivation on each separate sense organ.
* Non-food related environmental effects like proper lighting and ambience can affect mouth watering before eating.
* Salivation can be controlled voluntarily by imagining delicious food or seeing visuals versus asking a person to imagine an anxiety-provoking situation.
* Description of a food item verbally or through proper labeling can have a positive influence on mouth watering.
Future research needs to analyze the composition of saliva and its production from different salivary glands instead of emphasis on total salivary release upon influences of environment and psychological factors. Changing the experiment venue from the laboratory to actual restaurants and testing the role of cross-cultural differences on mouth watering are further avenues to explore in this field of research. Further, the number of participants in these tests should be enough to produce consistent data.
The review shows that mouth watering has more influence on perceiving taste than on flavor. Along with the taste of food, mouth watering can be influenced by other food-related experiences like sight, smell and hearing about food. Environmental factors like proper ambience can affect salivation and the willingness to eat. Food professionals can use this knowledge in their business by incorporating a thoughtful ambience in their restaurants with proper lighting and music, live visuals of the cooking area, adding descriptions and pictures of food in the menu, etc. Along with these, a delicious meal made with proper ingredients will always positively influence the mind’s perception of taste and flavor.
For More Information:
Mouth Watering: Influences of Environmental and Psychological Factors on Salivation and Perception of Taste and Flavor
Publication Journal: Journal of Texture Studies, 2011
By Charles Spence; University of Oxford, England
*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.