A sensory home: multi-sensory dining and scent

Following last month's workshops for IKEA as part of the The Dining Club, we are publishing a series of posts to help make the most of your home by using some clever sensory hacks. With no mention of molecular gastronomy, we are sharing some of the skills we have learnt over the years working with brands to make the most of spaces and to tell their stories using all of the senses.

In this blog, we are going to concentrate on smell and how this can affect the experience of eating, one of the most inherently multisensory experiences we engage in day-to-day. Taste is, after all, almost 90% smell and so smell can dramatically alter your enjoyment of food.

Candles are now commonplace in our homes. They range in price from from a couple of pounds to a couple of hundred pounds, are accessible to everyone and are very effective at setting mood. There are hundreds of options of flavours now available, from lemon or lavender, from iMac to bacon. They are most commonly found in the living room, bedroom and bathroom but that isn't a reason not to consider them in the kitchen - or garden or toolshed or office for that matter!

We are often commissioned to explore how science, psychology and cross-modal responses can affect the senses, in commercial environments and campaigns. We know well that scent is an intrinsic part of the taste experience. The science of understanding how different flavours and aromas interact and influence each other is relatively new to science (believe it or not there are still competing scientific ideas about how the nose even works) but there is still a lot we can do. Setting the science aside, trust your intuition and to go with what works for you. Chefs have been doing this for centuries, using their finely developed taste to go come up with radical new combinations of flavours.

Pair scents with flavours

If you are using scent in close proximity to food, consider it as an additional ingredient. Pick combinations that will compliment each other. Would you add the heady aroma of Gardenia to beef? We wouldn’t, but would you add rose or lemon to a Moroccan Lamb Harissa? Yes. Choosing a Moroccan rose candle with a hint of frankincense could transport your tagine, and your guests, to the souks of Marrakesh. Which brings us to the next aspect of pairing scent with food - using scent to create a connection to the origin and style of the food.

Connecting with your food

Where does your food come from? What season is it? What country and culture does the recipe reflect? Scent can enhance your connection with your food and your enjoyment of it.

The Swedish woodland served as our inspiration for our tasting workshop for IKEA and we found some beautiful woodland mushrooms to cook. The origins of the food inspired us to use fern, moss and pine scents to create a connection back to where the food originated and to give a stronger sense of place and authenticity.

Smell doesn’t need to come from a candle or an artificial source. For our workshop we found moss and pine-cones for the mushrooms and dressed the place setting with them. We squeezed lemon on the mushrooms at the table just before tasting so we could enjoy the scent of lemon zest before tasting the mushrooms.

Be unique

So that’s just a few ideas to hopefully get your noses watering as well as your tastebuds. Our advice is to experiment, relax and have fun. Play around and see what works for you, what doesn’t,  and keep mixing it up. Immerse your guests in scent and this will go a long way towards creating a meal they will remember for many years.

If you have had particular successes, or failures, we’d love to hear about it.

There are currently no public sessions planned but do follow us on twitter to keep up to date with what we have coming up. And if you are interested in an event or project please get in touch.

See Also

A sensory home

Sensory eating for IKEA

Sensory beer tasting

How does your brand feel