How could technology change the way we eat?

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, Eating, Taste

Scents and sounds can radically alter the way we perceive flavour, says Saven
Scents and sounds can radically alter the way we perceive flavour, says Saven
Technology and digital media influence the taste, appearance and experience of food more than ever before, says Mandy Saven, head of food, beverage and hospitality at innovation and trends consultancy Stylus.

People’s engagement with technology has increased dramatically in recent years, and through it, so has our relationship with food. More consumers are thinking about how food looks, and how they can make it look, as evidenced by the huge number of photos hitting social media networks every day – a trend Saven calls ‘foodstagramming’ after the photo sharing app Instagram.

“The intersection between technology, digital culture and food is fascinating,”​ Saven told FoodNavigator. “Technology is influencing the look of our food not only on the plate but also how we experience our food.”

A level field for inspiration

She says foodstagramming has helped democratise culinary creativity; we can’t all enjoy foods at top restaurants, but we can all share the inspiration for our own cooking. Meanwhile, the experience of food goes far beyond its flavour and visual elements.

“Overlaying sound or scent can radically alter how food tastes,”​ she said, adding that some chefs were creating “transformable food that can change colour or shape as you eat it”​, and these ideas are not necessarily restricted to high-end restaurants. ‘Food play’ is entering mainstream settings as well, she said, with retailers and cafés also “trying to surprise and delight consumers with food that’s more structural”.

Food ingredients in the spotlight

With the rise of apps and social media has come a rise in self-quantification, Saven says, and this has entered the food domain.

“We can monitor our sleep and how we run, but we can monitor exactly what our food intake is as well,” ​she said. “A lot of these gadgets and tools are helping us to decide what we are eating.”

From an industry perspective, many of these technologies allow more scrutiny of food ingredients or provenance. As long as industry is transparent, it should embrace their use, she said.  “It emphasises how important provenance is, and bold allergy information.”

Scent as a dietary aid

Food Vision

Mandy Saven will speak about how food experiences are shaped by technology and consumers' digital lifestyles at Food Vision, taking place in Cannes, France from March 18-20.

The consultancy has also seen emerging technology that can emit scents, including mobile phone plug-ins. “When you pair that with food and food experiences it becomes a really interesting space,” ​said Saven.

“How can we use technology to create futuristic dietary aids or regimes? Overplaying scent or sound onto more bland foods could make them more satisfying. You could eat low calorie foods but the experience you get from those sensory elements is going to seem much greater.”

It’s not all the realm of science fiction, however. Food technologies of the past – and of other cultures – are also attracting greater attention. Edible insects may seem futuristic to westerners, for example, but two billion people around the world include insects in their regular diet.

“Cosmetically challenged produce is coming to the fore,”​ Saven added, highlighting some of the marketing campaigns supermarkets have been doing in recent months to promote their ‘wonky’ vegetables. “Maybe this will make consumers more comfortable. There is a sense of gratification that they are using foods closer to how they are in nature.”

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