Eating with your mouth open is widely considered to be the cardinal sin of the dinner table, even worse than the culinary faux pas of putting your elbows on the table and holding the fork in your right hand.
But an expert from the University of Oxford has claimed that smacking your lips and letting guests see your food as you chew it is the best way to eat.
Prof Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist, claims this method maximizes flavor and squeezes as much enjoyment out of a mouthful as possible.
The academic now wants Britons to embrace a more uncouth and hedonistic approach to dinner time and abandon all sense of decorum and sensibility.
“We’ve been doing it all wrong,” he said.
“Parents instill manners in their children, extolling the virtues of politely chewing with our mouths closed.
“However, chewing open mouthed may actually help to release more of the volatile organic compounds, contributing to our sense of smell and the overall perception.”
Meat, fruit and vegetables all contain volatile organic compounds such as esters, ketones, terpenoids and aldehydes which make up a dish’s characteristic aromas and flavours.
And while the practice may repulse the rest of the people trying to eat their meal around the table, Prof Spence thinks it is worth it and that everyone should start adopting slack-jawed mastication because it helps more aromatic compounds reach the back of the nose, firing up the olfactory sensory neurons which heighten our experience of eating.
Noisy eaters have the right idea
The benefit of letting air into the mouth mid-gulp is well known for beer and wine tasting, but common etiquette has thus far meant that food has remained a tight-lipped sacred cow.
Prof Spence said: “When it comes to sound, we like noisy foods – think crunchy, crispy. Both crisps and apples are rated as more pleasurable when the sound of the crunch is amplified.
“To best hear the crunch of an apple, a potato crisp, a carrot stick, a cracker, crispbread or a handful of popcorn, we should always ditch our manners and chew with our mouths open.”
Prof Spence also insists we should ditch the silverware and use our hands as utensils, like cavemen did, because touch also plays a major part in how we enjoy what we eat.
“Our sense of touch is also vital in our perception of food on the palate,” he said.
“The research shows that what you feel in the hand can change or bring out certain aspects of the tasting experience.”
Fine dining embraces eating with hands
Prof Spence, who teaches at Somerville College, is leading a group of scientists looking at how our hearing, vision, touch, taste and smell affect our perceptions of the food we eat.
The research will also help us learn more about the brain and its functions.
He has previously worked with Heston Blumenthal, the celebrity chef, on the science behind his immersive dishes for his three Michelin star restaurant the Fat Duck.
And he has been enlisted by Pink Lady apples to learn more about how our food can be enhanced by engaging more of our senses while we eat.
“Michelin star restaurants like The Fat Duck and Noma in Copenhagen have experimented with a series of courses designed to be eaten with the hands,” he said.
“In fact, Mugaritz [the two-Michelin-starred restaurant in San Sebastian) went for a whole season without offering their guests cutlery.”
Fine dining aside, Prof Spence believes we can enhance our everyday snacks and food by feeling it while we eat it.
He said: “Feeling the smooth, organic texture of the skin of an apple in our hand before biting into it is likely to contribute to a heightened appreciation of the juicy, sweet crunch of that first bite.
“This can be extended to the feeling of grains of salt sticking to the fingers when eating French fries with our hands or the sugary residue of buttercream on a hand after picking up and biting into a slice of birthday cake.
“While licking fingers after eating with our hands is never encouraged in polite circles, research would suggest we ought to consider scrapping the etiquette for utmost sensory enjoyment.
“Or consider only how pleasant it can be to lick the bowl with your finger when making a cake mix at home.”