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What’s driving your food obsession? Is it the colour of your spoon, the food your mum ate while pregnant, the trillions of bacteria that dine with you, or the little known ‘second brain’ in your gut?

What’s driving your food obsession? Is it the colour of your spoon, the food your mum ate while pregnant, the trillions of bacteria that dine with you, or the little known ‘second brain’ in your gut?

The answers to these questions and more can be found in Cravings: Can Your Food Control You?, a new exhibition which looks at how your appetite is shaped by food, from the flavours you learned to love in the womb to the very next bite you take.

In the exhibition you can discover how scientists and chefs are manipulating our senses to make food seem healthier and tastier. Quirky dining utensils that use colour, material and shape to trick our sense of taste are on display (see them in action here), alongside art-inspired food such as ‘Salad with a Taste of Kandinsky’, created by scientists and chefs to help understand how the brain creates the perception of taste and flavour.

Salad with a taste of Kandinsky. Credit Bottletop / Science Museum.
Salad with a taste of Kandinsky. Credit Bottletop / Science Museum.

Are squares spicier than circles? Can music make a dish taste better? By answering these questions in a unique online science experiment in the exhibition you can help chef Heston Blumenthal and Prof Charles Spence at Oxford University understand how our senses influence food cravings (click here to take part).

As Heston explains, “Think about the most memorable meal you’ve ever had. It’s not just the food you remember. Eating is a multi-sensory experience that can shape your appetite for life.”

Guests at the Cravings press preview watched as BBC Breakfast broadcast live from the Cravings exhibition to 7 million viewers, with stories from the exhibition featured in the GuardianNewsweekThe IndependentRadio 4’s Today programme and on BBC News.

BBC Breakfast broadcasting live from the Cravings exhibition. Credit: Science Museum
BBC Breakfast broadcasting live from the Cravings exhibition. Credit: Science Museum

Jean M. Franczyk, the Science Museum’s Deputy Director, welcomed guests to the press preview, remarking that, ‘You don’t need me to tell you that food has an increasing grip on the nation – whether it’s eating out at trendy restaurants, staying in to watch Great British Bake Off on TV or public discourse about obesity. Yet little is known about our cravings. What drives us to take that extra bite, or reach for another helping of breakfast? Our fabulous Cravings exhibition brings together the latest scientific research on food and appetite with personal stories and fascinating objects to explore these questions and many more.’

Chef Heston Blumenthal made a special appearance at the press preview via video and the exhibition was officially opened by Prof Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, who said, ‘I think this exhibition shows the relationship with our weight and food wonderfully. What Ling has managed to do with her colleagues is bring new science and technology together, revealing how the food we all eat shapes our appetite throughout life, from the very beginnings as an embryo.’

Ling Lee, Project leader for the Cravings exhibition, explained more, ‘Everything you’ve ever eaten, and will eat, leaves a stamp on you. Through the latest scientific research on appetite, Cravings reveals the inner workings of our brain, gut brain and gut bacteria and – more importantly – how all three work together to regulate our eating habits.’

An artificial gut developed by scientists at the University of Reading. Credit: Science Museum.
An artificial gut developed by scientists at the University of Reading. Credit: Science Museum.

When you eat, 100 trillion gut bacteria dine with you, and their response to food has a big effect on your appetite. Cravings delves inside the hidden world of these gut bacteria and your second ‘gut’ brain – millions of nerve cells embedded in the gut wall – which can make you feel hungry, full or even crave certain foods. In the exhibition you can see an artificial gut used by scientists to study gut bacteria and discover how NASA are studying how gut bacteria behave in space and on Earth thanks to astronaut twins Scott and Mark Kelly.

Cravings: Can Your Food Control You? is generously supported by GSK (Major Sponsor) and Danone (Associate Sponsor), with additional support from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council. The exhibition is free and is open until January 2016. For more information visit sciencemuseum.org.uk/cravings.