Turns out those CPG and QSR brands that advertise pizza drenched with cheese and crisply frosted doughnuts know exactly what they're doing. According to a new study conducted at Nestle's research center in Switzerland, images of high-calorie foods make whatever follows into our mouths taste better — even if it's metal.
That's right. A team led by Dr. Julie Hudry identified previously unknown brain mechanisms of "visual-gustatory sensory interactions" involved with food enjoyment. They found that visual food cues are important as a determinant for "food rewards."
Using electrical neuroimaging techniques, according to FoodNavigator.com, the team assessed whether high- and low-calorie food cues influenced the brain's processing and perception of a later "neutral" taste.
The "taste" actually was created by passing a gentle electric current through the tongues of test subjects to create a unique and distinct metallic taste. Turns out that if subjects viewed photos of some glistening object of junk-food desire before being so stimulated, instead of, say, a scone and a bottle of Aquafina, the stimulation "tasted" better.
"Taste is the primary driver for food acceptance or rejection, but our work suggests other sensory cues can provide the brain with essential information prior to food ingestion," Hurley said. "When eating, all our senses are stimulated simultaneously to create a unique perception of the food."
And in case those seem like "d'oh!" conclusions, Hurley noted that, while everyone understands what we see affects how it tastes, the specific impact of "visual food cues varying in energy content" on how those foods tastes isn't yet understood. That's one of the things Nestle is working on as part of a wider program of research on taste perception at its research center.
Of course, one of the applications of any gleanings from such research likely will be helping people find ways to resist the enticements provided by junk food, whatever the type of stimulus — or, as Hudry put it, "to find new approaches for helping people to control their food intake, and ultimately body weight."
So you might want to enjoy those advertising photos of Big Macs and Big Boy milkshakes topped with whipped cream and a cherry — while you still can.
[image via Nestle]