Based on experiments using various 3D printed textures, the study showed that it’s possible to influence the taste of a product by altering the surface of its packaging or serving dish. For example, smooth texture enhances sweetness, while a sharp surface intensifies bitterness.
Thomas van Rompay from the UT’s Department of Communication Science (BMS faculty) was the scientist leading the study. ‘Our research generally focuses on how design influences people’s experience of food and drinks. This time we wanted to see if the design actually affects the taste and other sensory experiences,’ he explains. ‘And we concluded that what you see and feel – in sense of touch – does influence what you taste.’
Tested on Van der Poel ice-cream
3D printing technology was at the heart of the study, which was a collaboration between the UT and Korean institute KAIST. The researchers designed and printed several types of cups: some with smooth and round textures, and others with a sharp, spikey surface.
They tested the cups on real consumers and real products, including ice-cream in Van der Poel ice-cream bar in Enschede. ‘In this particular case, we found that the cup with a sharp texture intensified the sour taste of their lemon sorbet, while the cup with a smooth texture enhanced the creaminess of their vanilla ice-cream,’ says Van Rompay.
Is your coffee too bitter? Get a smooth cup
In another study the scientists tested the impact of the 3D printed cups on everyone’s favorite hot drinks: (bitter) coffee and (sweet) chocolate. ‘No matter the product, we found out that round textures make the drink taste sweeter and angular textures make it seem more bitter,’ explains Van Rompay. ‘It appears that these taste experiences are grounded in the impressions that these textures generate on our skin, but we will conduct follow-up studies to confirm that.’
Making healthier choices
Van Rompay sees a lot of potential in these findings. ‘We’ve shown that we can influence the impression of sweetness, bitterness or saltiness. If the packaging itself can make the product taste sweeter or saltier, we can make healthy alternatives more attractive through packaging design, and therefore help people make healthier choices. 3D printing offers a lot of possibilities in this regard – for packaging companies, food producers or restaurants.’