Synaesthesia: The multisensory dining experience

Paper from Charles Spence, the authority on designing food and dining experiences in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science 18 (2019).


“The phenomenon of synaesthesia has undoubtedly proved a great inspiration to a number of artists, designers, and marketers for more than a century now. In fact, novelists, poets, composers, and painters, such as Nabokov, Baudelaire, Scriabin, and Kandinsky, all used synaesthetic correspondences to inform their world-famous artworks. By contrast, chefs, the best of whom are increasingly being considered as artists in their own right, rarely seem to reference the condition in their culinary creations. This situation is, though, slowly starting to change, as a small but growing number of innovative chefs take the surprising cross-sensory connections exemplified by synaesthesia, and the related phenomenon of crossmodal correspondences, as a source of culinary inspiration and aid to menu design. Illustrating this new approach, we summarize Synaesthesia, a multisensory dining concept that was presented to diners by Kitchen Theory in London in 2015.

The recipes for this multi-course tasting menu are provided and a number of the key experimental findings, based on the dishes that were served, discussed. The popularity of this culinary concept highlights the potential of the synaesthesia/crossmodal correspondences approach to stimulate both the chefs as well as the diners they serve. Synaesthesia constituted a delicious form of edible ‘edutainment’. According to press reports, many diners came away from this tasting menu with their curiosity having been stirred. The hope is that they also learnt something about how their senses function together in order to deliver the rich multisensory experiences of everyday life, no matter whether or not they themselves happened to be synaesthetic.” (Charles Spence and Jozef Youssef, 2019)

Multisensory Experiences: A Primer

From the primer: “We present a primer on multisensory experiences, the different components of this concept, as well as a reflection of its implications for individuals and society. We define multisensory experiences, illustrate how to understand them, elaborate on the role of technology in such experiences, and present the three laws of multisensory experiences, which can guide discussion on their implications. Further, we introduce the case of multisensory experiences in the context of eating and human-food interaction to illustrate how its components operationalize. We expect that this article provides a first point of contact for those interested in multisensory experiences, as well as multisensory experiences in the context of human-food interaction.” (Carlos Velasco and Marianna Obrist, 2021)

More articles on Perspectives on Multisensory Human-Food Interaction.

Food & Eating Design

Or how designers and design thinking could add value to the food industry at large.

“The Food & Eating Design Lab (director Rick Schifferstein) brings together designers and researchers with stakeholders in agriculture, the food industry, the hospitality sector, health professionals and any others who try to improve people’s interactions with their daily foods.

(…) food consumption issues could benefit from innovative thinking and design solutions to face these important everyday challenges. However, the contribution of designers to innovation in the food sector thus far seems to be relatively small. Up to now, the food industry seems quite unfamiliar with the ways in which designers operate and may be unaware of the added value they may have.”

With some interesting projects and publications.

Now We’re Cooking With Lasers

“Researchers at Columbia Engineering have digitised food creation and cooking processes, using 3D printing technology to tailor food shape and texture and lasers of various wavelengths to cook it.” (Source: CACM) – I wonder what that does to the experience of dining.

Gastronomy: A source of inspiration for UX design


Today, I delivered my presentation at the EuroIA 2010 in Paris on the relation between my two passions: gastronomy and user experience design.

FoodUX served its purpose as a collection of background materials for the presentation. In future times, I will keep maintaining @CompCook as much as possible. So, keep tuning in once in a while.

“A crazy topic with a scary video clip of a positive eating experience”, I said in my impersonation as Lars Von Trier!

And What About Taste?


Taste is a very important driver of the eating experience and a complex human phenomenon. It has been a topic of scientific research and philosophical discussion.

Research on Taste

The mission of the Taste Science Laboratory in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University is to elucidate the nature and impact of individual differences in perception – in particular, differences in taste and smell sensitivity – on personality, performance, and preferences.

In its first definition, the American Heritage Dictionary limits the tastes perceived by the taste buds to four: in fact there are at least six in addition to the classic four, there are the taste of fat, and a taste called umami. Umami means delicious in Japanese, and is the word for the savory taste of meat. In this way, our taste buds are designed to tell us about the nutritional qualities of the food we eat: sweet for ripe fruit and carbohydrates, sour for unripe fruit and vitamin C, salty for salt and other minerals, bitter for poisonous plants, umami for protein, and fat for fat!

The second definition, which includes smell and touch, is the one most people have in mind when they talk about the taste of a food; taste, in this sense, means flavor.

Taste and Philosophy

As part of my holiday reading list, I purchased Making Sense of Taste: Food & Philosoph by Carolyn Korsmeyer.

“Taste, perhaps the most intimate of the five senses, has traditionally been considered beneath the concern of philosophy, too bound to the body, too personal and idiosyncratic. Yet, in addition to providing physical pleasure, eating and drinking bear symbolic and aesthetic value in human experience, and they continually inspire writers and artists.”

Really looking forward reading it.

Concepts for a dynamic, multi-sensorial eating experience


Just when Catalonian chef Ferran Adrià announced that his world famous restaurant El Bulli will be closed permanently, another Spanish chef takes center stage.

During the 8th international gastronomy summit, MadridFusión, world renowned Michelin star chef Juan Mari Arzak of the famous Arzak restaurant in Spain and Philips Design presented a series of concepts intended not only to delight palates, but also evoke emotion and stimulate the senses.

The sensual enjoyment of flavors, the appreciation of harmonies and the recognition of nuances all combine to create the unique pleasure of the dining table. In its latest Design ProbeMulti-sensorial Gastronomy – Philips Design has explored how the integration of light, conductive printing, selective fragrance diffusion, micro-vibration and a host of other integrations of sensory stimuli could affect the eating experience in subtle ways.

Lunar Eclipse (bowl), Fama (long plate) and Tapa de Luz (serving plate) are made from bone china and familiar objects from our everyday lives. However when liquid is poured into the bowl or food is placed on the plates, they begin to shine. A glowing light subtly appears from the bottom of the bowl and plates creating a new sensory dining experience as the senses are stimulated and altered. The series uses bone china and involves the integration of lighting, conductive printing, selective fragrance discharge, micro-vibration, electro stimulus and a host of other sensory stimuli that affect the food and the diner in subtle ways.

Also read this short interview with Juan Mari Arzak on the essential role of design, creativity and innovation in gastronomic cuisine.

Anybody Can Do It


Recently, Jakob Nielsen published one of his Alertbox posts with the title Anybody Can Do Usability. In this post, he made a comparison between cooking and usability.

According to Jakob, usability is like cooking dinner:

  • Everybody needs the outcome;
  • Anybody can perform the most basic activities;
  • Anyone can learn these basics pretty quickly;
  • There’s a level of excellence beyond the basics;
  • Skill levels form a continuum from beginner to expert.

The cooking analogy stretches even further:

  • Although multi-star gourmet restaurants are wonderful, there’s also a place in the world for modest neighborhood restaurants.
  • Even if you can afford it, you shouldn’t eat out every day.
  • Variety is the spice of life.
  • Sometimes it’s nice to have others do the work.
  • There’s value to being an outsider who’s not restrained by corporate politics or “the way things are usually done.”

So like cooking, anybody can do usability; the basic methods are simple enough.