Reporting, classifying, experiencing and expressing taste-to-shape synesthesia.

A transcription of Pau's presentation at the UKSA/ASA Synesthesia Conference, Oxford University (UK), 10 May 2024

Photo: Ninghui Xiong

Watch the video of the presentation here.

My presentation’s about having taste-shape synesthesia, and about a little project, called Dancing Tastes in Spain (Seville, which is where I'm based).

Taste-shape is when you taste a food or drink and you perceive geometric figures or something similar to that, basically, and these perceptions are more than shapes, because they also have size, colour, texture, attitude, position, movement, rhythm, direction, repetition, replication and emotion.

It can be called gustatory-visual synesthesia, or gustatory-tactile. They’re usually listed as two different types and some synesthetes can have only one of them, but a lot of taste-shape synesthetes report having both, or something that is visual and tactile at the same time, and also much more than that, which is what I’m going to talk about. The perceptions are proprioceptive, so it seems to form part of you, and it creates an emotional experience.

First I’ll show you part of my project.

I think practically all those sensations (size, colour, texture, attitude, position, movement, rhythm, direction, repetition, replication and emotion) can be expressed and communicated by dance.

I was already doing this spontaneously before I knew what synesthesia was, or that I had it. Whenever I went to a Japanese restaurant with my friends, when I ate sushi or maki I always did this little dance because of this very strong feeling that you’re being lifted up off the ground by a thin shape behind you, it’s as if you have wings, and that creates euphoria. And I thought everybody else was experiencing the same thing but they just weren’t expressing it, or maybe they had a sense of the ridiculous that I don’t seem to have developed yet. But it turns out the other people were not having the same experience at all.

So there’s two 2-minute videos, one now, and one at the end, which will also show you more of Seville.

Disclaimer!!! This video is for entertainment purposes only. Any resemblance to a person who actually knows how to dance is purely coincidental.

VIDEO I   (Watch this 2-minute video here)


There are 5 points I’d like to talk about:

1.    The Man who tasted shapes

2.    About taste-shape

3.    How does it feel? Is it tactile? Is it visual?

4.    Childhood

5.    Expressing taste-shape



This is a book by Richard E. Cytowic, which most of you are already familiar with. It’s a very important book for us, written in the early 1990s when there hadn’t been much literature on synesthesia for decades and the scientific community was still rather wary of it, because of its subjective nature. So this book was the first of its time that went into depth with the subject, it was finally taken seriously and it launched the current period of serious scientific study.

It’s about the author’s friend Michael, who has taste-shape synesthesia. He tends more towards tactile than visual, or it’s presented very much in the book as almost exclusively tactile, although it’s clearly both. This is how Michael experienced it:

“He felt and sometimes saw geometric shapes (…) He felt some shapes, like points, throughout his whole body. Other (…) shapes were (…) felt in his face, hands, and shoulders. What intrigued me the most was Michael’s sense of grasping the shape, fingering its texture, or sensing its weight and temperature.

He liked to cook (…) and to create a dish with an “interesting shape”. Sugar made things taste “rounder”, while citrus added “points” to the food. He adjusted other seasonings to “make the lines steeper”, to “sharpen up the corners”, or to “make the surface stretch further back”.

I read the book when I didn’t know I had this type of synesthesia yet, and I just thought “Well that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Everyone knows that!” I didn’t realise I had it too! Michael just seemed a bit more “God level”, like he saw five or six columns and I only saw one, so mine doesn’t count. And I think that’s something that’s happened to all of us synesthetes, it is difficult for us to realise or believe that we are experiencing something different. I didn’t link it with my strong experiences in childhood, and I thought the weaker experiences didn’t count, or I didn’t even notice them. That came later on, because focusing on your synesthesia can really enhance it.


Taste-shape, or taste-to-shape, is perhaps a better name for it than gustatory-visual or gustatory-tactile, because it tends to be a combination of both. It’s not a very common type. Maybe about 5% of synesthetes have it, although we don’t know exactly of course.

Inducers: well, eating and drinking basically. What synesthesia is all about is automatically categorising series or sequences of abstract concepts in your mind… and tastes are definitely an abstract concept. You can grasp a hamburger, but you can’t grasp its taste. Anyway each item in the sequence of taste experiences will then correspond to a particular colour, or shape, or position, or tactile sensation… different for each synesthete.

Some taste synesthetes have very few categories, and others have many. So some have a shape or colour for sweet, bitter, salty… just the basic elements. Others categorise by types of foods, so they might have a particular mapping for red meat, coffee, fish, chocolate, cheese (puuagh! sorry!), each with a distinctive concurrent, which would be similar for different types of chocolate, for example.

Other taste synesthetes – like my case – seem to have a lot more categories, because they are taste experiences, not foods, not elements. For me, an example is beer. Beer has different types, different brands, it’s bottled or draught, and the taste also depends on how long the bottle’s been open, and particularly if it’s cold or warm… so even if it’s the same beer, when those things vary the shapes are different. When the taste experience is identical, then it is very, very consistent. But the circumstances have to concur.

For me, what has always produced a strong synesthetic experience are exotic tastes. Unexpected, unknown. The more boring ones don’t hit you around the head like the exotic ones. So emotion can be part of the inducer. It’s also true that the first bite gives you a better experience.



Some people do always see it in front of them, with a lesser tactile component. If you’re more tactile, your memory of it is still visual.

Here are some descriptions of what it feels like:

“I experience a taste like a VR headset program, rather than just tasting a taste like a regular person.” (Pickleweede)

“Flavors have shapes that I can feel "in my soul". (Sandy Hester)

“It feels like being in love”. (Pau)

They are proprioceptive shapes. If they’re unpleasant it’s an invasive experience. If they are pleasant, they’re a very welcome addition to your body. Or they might be outside you, but you feel at one with them.

You can perceive two alternative realities at the same time. I get some strong shape experiences – like when I ate my first prawn, for example – sitting on my tongue, or somewhere in the mental space that I conceive to be my mouth. So a taste that makes a spherical shape in your mouth, in one reality it’s preventing you from closing your mouth, so you know your mouth is open, and in the other reality you know you’re eating with your mouth closed, so the two realities are superimposed. Another synesthete (SlapppppBassDoItNow) said that the piece of food could be on one part of your tongue while the feeling of the taste is on a different part of your tongue, for example.



Is the childhood of a taste-shape synesthete different? Yes, it can be. Because you don’t realise, and, particularly, the people who decide what you eat don’t realise how different your experience of taste might be. I like this comment made by another synesthete:

“I cannot swallow things that have weird shapes.” (IRLImaperson)

And when you can’t choose what you eat, that can be a big problem.

In my case I was physically incapable of swallowing many foods, because the experience was too bad. In the sixties there wasn’t much understanding about some people being more sensitive to taste than others, so my family and the school’s solution was total inflexibility, punishment at home and at school, so developing lying and faking strategies was the only way out... and disposing of their food in a creative manner (but I won’t tell you what I did with it, you don’t want to know!) But anyway it leads to fear, hunger, indifference to hunger, malnutrition... after years they finally gave in, and things improved. But these sensitivities also affect many children on the autism spectrum, who can’t cope with certain textures, and tastes, but there is much more knowledge now, and a brighter future for children who are different.



So the last point is: What artistic means can we use to express it?

I choose dancing but there are plenty of other ways.

Drawing, for example. But… well this depicts tiramisu, an incredible experience. But no-one could quite understand why this was so wonderful… anyway…

A good artist could draw it better, but I think there are many aspects that drawing can’t capture.

Painting does better, traditional or computer-generated, it’s more complete and adds colour.

Artificial intelligence is definitely worth exploring more. And it’s fun to type in your experience, refine it and sometimes it can get very close. 

But you can get even better results sometimes just by googling it. Your perception might even be for sale on Amazon. The green chipboard is so identical to a disgusting ice cream flavour experience… even the angle, everything…

Sculpture or 3D printing is good because it gets the texture, transparency, size, and the 3D aspect, although the movement and emotion are missing.

Video animation captures a lot of the dimensions. A great example is Michel Gagné for Ratatouille. The character adds the emotion here, which is the most difficult thing to capture.

And there could be immersive installation, or more ideas.

I like dance, as it captures a lot of the perceptions. It’s three-dimensional, it comes from you, from your body, where it’s all happening, and your facial expressions reveal emotion and attitude. It turns out that other people can see the logic in it, they wouldn’t have danced it themselves but they kind of understand it.

So, second two-minute video and we’ll finish.

DISCLAIMER: This video may contain traces of nuts!

VIDEO 2 (Watch this 2-minute video here)


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