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Apparently Slow Breathing Makes Food Taste Better

According to a new study from mechanical engineers at Penn State University, the way you breathe can impact your enjoyment of a meal.
Phoebe Hurst
London, GB
November 17, 2015, 1:00pm

As your annoying yogi friend will have no doubt informed you, breathing is Very Very Important. It clears your chakras, provides a calming harbour amidst the stormy sea of day-to-day life, and y'know, stops you from falling unconscious.

And now, apparently sucking air in and out of your lungs can make your food taste better too.

According to a new study from mechanical engineers at Penn State University, the way you breathe can impact your enjoyment of a meal.

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READ MORE: Apparently Noise Makes You Fat

Previous research shows that how we taste food relies on the movement of food particles from the back of the mouth to the nasal cavity, but there was little to explain why airflow doesn't carry them back into the lungs.

Using a 3D-printed model of the airway between our nostrils and windpipe, the Penn State engineers set out to solve this. They found that the shape of the airway preferentially transfers food particles to the nasal cavity, which allows humans to enjoy the smell of food.

Rui Ni, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State explained: "During quiet breathing, there is no valve that can control the direction of volatile transport. However something must be controlling the movement of these particles and keeping them out of the lungs."

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, their research shows that chewed food particles end up at the back of the mouth in a side cavity away from the main airflow. When we breathe in through the nose, the air flow forms a kind of air curtain that stops the particles from being released into the back of the mouth and the lungs.

When we breathe out, however, air sweeps the food particles from this secret cavity and into the nasal cavity, where they can be sensed. The movement of these particles is impacted by the speed of our breathing.

And like your Pilates teacher always said: it's all about the slow and steady intake of breath. Breathing evenly allows more air to sweep food particles into the nasal cavity, delivering a better smell and flavour.

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Ni added: "Smooth, relatively slow breathing maximises delivery of the particles to the nose. Food smells and tastes better if you take your time."

READ MORE: We Asked a Taste Expert Why Some Foods Make People Gag

Ni and his team constructed their human airway model by first creating a simplified diagram of the pathway between the back of the mouth and nose using data from computerised tomography scans. This was then turned into a 3D model, allowing them to track airflow in and out of the airway.

This may sound like a pretty extreme way to figure out what impact an intuitive bodily function has on how you eat lunch but Penn State scientists aren't the first to probe the elusive perception of flavour. Earlier this year, researchers at the University of West of England wired participants to brain-scanners to track whether listening to stories alters the taste of chocolate and drinks writer Pete Brown is convinced your Belgian beer would taste better soundtracked by the Pixies.

Perhaps, then, the optimum way to eat a ham sandwich is while wired to an EEG scanner, listening to the collected tales of Edgar Allan Poe with "Debaser" on repeat. Oh, and while breathing very, very slowly.

Sounds delicious.