You’re not being shallow, pretty food does taste better, science says

 A pretty plate of food tastes better
A beautifully plated dish of farm egg, spring soubise, morels and dandelion flavors from the Tasting Kitchen in Venice. According to a new study, pretty food tastes better.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Some chefs spend a good amount of time in the kitchen making sure your dish looks beautiful before it reaches the table. And, according to science, it’s not just about the aesthetics. 

A new study by the Crossmodal Research Library at the University of Oxford found that the prettier a dish looks, the better it seems to taste. Researchers served 30 men and 30 women one of three salads containing the exact same 17 ingredients, all prepared the same way. The only difference was in the presentation.

The ingredients included seared portobello mushroom, boiled and sweet vinegar marinated shimeji mushrooms, raw and cooked broccoli sprouts, beet and carrot puree, mushroom essence with squid ink, pepperoncino oil, Spanish oilive oil and more. 

One of the salads was presented as a traditional chopped salad with the ingredients piled on top of each other. The second was presented in what the researchers called a “neat” formation, with all the ingredients arranged individually on the plate. The third salad was modeled to look like the artist Wassily Kandinsky’s famous “Painting Number 201.”


Participants were asked to answer questions regarding appearance before eating a salad, then regarding taste after finishing the salad. The researchers found that participants rated the Kandinsky-inspired salad as tasting better than the other salads. It also received higher ratings for artistic presentation and complexity. 

“Diners intuitively attribute an artistic value to the food, find it more complex and like it more when the culinary elements are arranged to look like an abstract-art painting,” wrote the study’s researchers in the Flavour Journal. 

“It may also be when you see that presentation you can see that someone has put effort into it and that may convey expectations and impact on the experience,” University of Oxford professor Charles Spence, who worked on the study, told the BBC. 

Researchers also found that participants were willing to pay more for the Kandinsky-inspired salad. 


The results bode well for modern art fans. But if you’re into Realism, or maybe even Impressionism, you may have just gone for the chopped salad.

Into quirky food news? Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris_


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