Temperature affects our perception of food and drink in many ways. No doubt we have all had the experience of tasting a warm glass of cola and finding it unpleasantly sweet. Cold temperature, in other words, suppresses our ability to taste.1 Indeed, this is part of the reason why vanilla aroma is added to extremely cold foods like ice cream. This sweet smell can help make the dessert taste sweeter when our taste buds aren’t working so well.2
Intriguingly, some researchers have even been tempted to suggest that part of the reason behind the growing obesity crisis in North America is their tendency to drink ice-cold water at mealtimes, as this also suppresses taste perception. Consequently, or so the argument goes, North American diners need more sugar and salt in their food in order to be able to taste it. 3
The temperature of foods in the hand is also important. Holding something warm, like a hot drink or, presumably, a warm pastry, has been shown to make those around us seem warmer too. 4 But it is not just the temperature in the hand or mouth that matters. The ambient temperature also influences the decisions that we, as consumers, make. For instance, one study of Manhattan clothing stores documented an inverse relation between the ambient temperature in-store and the store’s price point. 5 The suggestion being that consumers make more cognitive/rational decisions at higher temperatures, and more emotional ones at lower temperatures. 6
Then there is the weather: As the supermarkets know only too well, the sale of different food products is very much dependent on the weather. Indeed, the share prices of major food companies can plummet when unseasonally warm or cold weather disrupts their product sales, as happened recently to Premier Food.7 Fresh bakery products can be particularly susceptible to such weather-induced wastage.8 Intriguingly, a recent big-data analysis of nearly 1 million North American restaurant reviews posted online also highlighted a link between the weather outside and how the diners rate food!9 Put simply, the better the weather (which for most of us means warmer), the better the review. And, taking things to the extreme, one restaurant study showed that even writing that the weather tomorrow would be good on a restaurant cheque leads to increased tipping. 10
As a professional baker, then, I would be tempted, wherever possible to have your customers consume their baked goods while warm (and with their hands, rather than with the cold metal interface of cutlery) – they will likely enjoy the multisensory tasting experience that much more. 11 Furthermore, I would also recommend keeping an eye on the weather forecast if you want to know what your sales figures will look like in the morning.
Fleming, A. (2013). Hot or not? How serving temperature affects the way food tastes. The Guardian (Word of Mouth Blog), September 17th. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/sep/17/serving-temperature-affects-taste-food; Spence, C., & Piqueras-Fiszman, B. (2016). Oral-somatosensory contributions to flavor perception and the appreciation of food and drink. In B. Piqueras-Fiszman & C. Spence (Eds.), Multisensory flavor perception: From fundamental neuroscience through to the marketplace (pp. 59-79). Duxford, CB: Elsevier.
As anyone who has bitten into a vanilla pod will know only too well, vanilla itself is intensely bitter, and yet the aroma becomes sweet to us in the west because of its pairing with many sweet foods and drinks. This phenomenon is known as smelled sweetness – sweet being a taste not a smell. Other ‘sweet’ smells include caramel and strawberry.
Mony, P., Tokar, T., Pang, P., Fiegel, A., Meullenet, J.-F., & Seo, H.-S. (2013). Temperature of served water can modulate sensory perception and acceptance of food. Food Quality and Preference, 28, 449-455.
Williams, L. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2008). Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth. Science, 322, 606-607.
See Spence, C., Puccinelli, N. Grewal, D., & Roggeveen, A. L. (2014). Store atmospherics: A multisensory perspective. Psychology & Marketing, 31, 472-488, for a review.
Hadi, R., Block, L., & King, D. (2013). The impact of temperature on consumer decision-making: A mental thermoregulation framework. Paper presented at Said Business School Seminar, Oxford University, October 10.
Bakhshi, S., Kanuparthy, P., & Gilbert, E. (2014). Demographics, weather and online reviews: A study of restaurant recommendations by WWW 2014. Proceedings of the 23rd International Conference on World Wide Web (2014).
Rind, B., & Strohmetz, D. (2001). Effects of beliefs about future weather conditions on tipping. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 31, 2160-2164.