Eating with all five senses: Sight

Eating is something we do many times every day and uses all five of our senses. Let’s explore the sense of sight and how that relates to eating habits.

Michigan State University professor Sungeun Cho and graduate student Ed Szczygiel believe the first sense we use when we eat food is our vision or sight. We look with our eyes at what is on our plate or the food that is on the shelf at the store. Our mind thinks that the look of something tells us how the food is going to taste.

We use sight to determine initial quality assessment. Sight is used to determine if the food has been properly cooked, is fresh with no brown spots, it looks desirable to eat and should we purchase it.

Over the years, scientist have found that even the color of food can change our perception about that food, again using the sense of sight to determine how that food might taste. For example, people perceive that if something is green, it is fresh and has better nutrition.

Other areas of appearance that we use with our sense of sight include size, shape, carbonation, temperature and viscosity. Research has been done around the physiologic and psychological aspects of color cues and food influences to taste, odor and flavor perceptions. An example is a study that found people perceive hot chocolate to taste better out of an orange cup compared to a different colored cup.

Students in the MSU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition are learning and researching many different areas related to food and our senses.

The Michigan 4-H Youth Development Program developed a variety of science lessons that are designed to be used in classrooms or groups. One in particular deals with senses awareness and relates to the many things youth learned about sensory science during the Michigan 4-H Health and Food Science Camp. For more information on this, see the MSU Extension article, “Youth explore sensory science at MSU.”

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