Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Savour the flavour! Expanding young people's experience of food & eating

Posted by Duika Burges Watson, Fuse staff member and Lecturer in Evaluation and Policy Interventions in Centre for Public Policy & Health, Durham University

Food and drink that is high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) is disproportionately marketed and promoted to children and young people in the UK. Public health practitioners have long cried that excessive consumption of HFSS foods is detrimental to health but, overall, the health statistics show that globally, people are consuming more HFSS foods and have less healthy diets[1]. So, is there another way?

Chef Sam Storey applies blue colouring to a teacher's tongue
We decided to test an idea with a group of 14 year 9 students from Whitley Bay (a seaside town on the North East coast) to see how they would respond to a workshop exploring the science and gastronomy of ‘taste’ and ‘flavour’. The idea came from work in the NIHR/RfPB funded project, ‘Resources for Living: Exploring the potential of progressive cuisine for survivors of head and neck cancer’. In the course of doing this research we’ve expanded our own understanding of what is ‘good’ to eat. The multi-disciplinary team includes a research chef, Sam Storey, and with him we’ve been playing with food and flavour to try to improve cancer survivor’s experience of food and eating. We used teaching resources available from the Institute of Food Research[2] alongside ‘food play’ ideas developed in our project.

Our workshop involved students from Whitley Bay High School who were participating in a local Enquiry Based Learning (EBL) event. All 300 year 9 students were involved in one of 24 projects – a three day activity in the local community. Our group of 14 spent their three days exploring the senses; this involved a food play workshop, building a raised sensory bed in the local community garden, and talking with the chef and users of New Prospects, a centre for people with learning difficulties, about their experience of food and the senses.

In our two-hour food play workshop we demonstrated how taste and flavour are not the same thing. Salt, sugar and, some scientists now say, fat as well, are largely experienced through taste – that is, via receptors on the tongue and around the mouth; but flavour refers to a much broader ‘multi-modal’ experience[3] of food that includes the very powerful element of aroma. We know that we have around 350 different types of odour receptor that stimulate thousands of flavour experiences. Chewing a flavoursome sweet whilst holding their noses, the students could experience sweetness, but it was not until they let the nose go mid chew that they could identify the flavour of strawberry, blueberry, lime etc. We explored more about aroma on a tour of the Whitley Bay Station Master’s Community Wildlife Garden – rubbing herbs and other edibles to release the volatile compounds and experience numerous delicious smells.

There were many elements to our playful explorations of multi-modal flavour perception. In one experiment we gave the students three coloured jellies and asked them to tell us what the flavours were – red, green, and yellow. Uniformly they responded with colour recognition flavours – red was raspberry, green: lime, and yellow: lemon. When we ‘revealed’ that in fact, all the jellies were identical other than the colour – all flavoured with lemon – they were astonished.

If you think about the experience of food in a contemporary UK supermarket, the only ‘smell’ that really stands out is that of baking bread. Students noted that supermarket shopping while on summer holidays abroad was different – French or Italian supermarkets had more diverse smells. Could critical food awareness challenge their taste for HFSS foodstuffs and make them notice the over-use of piped bread smells? In the school evaluation of the EBL project, our senses workshop rated the highest of all programmes. Students highly valued the experience, which suggests that more could be done. Could flavour appreciation workshops change how young people eat?

Coming up: Flavour masterclass: with Dr Rachel Edwards Stuart, part of the Wolfson Research Institute's Special Interest Group on Culinary Innovation, Senses and Health Seminar Series. St Cuthbert’s Society, Durham - Monday 5 October 12-1pm.

No comments:

Post a Comment