You've probably heard about the old dieting trick of eating off smaller plates. It comes from the fact that research has shown people tend to eat less when served food on a smaller dish -- we perceive the portion size as larger and, therefore, consume less.
But that has to do with perception of quantity, not quality. What do we know about how plates (or cutlery or cups) affect how we taste our food?
A study published recently in Flavour by scientists Vanessa Harrar and Charles Spence explored how "non-edible items associated with eating and drinking" (things like plates, bowls, cutlery, glasses, bottles, and condiment containers) affect perceptions of density, expensiveness, and sweetness.
In one experiment, participants used spoons of different weights and sizes to eat two samples of yogurt (that were really the same yogurt). In another, the color of the yogurt was changed and then eaten with different-colored spoons. And in another experiment, participants ate two types of cheese with a variety of different cutlery, including forks, spoons, and knives.
The results showed that eating yogurt with a heavier spoon led people to feel the food was less dense and, therefore, cheaper and less enjoyable. And color of the spoon had an effect, too -- and though participants weren't able to tell the difference between the colored and white yogurts when blindfolded, they felt both yogurts were salty when eaten off a utensil of matching colors, i.e. white yogurt eaten off a white spoon.
When it came to the cheese test, the results showed that eating from a spoon or knife didn't alter the taste for participants. But when it came to eating with the knife, people said the cheese tasted saltier.
Research has also explored whether the weight of dishes affects our perception of food (answer: yes, food eaten out of a heavier dish is perceived as better) and whether the color of a dish changes taste (answer: yes, popcorn out of a colored bowl is sweeter and saltier than out of a white bowl). And atmosphere matters, too.
All of which proves that plating really is important on Chopped. And that if you want your friends to think you're a talented chef, buy really heavy plates.