In another example of VR bleeding into real life, Cornell University food scientists found that cheese eaten in pleasant VR surroundings tasted better than the same cheese eaten in a drab sensory booth.
About 50 panelists who used virtual reality headsets as they ate were given three identical samples of blue cheese. The study participants were virtually placed in a standard sensory booth, a pleasant park bench and the Cornell cow barn to see custom-recorded 360-degree videos.
The panelists were unaware that the cheese samples were identical, and rated the pungency of the blue cheese significantly higher in the cow barn setting than in the sensory booth or the virtual park bench.
That’s right: cheese tastes better on a virtual farm versus inside a blank, empty cyberia.
“When we eat, we perceive not only just the taste and aroma of foods, we get sensory input from our surroundings – our eyes, ears, even our memories about surroundings,” said researcher Robin Dando.
To be clear, this research wasn’t designed to confirm whether VR could make food taste better but whether or not VR could be used as a sort of taste testbed, allowing manufacturers to let people try foods in different places without, say, putting them on an airplane or inside a real cow barn. Because food tastes differently in different surroundings, the ability to simulate those surroundings in VR is very useful.
“This research validates that virtual reality can be used, as it provides an immersive environment for testing,” said Dando. “Visually, virtual reality imparts qualities of the environment itself to the food being consumed – making this kind of testing cost-efficient.”