Artsy Plating Really Does Make Food Taste Better

Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo credit: Michel et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 

Suddenly, the phrase “a feast for the eyes” has a whole new meaning.

A team of researchers at Oxford University recently found that diners rated an artistically arranged salad as tastier than other presentations of the same exact dish, confirming our long-held belief that plating is super important.

In the study, which was published in the journal “Flavor,” 30 subjects were presented with three salads: one arranged to resemble “Painting #201” by the painter Wassily Kandinsky; a regular tossed salad; and a plate arranged in what study authors called a ”neat formation,” with components that didn’t touch.

Subjects consistently rated the Kandinsky-inspired salad as tastier than the other two. Read: Taste buds are clearly only part of the deliciousness equation.

"The visual appeal of food has been, and will always be, an important matter to entice the appetite, ultimately enhancing the flavors of culinary creations," reads the study’s conclusion. ”While chefs rely mostly on their intuition and expertise to plate their dishes, we suggest that studying food presentations under the lens of psychology and sensory science could give precious insights to the so far empirical art of plating.”

But we’ve got to say—the Kandinsky-inspired salad (pictured above), ain’t winning any beauty contests. At least not when competing against the Masters of Artful Plating. 

Check a few of them out below (and then pick your jaw up off the floor):

Photo credit: Alinea/Facebook

Uni. Served in the palm bowl service piece,” reads the description of this photo from Alinea in Chicago, Illinois. On no other occasion would you be so thrilled to eat an infant-sized portion.

Photo credit: edsel_/Flickr

Gaze at this bowl, smeared with a pine emulsion and cocoa nibs. It’s filled with chicken liver spaetzle and thinly-sliced radishes. Now look away. Now look back. It still looks weird—but you totally want to eat it. Welcome to dinner at WD-50 in New York City.

Photo credit: ReneRedzepiNoma/Twitter

It’s a leek filled with leeks, courtesy of Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. So meta. And so lovely. 

Photo credit: moto restaurant/Facebook

Lemon curd, lemon sorbet, and dehydrated lemon from Moto in Chicago, Illinois. And chocolate mousse, but hello—three kinds of lemon.

Photo credit: thebazaarbyjoseandres/Instagram

Up close, this plate from the Bazaar in Las Vegas, Nevada looks like a landscape of kimchi-cracker mountains set against a sea of tuna tartar. 

Photo credit: Adara/Facebook

And you thought smoking was illegal in restaurants. Not at the former Adara in Montclair, New Jersey. The eatery may now be closed, but the legend of this “smoky forest” of portobello mushrooms, black truffles, and Humboldt Fog chèvre lives on.

Photo credit: Rogue24DC/Facebook

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a molecular take on marrow, red wine, olive oil, and black garlic from Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C.

Just think about how the “Flavor” study could have turned out had the researchers served diners plates like these. Their reactions would be off the charts (and probably off the wall, too).