In India, it has been a tradition to eat food with (washed) bare hands instead of using a knife, fork, spoon or chopsticks. Family and relatives re-iterate that it's tastier to eat with bare hands.
Is this just a placebo effect or is there a scientific reason?
Some sources on the internet are this:
Indian mothers like to feed their babies by hand. And there is really nothing in the world as tasty as a ball of food fed to you at any age by your mother. Its composition is perfectly and instinctively calibrated by her fingers — a precise combination of rice and sambar, or stir-fried plantain and a couple flecks of papadom. And, of course, lots of ghee.
My mom once explained to my teenage self that the secret was biochemical: The subtle oils of her fingers imparted some sort of alchemy to the little sphere — a pheromonal cocktail, I suppose — that would only fully blossom in the mouth of her offspring. Others would just call it maternal love.
First, there is a placebo effect. For the Westerner/outsider, eating with your fingers seems exotic. For (many, not all) South Asians, eating with your fingers brings back memories of family and comfort foods.
Second, your fingers are highly versatile and they are often the best implements for consuming these foods and blending together spices, condiments, and foodstuffs themselves. There is a reason why humans evolved fingers rather than forks.
Third, and how shall I put this? A lot of South Indian food is vegetarian and eating with your fingers adds flavors of…meat. The fleshy sort.
Eating with our hands, she says, makes us more aware of what we are eating, and keeps eating from being a mindless chore.
If we had to consider taste, I'd assume it's either:
1. The oils on our hand (too less to make a difference)
2. Or the salt/perspiration (too less to make a difference)
3. Or the dead skin cells that get rubbed off our palm (yuck, but this is just in humour)
Personally, I've not noticed any difference in taste, except that when putting rice+curry into ones mouth, one ends up tasting ones fingers, whereas in the other case, you end up tasting a metallic/wooden spoon/fork.
So is there any real justifiable reason to the claim of better taste?
p.s.: For example, cooking fish with kodampuli is said to end up with a different taste when cooked in an earthen pot, because the kodampuli is said to have chemicals that react with the pot and produce a unique taste which you won't get if cooked in an Aluminium vessel. Could there be some similar logic with eating food with bare hands?