The Sense of Cocoa

Fighting taste loss through synesthesia experiments

Dysgeusia makes food taste differently: sometimes metallic, sometimes acid, and sometimes with no flavour at all. Since this condition has no other effect besides compromising the sense of taste, it hardly gets any attention. It took a chef – the Michelin-starred pastry chef Jordi Roca – to ask the question: can we make people feel the taste of chocolate even if they can't taste its flavour? Yes, we can, through data, technology, and emotions.

Dysgeusia is a word used to describe the distortions affecting the sense of taste. About 17% of the population suffers from it – some of them are cancer patients going through chemotherapy. 

In pursuit of the lost ability to taste chocolate

Teaming up with Jordi Roca and a group of neuroscientists and neuro-gastronomy experts, we designed and created an immersive experience with the challenge to make 7 patients suffering from dysgeusia recover the ability to taste chocolate. Starting from their first memories with cocoa, we created a personalized path for each person that combined stimuli especially prepared to evoke sensorial capabilities. Patients would enter an individual cabin in which sensorial visual projections, musical pitches, and storytelling were used to raise their reception sensors to the top. With their senses at the maximum level, they tasted a pastry made by the chef.

Each and every stimulus used in our experience derived from clinical and emotional interviews, and in order to make this data visible we prepared an editorial booklet of the experience. We crafted watercolour maps for each patient, to visualise the relation between clinical diagnostics – the level of sensorial abilities of each patient – and emotional background – their individual memories related to cocoa, to help understand how we all create our own sense of chocolate, and how it's different for each and every one of us. The booklet also includes the original recipe created by Jordi Roca especially for them. 

Some prestigious international media such as The Times or Reuters echoed this story. A documentary short film about famous chef Jordi Roca’s journey to make taste related health conditions visible that includes this project was directed by Alberto Utrera, winning the audience’s award at the 23rd Malaga Film Festival 2020.

The Sense of Cocoa

Which senses are able to evoke more memories for you?

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