We all know that our sense of taste plays a huge role in how we perceive food, but did you know that our sense of hearing can also have a significant impact on our experience of flavor? The science behind how sounds and music affect the way we perceive food is truly fascinating.
Recent studies have shown that the sounds we hear while eating can influence our perception of sweetness, saltiness, and overall taste. For example, the sound of a crunch when biting into a crisp apple can enhance the perception of its sweetness. Similarly, the sound of a sizzle when biting into a hot and juicy steak can enhance the perception of its savoriness. These sounds, known as “oral-somatosensory,” are able to stimulate the brain in a way that enhances the overall taste experience.
But it’s not just the sounds of food that can affect our perception of flavor. Background music can also play a role. A systematic review of research literature by Oxford professor Charles Spence found that individuals tended to rate a sweet drink as sweeter and more pleasant when they were listening to happy, upbeat music, while they rated the same drink as less sweet and less pleasant when they were listening to sad, slow music. Spence discovered similar results in wine tasting, noting that “the change and fluctuations of musical parameters (such as tempo, musical mode, and timbre) specifically altered the perception of a wine’s taste (particularly sweetness and bitterness) and smell (i.e., which scent of the wine’s bouquet emerged the most).”
The tempo and volume of music can also affect our perception of food. Fast-paced music is found to increase our perception of sweetness and saltiness, while slower jams have the opposite effect. Similarly, louder music is found to increase our perception of sweetness and saltiness, while softer music has the opposite effect.
But why does this happen? It is believed that the emotional state triggered by the music we hear plays a role in how we perceive food. Happy and upbeat music can make us feel more positive and relaxed, which in turn can make food taste sweeter and more pleasant. On the other hand, sad and slow music can make us feel negative and stressed, which can make food taste less sweet and less pleasant.
Another theory is that the tempo and volume of music can affect our eating pace. Faster-tempo music and louder music can make us eat faster, which can increase our perception of sweetness and saltiness. Similarly, slower-tempo music and softer music can make us eat slower, which can decrease our perception of sweetness and saltiness.
Chefs around the world have begun to take note of these studies and incorporate audio as a part of the culinary experience(s) in their restaurants. The most well-known example of the same is a dish known as “The Sound of the Sea,” which was created by Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal with help from his Experimental Kitchen. The dish utilizes the science of sensory memories to enhance the flavor and experience of the food. The dish itself consists of sashimi, tapioca “sand,” and seafoam presented in a conch shell, along with an iPod preloaded with recordings of ocean waves and gulls chirping.
The sound evokes memories of being by the sea and adds to the perception of the freshness of the fish, as well as the overall emotional experience. This dish is a signature offering at The Fat Duck restaurant and has generated significant worldwide attention.
The science behind how sounds and music affect the way we perceive food is still being studied, but one thing is for sure: the relationship between sound and taste is complex and multi-dimensional. Restaurants and food manufacturers are starting to take notice of this phenomenon and are incorporating it into their businesses. Some restaurants play specific music to enhance the taste of their dishes, while food manufacturers are experimenting with packaging designs that contain QR codes that direct to songs or playlists that are meant to be played while the consumer relishes the product.
The integration of sound and music into the dining experience can have a significant impact on how we perceive food. From the ambient noise in a restaurant to the specific sounds paired with a dish, the audio environment can alter our perception of sweetness, saltiness, and overall taste. As our understanding of this relationship grows, it will be interesting to see how chefs and food manufacturers continue to utilize sound in their creations. The next time you cook a nice meal, take the time to pick a song you like to go with it; it might just change the way you perceive the dish.