There's that common saying that the privileged are "born with a silver spoon in (their) mouth(s)." Head to a super-old-school-fancy dinner, and your hosts will likely bust out their fine china and polished silver. And when it comes to wedding gifts, you'd better hand over a silver platter, because no one wants to write a thank-you note for scrubby stainless steel.
But maybe no one has put much thought into whether—or why—silver truly a better fork doth make, other than the fact that it's expensive and maybe slightly more shiny than its other-metal counterparts.
As it turns out, a new study unveiled yesterday as part of a new exhibit called Cravings at the Science Museum in London shows that the figurative "silver spoon" may not actually be the best spoon for dining. Conducted at University College London's Institute of Making, the study—led by Dr. Zoe Laughlin—instructed 50 volunteers to suck on spoons made from seven different metals: gold, silver, steel, zinc, copper, tin, and chrome. The subjects were then asked to report back on their taste experience. Next, they repeated the sequence, but with sweet, salty, and acidic foods on said spoons to see how the spoon material would impact flavor.
Stainless steel and gold both performed better than silver in the scheme of metal-tasting, with Laughlin attributing gold's success in the test to its "inert" quality, which gives it little to no metallic quality on the tongue. Gold came out on top both with food and without. In the immortal words of Trinidad James, "all gold everything."
Stainless steel, pauper as it may be, actually came in second, just after gold. See, all of your IKEA flatware is just fine!
Silver, on the other hand, is in Laughlin's words, "not very tasty." It ranked poorly due to its strong metallic flavor and tendency to interact poorly with the acids in fruits and the sulphur in eggs.
Copper and zinc performed best when paired with sweets, though who the hell do you know who has a zinc dining room set?
Other interesting and peculiar findings that were offered in the Cravings exhibit include insights into which glassware improves the taste of cocktails (a heavier one is preferable for gin and tonics) and what dish colors enhance certain flavor accents. White spoons, for example, make foods taste creamier.
This is far from Laughlin's first flirt with metals. In 2012, she held a dinner for culinary heavyweights including Heston Blumenthal and Harold McGee, serving up a seven-course Indian dinner with seven spoons plated with different metals. Food writer Fuchsia Dunlop attended, too, reporting that "[baked] black cod with zinc was as unpleasant as a fingernail scraped down a blackboard, and grapefruit with copper was lip-puckeringly nasty. But both metals struck a lovely, wild chord with a mango relish, their loud, metallic tastes somehow harmonised by its sweet-sour flavour." Sour foods apparently work well with zinc and copper because the acids in them literally strip a bit of metal with every spoonful.
So next time you're faced with silver-spoon snobbery, just remember that it's not all it's cracked up to be. After all, in the words of Laughlin, "You haven't lived until you have eaten with gold."