Whether you prefer pumpkin, apple, or chocolate, you probably agree that pie is already amazing. But it can be made even better by carefully engineering the eating experience. Enjoying food is much more than just taste; sound, smell, sight and texture all play integral roles in how much we enjoy a given food. Popular Science talked with Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Somerville College in England, who studies the psychology and sensory experience of eating.
When you order a piece of pizza, you can appraise its taste based on its appearance. But pie with crust covering the filling is not so straightforward. “To the extent that we eat with our eyes, there’s a kind of reveal that happens when you cut into a pie,” Spence says. You can build the suspense by waiting to cut into the pie, then expose its filling right before it’s time to eat it, so both your brain and your mouth say, “Wow, that’s good!” at the same time.
Maximize the smell
80-90 percent of what we experience as taste and flavor comes from the nose, Spence says. So a steaming-hot piece of pie delivered to a waiting diner isn’t just getting cold, it’s losing some of its flavor potency. Spence is working with a few food service companies about ways to preserve food’s aroma so that people get the full flavor experience when they eat it. Pies have a built-in aroma-saver: their covering of crust.
It’s rude to point
Human brains are hardwired to react emotionally to shapes and angles—round is good, sharp is bad. In a recent research study, Spence found that diners like triangular foods more if the point is served pointing away from them. Thus, although it’s hardly traditional, serving a piece of pie crust-first would make the experience more enjoyable.
Add some crunch
Spence has spent years recording food sounds, so he knows the importance of a sonic element to an enjoyable eating experience. With a mushy filling and soft, flaky crust, pie is usually silent. But audible crunch, especially in contrast with softness, is very pleasurable for eaters—”That’s why pâté is served with toast,” Spence says. To give pie a crunch, add crunchy candy to pie crust, or sprinkle it on top.