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Gustatory-visual synesthesia

Its different subtypes are taste-colour and taste-shape


Gustatory-visual is not a particularly common type of synesthesia (it is reported by just under 6% of synesthetes, according to Sean Day's study on prevalence), but it is definitely one of the most interesting. It has two main concurrents, colour and shape, and a synesthete may experience either just one of these or both of them together. (Find out more information on each specific type on the pages about taste-colour and taste-shape). Some people actually see the shapes or colours physically in front of them on tasting a food or drink (projector synesthetes, clearly a minority), while associator synesthetes only see them in the mind’s eye.

                                              
"What a strawberry tastes like" 
by CyrusofChaos in this post in Reddit/Synesthesia

However, in gustatory-visual synesthesia the visual aspect isn’t everything. The people who have it usually say that it also has a strong proprioceptive or tactile component: the shapes are felt in a particular part of their mouth or in other parts of the body (hands, arms, chest etc.), or in a spatial location close to the body. It is also common for them to have movement: the shape or colour might turn, shake, rotate or travel in a certain direction (upwards, backwards, diagonally, etc.). Another common aspect of gustatory-visual synesthesia is that it has a major emotional component.


For some people the flavours triggering photisms are reduced to all-encompassing categories such as sweet, savoury or bitter, while for others each nuance of every specific taste evokes its own corresponding colour, shape or movement, which then combine. In this case there are always commonalities between groups of similar flavours, but the photism associated with each taste is unique. The shapes and colours may be simple or they may be highly complex.


It appears that many synesthetes who have visual concurrents triggered by tastes also have them triggered by smells (olfactory-visual synesthesia).


Here are some descriptions written by people with this type of synesthesia:


“Flavors for me takes on certain colors and shapes, but not necessarily “traditional shapes”. Like, almost more of a line that curves, spikes, dips, and flattens based on the flavor profile? And then different areas under and around it are shaded different with more than one color.”

(Source: This comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)


Artichokes with ham. That’s a typical tapa here in Spain. When the artichokes are just right (they have to be at the exact temperature, otherwise I get nothing) they’re a series of airy cylinders turning, just to my left, on a level with my face and at just a short distance from me. It’s fantastic, it makes me happy. And then the serrano ham zaps across the same space with thin red diagonal lines.

I know why beer and strawberries go so well together: they have a really similar shape, but the movement of the beer is upwards and the movement of the strawberries is downwards. They complement each other perfectly!

Sushi and sushi maki send me out on a flight upwards and backwards on a big flat black rectangle behind me, very light and weightless. It’s like the ecstasy of flying. I can’t speak or listen when I eat a piece of sushi, I flap my hands like I’m flying and no one understands me. At first I thought everyone experienced the same thing but just didn’t express it as enthusiastically as me. Turned out I was wrong.”

(Source: Pau 365, my own experience.)


“Sweet tastes are rounded. (…) Sour tastes are white, and the sourer the flavour the sharper and thinner the forms are (more pronounced spikes). (…) The taste of an orange, as you can see in the picture, is very similar to the colour of a real orange, and that makes it more appetising to me (the same goes for apples!).

Another food I love (…) is lemon, and as you know some lemons are sourer than others. In this picture I’ve shown the different nuances its taste can have.

(Source: the blog Expresión Mínima, 2009. Original in Spanish.)

Ratatouille

Although he’s only a fictional character, Rémy the rat, who stars in the animated film Ratatouille (2006), has gustatory-visual synesthesia. The animation of his reactions to the taste of cheese and strawberries was commissioned to the synesthetic artist and musician Michel Gagné, who doesn’t have this particular type of synesthesia but understood very well what was needed, and the result is perfectly recognisable as taste-to-colour/shape synesthesia. Michel Gagné has done other animation videos representing his own music-based synesthesia and he’s also depicted the shapes and colours he sees with his silent migraines (painless migraines that produce a strong visual experience, not a type of synesthesia but similar to it in some aspects).

                                         

More about Michel Gagné, synesthesia and Ratatouille here and here


More information and examples of gustatory-visual synesthesia on the pages about taste-colour and taste-shape:

Go to the page on taste-colour synesthesia

Go to the page on taste-shape synesthesia

Other gustatory synesthesias:

Gustatory-tactile synesthesia (taste-touch sensations)

Gustatory-auditory synesthesia (taste-sound)


Go to the page on olfactory-visual synesthesia (smell-vision)


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