Season food with your mind!

Recipes for the brain with a sensory food designer

LLaila Snevele header yes
Savour the flavour of the future

Fancy some digital seasoning? Laila Snevele believes that the key to developing a passion for food lies in experiencing it with all our senses – welcome to the Sensoverse!

In TOPIA series My World of Good, revolutionaries imagine better

I see our senses as a free resource
that we are not using the full potential of.

Laila Snevele

The audible crackle of a crusty bread as it is torn apart. The sight of fiery red chilli pepper. Steam rising from a bowl of hot soup. The visible layers in a decadent chocolate cake. Food is the ultimate immersive experience. But Laila Snevele knows that taste is not just about what’s on your tongue; it’s about the magic that happens in your mind.

The food designer, who is based in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, likes to play with her food to tantalise us. She firmly believes that the key to developing a genuine love for food lies in exploring it with all our senses.

Tulip cones: Soft and crunchy. Best enjoyed with your nose and ears.

Our taste buds detect five primary tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. However, our perception of taste goes beyond the stimulation of receptors. Colour, shape, texture, temperature, aroma – and even sound – play into our understanding. Plus, our relationship with food is also deeply rooted in our cultural, social and personal experiences. Using all your senses unlocks a world of gastronomic delights.

Snevele’s meticulously crafted projects explore the perception of food through multisensorial research. Using the right sensory input, she transforms mere eating into an immersive culinary journey that triggers emotions, creates lasting memories and can transport us across diverse cultures. “I see our senses as a free resource that we are not using the full potential of,” she tells me. “My goal is to show how our brain can be used to season our food.”

Often sought after by companies looking for speculative or realistic future scenarios of products, the designer has been playing with her food professionally since 2018. The project that kicked it all off was called Digital Seasoning. She discovered that a series of 3D visual digitalisations of facial expressions portraying the five basic tastes could stimulate flavour in the taste buds.

“Multisensory tools can create a desired taste sensation in the brain,” explains Snevele. “Our mind creates taste expectations before food even reaches the mouth. Something soft, red and round would be perceived as sweeter, blue decreases appetite and looking at someone eating a lemon evokes sourness.”

The application of this project could disrupt the food industry, leading to a reduction in additives such as salt, MSG and sugar in processed foods. Snevele’s projects also ask important questions about overconsumption and wasteful packaging: What are we actually consuming today? How much is it about food instead of eye-catching packaging? Where is marketing leading our preferences?

More recently, Snevele has been delving into AI’s potential for gastronomy and is currently working on a new project, which will be called Sensoverse. “I am preparing for a sensory future where it’s not only your favourite food that can be experienced with all your senses but perhaps also your favourite pair of jeans, your car or even your home.” 

For TOPIA series My World of Good, we asked Laila Snevele to create her recipe for a better tomorrow – one that is more mindful, sensory and tasty.

Laila Snevele: In My World of Good…

1. There is time to stop and smell the flowers

A lovely starting point for a better world would be people simply being mindful. If you can take a moment out of your daily rush to reach for a lilac, touch a leaf, see how orange the sun is setting or bite into fresh fruit, your happiness level will rise like a mushroom after the rain.

Nature is my happy place; anywhere outside of the city where smells are intense, the air is crisp and nature touches my feet. With mindfulness comes benefits, like peace, health and social wellbeing. I would love to create mindful education and protect resources and human senses that allow us to experience the world fully. We must see, hear, smell, taste and feel.

2. There is less noise

Aggressive advertising has had a dramatic impact on health. Today more than 39% of the world population are overweight. Our society has lost the control over its food consumption. In my ideal world, there would be no TV. We are exposed to so much information, we must be critical about the amount of noise we let in. But there is a tipping point of being selective and ignorant.

Hiding from the noise!

3. We save the world from AI

With the fast developments of AI, it seems like we have no idea where we will really be five years from now. Everyone needs to listen to this amazing podcast with Steven Bartlett and Mo Gawdat, who is the former chief business officer for Google X. It is thought provoking, rich and honest.

4. We know what’s in our food

How much do we know about our food? And how did food companies gain so much trust from us? I’m interested in how our brain puts together information of what’s expected compared to creating details from scratch. A good friend of mine is allergic to eggs, so I made The Perfect Egg to capture her emotions, feelings and questions. Sunny side up, it looks and smells like an egg, yet it’s made from vegetables. The “egg” becomes a field of research.

I feel I am still an egg, developing, building strength, dreaming and preparing to hatch into something we all will want to see, hear, smell, taste and touch! But overall my goal is to keep exploring futures where human senses take the lead.

5. Humans understand our emotions

Everyone needs to read How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. Lisa Feldman Barrett explains the latest science which breaks down how our brain works for those who are fascinated in understanding themselves better.

6. And why we eat what we eat

Today real food is losing it’s flavour due to overproduction and fast growth recipes. Your tomato salad today needs a good amount of salad dressing and a plain chicken tastes like a dry sponge. The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker is a really interesting read on how food has changed in today’s world for anyone who gets their food at a grocery store.

This book inspired my Sensory Tablewear project that looks at alternative ways to season our meals by activating our senses while eating.

7. Citizens get to see Earth from space

I wish everyone, including myself, could have this opportunity. I think it’s the most beautiful, simply complex object we should be able to appreciate from a distance as well as up close. I could re-watch the movie Interstellar over and over again.

8. Everyone has watched Into the wild

Like Interstellar, Into the Wild shows the power of nature and time and, interestingly, how much we know, how much we think we know and how much we could know. It is a beautiful and inspiring movie about our survival.

9. I get to collaborate with more legends!

In an ideal world, I would love to work with Michelin star chef Vladimir Mukhin, experimental psychologist Professor Charles Spence, chef Rasmus Munk and chef Ferran Adria on one big culinary collaboration.

It was a great honour and dream come true to collaborate with Mukhin on Condiment Mayo (he’s so inspirational, daring and passionate). We recreated a ‘mayo experience’ with a fat-free wobbly visual you can taste. You can even hear it in your mouth.

I also did a food design talk for Goethe institute Amman with Spence – who is the father of gastrophysics and the world-leading expert in sensory science. I was crazy nervous.

10. We aren’t afraid to fail

I don’t talk about this much, but I used to fail a lot. School provided me with a ‘safe’ space for failing and taught me you can learn so much more if you fail fast. We hear this often in the self help world, but it is true. Fail, reflect, learn and move on.

11. I would be good with words

I struggle with expressing my thoughts through words, but maybe I have found a way to translate feelings through my sensory visuals.

12. I get to garden every day

How ideal it is to have soil under your nails! My ideal future would involve living in a house with a studio and garden for fresh vegetables and fruit trees, near the water; inviting people for cooking, eating, chatting, inspiring each other – and just being.

In ten years, I will be in my dream house somewhere in nature, inviting you for a meal and inspiring sensory experience.

13. People are their best self

After graduating Design Academy Eindhoven, I found I was just another designer in the large pool of designers. It took time to figure out what I was good at, curious about and would love to do – that would also bring change. Sensory food design combined all of this. I will shortly mark five years since the start of my studio; my happy place to think and dream. To celebrate, I’m gifting myself time to reflect on what’s next. We are all trying to understand ourselves, why are we here, call it our purpose or passion. While I’m here, I’m trying to be my best self.

14. I am remembered for being the sensory girl

I would love to be remembered as the sensory girl who led to an amazing new way of being with her strange experiments and ideas. If I could have one thing named after me it would be a discovery of a new possible sensory connection in our brain. Or a method of a sensory living… like ‘Lailism’!

Laila’s tips of Good people to follow

1 – @rasmusmunkalchemist – Danish chef behind Alchemist known as Copenhagen’s chef provocateur
2 – @muhinvladimir – Michelin star chef behind Moscow’s The White Rabbit
3 – @elbullifoundation_ferranadria – Avant-garde chef from Catalonia who is a molecular gastronomy pioneer

What’s so good about this?

Sensory food design has the potential to transform our relationship with food, enhance dining experiences, foster creativity and contribute to our overall wellbeing. It can potentially encourage people to choose healthier options and make positive changes in their diets.

This story is part of a future-focused series with TOPIA and Futurity Systems that allows us to imagine better. Read all the features.


Meet the writer

Lisa Goldapple is the creative brain behind the world of TOPIA. The magazine’s Editor-in-chief has been creating shows for MTV, BBC, Vice, TVNZ, National Geographic and more since the noughties. Then created social good platform, Atlas of the Future. Today her desk faces the trippy side of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which might explain a few things. To understand how TOPIA came out of this rare brain, read ‘Mind Blown’. As she puts it: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope.”

Follow @lisagoldapple on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. (Open to freelance collaborations.)

Sign up for

A World of Good

Subscribe to our free fortnightly newsletter for a kaleidoscopic look at culture, nature and positive impact