On June 26, 2013 (ten years ago), Dr. Peter Lin spoke on CBC Radio about how our choice of cutlery affects our experience of food

On occasion, I listen to recordings of radio broadcasts that I’ve accumulated over the years. I listen to them on Adobe Premiere Pro and sometimes transcribe them on the same app.

A CBC broadcast of a decade ago – June 26, 2013 – featuring Dr. Peter Lin, a CBC health columnist, suggests that a heavy, solid spoon is sometimes going to make food taste better than a plastic one. As well, the same coffee in a mug tastes better than from a paper cup. And people sitting down in comfort in congenial surroundings will enjoy food more than when it’s grabbed quickly on the run. These are things we know from experience.

Screenshot of video of CBC Metro Morning broadcast, June 26, 2013, Toronto.

Below is a transcript of the talk (with one small segment summarized rather than presented word-for-word). As well, at the end of the post I’ve included a link to an online research article (in academic prose which may not appeal to a general reader) about some of the things talked about in the Metro Morning interview of a decade ago. The article underlines that it’s not easy to arrive at definitive, evidence-based conclusions regarding the relationship between cutlery and food.

I recorded the CBC broadcast as a video recording using the signal from my car radio. I’ve uploaded a screenshot from the video, The car was stopped. The very start of the broadcast is missing. I would have heard the first part and then would have decided to start recording the broadcast. There may be minor errors in the transcript but the gist of what was said is there.

Transcript of CBC interview with Dr. Peter Lin, June 26, 2013

Dr. Lin: So I know this sounds crazy. So I started looking at these guys, the researchers, and they’ve done lots of studies in this area. So a couple of years back they did one where they looked at spoons that were coated with different things. So gold, silver, zinc, copper, tin, or chrome. And what they found is that the zinc in the copper types of spoons tends to make things taste saltier and some other things they tend to make bitter. And so therefore, what we’re using to bring the food up to our mouth actually will affect the taste as well.

Interviewer: Hmm. And what about the dishes that we eat off? How do they influence taste?

Dr. Lin: Yes, lots of studies on that. And obviously, we know about the big plates where you have big bowls, big plates – your eyes look at it and it’s looking for proportion size. It doesn’t know the weight of the food. So it’s looking for how much does it fill. So if I let you go in and scoop with a large bowl, you’ll eat about 3o percent more ice cream, for example. So that sort of makes sense.

But the colour is important, too. So they did the study with strawberry mousse dessert. So this sort of reddish looking dessert, they put it in the middle of a white plate. They put it in the middle of a black plate, had people eat it. And what they found is that everybody that was eating off of the white plate, they always said that it was sweeter on the white plate. So the perception is that it was sweeter sitting on the white plate versus the black.

Interviewer: Why?

Dr. Lin: Well, it’s interesting. So it turns out that when you put this sort of strawberry colour on a white plate, the strawberry colour becomes more red. So it’s a more vibrant red and it turns out that is triggering the thought that it’s sweeter.

So where does that come from? It’s actually from nature. So if you look at fruits, when they ripen, they become redder, a darker colour red and so therefore, that’s how animals decide which type of fruit, or which fruit in particular, to go after.

And as the colour is changing, what’s happening inside the fruit is that the carbohydrates inside there are being broken down into simple sugars. And those simple sugars is what’s making the fruit sweeter. And so therefore our brain is thinking redder fruit, more sugar in there, therefore sweeter. So we’ve now connected to that colour even when we’re looking at desserts.

Interestingly, the heaviness of the spoon also has an impact. So if you have a heavier utensils, you assume that the food quality is better. This is weird. There’s two explanations for this. One is that the utensil is heavy, so that means the utensil has good quality, and therefore you transfer that good quality to your food. It’s known as transference in the psychiatry world, and so therefore you are assuming that the food is a better quality.

The other thing is that another theory was saying, you know, when you pick up ripe fruit, you sort of wave in your hand, right? So a heavier fruit means that there’s more sugar in the water inside there. And the riper the fruits, you tend to have that. So the red fruit, also, a heavier utensil, or heavier object, will tend to make you think that that actually has more nutrients inside it.

Interviewer: Well, our brains are funny. Now we know that there’s a relationship between smell and taste. But what do these researchers think accounts for the fact that taste is also so influenced by this sight and touch?

Dr. Lin: [In a short segment, Dr. Lin notes that dark colours for plates and the like may in some cases be associated with less appealing taste experiences.]

So therefore the thought is, is the presentation of food also there for us? And we all know about the other things: if everything’s set up really nice, your eyes are the first things that are taking this all in, and so your expectations are much higher as well. And what they’re finding now is not only expectations are higher, but your assumption of how much sugar is in there, and salt, and all of those things may be already predetermined, and can actually sway you in one direction, for example.

Interviewer: Now, are they looking for some practical applications here in terms of maybe curbing overeating, or anything?

Dr. Lin: Yeah. So in other words, what they’re suggesting is there’s all these signals that we’re not even aware of, attached to how we choose foods and more importantly, how satisfied or unsatisfied we are with eating that food.

So, for example, I was thinking about our lives. You know, I’m rushing around. I grab a sandwich; it’s wrapped in a white piece of paper. I’m drinking from this light little foam cup. So is my brain saying, Wow, he’s had a real good meal? Or is my brain saying, Yeah, yeah, okay, he had a snack, but at some point he needs to sit down and have a real meal.

And so could it be that drives me to go looking for more food and so on and so forth. And so our idea is how do we make sure that your brain is satisfied with the amount of food that it’s eaten? Could it be as simple as sitting down with a plate and cutlery and a mug? Because a lot of times people tell me, you know, a coffee doesn’t taste the same in a paper cup versus a mug. It tastes better in a mug.

And so could it be that we just need to sit down and have a proper meal with proper utensils and then your brain gets a signal, Yeah, she’s had a good meal, so now I don’t have to go looking for food for the next six or seven hours.

Interviewer: Hmm. Now, what about sugar and salt? I mean, if presentation can trick us into thinking that it’s got more sugar than it has, that could be helpful, perhaps.

Dr. Lin: Yeah, this is great. So let’s say we get dessert plates at the right size so that we don’t overeat in terms of the proportions, we look at it and say, Hmm, that’s a good chunk, so I don’t need to eat seconds.

Or for example, we get the colours right, so we balance off the colour. So you look at it and you’re thinking it’s sweeter than it really is, then maybe the manufacturers can reduce the amount of sugar that they’re putting in.

What about salt? Let’s say we use those spoons that make things taste saltier, then I can get the same taste, but then I don’t have to have the same amount of salt. So for people that need salt restriction, like high blood pressure, those kinds of forks, maybe this would be a good way that, you know, they can still have flavour without having to sacrifice, you know, all of the flavour in terms of reducing salt.

So there might be ways that we can help out in reducing those bad things that we’re sort of addicted to, like salt and sugar.

Interviewer: And what about silverware? Because [a woman] was talking about her husband being fussy about his cutlery. I’m very fussy. I hate eating with plastic. I don’t like forks that feel like they’re going to bend.

Dr. Lin: Exactly. And all of that is part of it. And so when we started talking about this, people started saying, Yeah, I don’t like that cheap stuff, but we never understood why. So now maybe we’ve got some science behind it. So maybe the cutlery will be important for us. So, you know, a lot of things is that we’re trying to figure out how we can get around this thing. So does that mean that we all have to have this special trickery, like the special fork that you have to eat with and the special knife?

So I think what we need to do, is what these researchers are concluding, is we need to figure out how our brain picks food, how our brain becomes satisfied with food. And in that way we can design food so that it matches those things. So we’re hitting those signal points that we need.

But for now, until the food industry sort of figures it all that, maybe what we should do is just slow down and maybe we sit down and have a meal with a plate, with cutlery, with a mug. So that way your brain is going, Oh, they’ve eaten a good meal. I don’t have to keep searching for food for a bunch of hours to come.

Interviewer: Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for being with us. Dr. Peter Lin is our regular medical columnist. He joins us every Wednesday here on Metro Morning.


Research article describing research about cutlery and food.

After I listened to the recording made on June 26, 2013 (not 2023) of a CBC Metro Morning interview on CBC Metro Morning with Dr. Peter Lin, a CBC health columnist, I located an online research article published on June 26, 2013, entitled: “The taste of cutlery: how the taste of food is affected by the weight, size, shape, and colour of the cutlery used to eat it.”

The article is written in a style that is not likely to appeal to a general reader but I mention it, just so you know it’s there.

3 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A few sundry comments: food and health (1)

    I’ve been working on a post about a large-scale study which concludes that for long-term cardiovascular health the following daily food intake is the way to go:

    two to three servings of fruit daily

    two to three servings of vegetables daily

    three to four servings of legumes weekly

    seven weekly servings of nuts

    two to three servings of fish weekly, and

    14 weekly servings of dairy; does not need to be low-fat dairy (butter and whipping cream not included in the count)

    Source: Diet, cardiovascular disease, and mortality in 80 countries

    Andrew Mente, Mahshid Dehghan, Sumathy Rangarajan, Martin O’Donnell, Weihong Hu, Gilles Dagenais, Andreas Wielgosz, Scott A. Lear, Li Wei, Rafael Diaz, Alvaro Avezum, Patricio Lopez-Jaramillo, Fernando Lanas, Sumathi Swaminathan, Manmeet Kaur, K Vijayakumar, Viswanathan Mohan, Rajeev Gupta, Andrzej Szuba, Romaina Iqbal, Rita Yusuf, Noushin Mohammadifard, Rasha Khatib, Nafiza Mat Nasir, Kubilay Karsidag, Annika Rosengren, Afzalhussein Yusufali, Edelweiss Wentzel-Viljoen, Jephat Chifamba, Antonio Dans, Khalid F Alhabib, Karen Yeates, Koon Teo, Hertzel C Gerstein, Salim Yusuf

    European Heart Journal, Volume 44, Issue 28, 21 July 2023, Pages 2560–2579, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehad269

    Published: 06 July 2023

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    A few sundry comments: food and health (2)

    The above-noted research study is connected with McMaster University; a relevant link is this one:

    Eating these six healthy foods is linked to lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death

    The amazing thing about this research is that it is not widely reported. I am pleased I came across it through a tweet from McMaster University on the web platform formerly known as Twitter. I was active on Twitter for over a decade and built up a vast supply of useful articles, sources, and information. These stand me in good stead even now when I am no longer nearly as active on what used to be called Twitter.

    It’s noteworthy that the new research says it’s fine to eat plenty of full-fat dairy products (with the exception of butter and whipping cream). Previous research had prompted the food industry to market low-fat dairy products on the basis of what at that time were touted as the health benefits of restriction of fats in dairy products.

    I feel comfortable in following the guidelines suggested by the research study outlined in the previous note. I do not feel comfortable at all in strictly following food guidelines from Canada or the United States. My lack of comfort is based on my reading of articles over the years regarding the political influences which come into play when such guidelines are devised, revised, updated, and published.

    For my purposes as a consumer, I want to know what the evidence is claimed to0 be – and how the evidence has been verified and corroborated over time. There is nothing complicated about this. It’s a matter of being data oriented, and having an interest in good, reliable reporting.

  3. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    1. Quality of the questions in the CBC interview

    I am guessing that a producer has worked with the interviewer, in the broadcast segment highlighted at this post, to ensure that there are good questions.

    2. Rate of speech of the person being interviewed

    Having many years of experience, for reasons discussed elsewhere, in assessing the rate (in syllables per minute) at which a person speaks, I estimate that Dr. Peter Lin is speaking at about 230 syllables per minute. That’s a fairly fast rate but the listener would be able to retain the gist of what has been said.

    3. Inflection of the interviewer

    The interviewer is using what I would characterize as a broadcaster voice – a form of speech in which inflection is slightly exaggerated, as contrasted to the inflection a speaker would typically adopt in everyday conversation.

    This is a matter of the adoption of a broadcast persona as contrasted to an everyday conversational persona. I learned of this distinction over the years. I learned after many years that if I were ever interviewed for a TV broadcast (in connection with my volunteer work, in years past), it’s really important to adopt a broadcast persona. Such a persona is going to have a slightly exaggerated inflection – which means that longer segments of the person being interviewed will appear in the resulting news clip. When a person speaks in a more conversational tone, less of what they say will appear in the final news broadcast.

    I have outlined the importance of inflection in everyday life in a previous post entitled:

    There are two ways that many stutterers can (if they wish) learn fluency as a second language; one method sounds decidedly more natural than the other one


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