Food Tastes Better When It Resembles a Work of Art

kandinsky-3x4-and salad
Kandinsky’s Painting No. 201, on the left, was the inspiration for the salad on the right, which was used to test diners’ appreciation of the dish. Photographs courtesy of Museum of Modern Art; Crossmodal Research Laboratory

They say food tastes better when artfully arranged and, according to a study done by experimental psychologists at the University of Oxford, if it resembles a work of art people find it exceedingly more palatable and are willing to pay twice as much for it.

Since it has been demonstrated that various visual factors can influence a diner’s perception of, and response to, food, researchers at the Oxford Crossmodal Research Lab designed a study to evaluate whether arranging the elements of a dish in an art-inspired manner would alter the diner’s expectations and therefore their experience of food.

A group of 60 diners, half male and half female, with a mean age of 27.7 was split into three sub-groups. Each group was given a salad with identical ingredients prepared in the same way. The only difference was in the presentation. One group was given a salad with the ingredients laid out in orderly rows.  The second group was given the same salad presented in the traditional manner piled in the center of the plate. The third group was given a salad arranged like Wassily Kandinsky’s expressionist masterpiece “Painting No. 210.” They were not told the salad was arranged to resemble a painting.

food art components and salad pile
The individual ingredients of the salad used in the Oxford study (left), and the “normal” salad given to the third group of participants. Photographs from Crossmodal Research Laboratory.

Charles Michel, the lead author of the study, said he chose the Kandinsky piece to emulate because he liked “the specific association of colors and movement,” and could easily envision is as a salad that prominently featured a mushroom in the top left corner. “It’s not so much about food copying a work of art in particular, but rather using artistic inspiration, or simply having an artistic sensitivity when plating food — as most chefs actually do,” he says.

According to Michel and his co-authors, Kandinsky salad  “implicitly suggested a connotation of higher value (or effort) through the visual display, value that might have helped to deliver a more pleasurable eating experience.”

Diners were given a questionnaire before and after eating their salads. To quote the study, “Prior to consumption, the art-inspired presentation resulted in the food being considered as more artistic, more complex, and more liked than either of the other presentations. The participants were also willing to pay more for the Kandinsky-inspired plating.

Interestingly, after consumption, the results revealed higher tastiness ratings for the art-inspired presentation. These results support the idea that presenting food in an aesthetically pleasing manner can enhance the experience of a dish. In particular, the use of artistic (visual) influences can enhance a diner’s rating of the flavour of a dish. These results are consistent with previous findings, suggesting that visual display of a food can influence both a person’s expectations and their subsequent experience of a dish, and with the common assumption that we eat with our eyes first.

I was intrigued by this idea and found other examples of famous art reproduced in food. Below are some of my favorites.

Vincent Van Gogh's Self Portrait with Grey Felt Hat in Leeks from Womans Day
Image via Women’s Day

This is Vincent Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait with Grey Felt Hat” done in leeks. It even resembles Van Gogh’s impasto brushwork.

Via andreadonascimento.blogger.com
Via andreadonascimento.blogger.com

The Mona Lisa depicted first in jelly then in peanut butter. Is it just me, or does the jelly one seem more lifelike and vibrant?

img.xcitefun.net/via si-spirit.com
img.xcitefun.net/via si-spirit.com

This beautifully done reproduction of Rembrant’s “The Anatomy Lesson” just made me laugh.

GirlWithAPearlEarring
Via TopsyTasty.com

It’s amazing what you can do with jelly beans. This reproduction of Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece, “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is made completely from jelly beans. The artist used three (3) jelly beans to recreate the dangling pearl earring.

fc05.deviantart.net/via recyclerepunzel.deviantart.com
fc05.deviantart.net/via recyclerepunzel.deviantart.com

Finally, Picasso’s “Girl on a Pillow” done in cupcakes. A good idea for a party. Each cupcake is really a work of art unto itself.

Would you like to try your creative hand at painting with food? I’d love to see what you come up with. Send photos of your creations to MyFoodFriend@mail.com. Tell me what work of art you’re emulating and I’ll share the best ones here.

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