That Sounds Tasty
Sizzle, fizz, pop, crunch. Does the sound of food – while we’re preparing it, while we’re eating it – affect our perceptions of its taste? And how about the ambient sounds that surround us while we eat? Can playing this piece versus that song affect the degree to which we enjoy a carrot or a piece of cheese?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer with ambiance…
The candles are lit, the napkins tightly creased, the forks polished, tine by tine. As your stomach growls, you hear the sharp sizzle of your host throwing an unidentified food into a hot pan.
Ah. That telltale smell. It’s bacon. We know that the smell of the bacon (or doppelgänger fake-on) will enhance your eating experience, but what about the sound of it cooking? Does loud bacon taste better?
Yes, i) if you’re a bacon lover, and ii) there’s some left sizzling in the pan. Researchers find that people taste the bacon flavour more strongly if they are simultaneously listening to that signature sizzle.
It’s not just about the bacon. Open the window to the sound of clucking chickens, and you’ll taste more egg. If you’re into oysters – 🤕 – enhance your experience by listening to the sounds of the sea.
Abraham Mignon. Still Life with Fruit, Oysters, and a Porcelain Bowl. ~ 1660 – 1679
Enter the world of junk food: Massimiliano Zampini of the University of Trento, and Charles Spence of Oxford University find that snackers rate their potato chips as more crispy if their crunching sounds are amplified on their headphones.
Some of our food-sound connections are pretty niche. Subjects, for instance, tend to naturally link sour foods – vinegar, lemon – with higher pitches, and bitter foods – coffee and dark chocolate – with lower pitches. Researchers Crisinel and Spence find that people are more likely to pair sweet tastes with piano sounds, and sour tastes with brass instruments..
And what about the wine that sommeliers pour so carefully into our glasses. Can the surrounding sounds affect our palates?
Edinburgh researcher Adrian North – from Heriot Watt University – finds that people’s wine experiences can be heightened with different music. North had participants try two types of wine – a white Chardonnay and a red Cabernet Sauvignon – while listening to one of four ‘types’ of music:
i. Carmina Burana by Orff – powerful and heavy
ii. Waltz of the Flowers by Tchaikovsky – subtle and refined
iii. Just Can’t Get Enough by Nouvelle Vague – zingy and refreshing
iv. Slow Breakdown by Michael Brook – mellow and soft
The music affected sipping perceptions for both types of wine.
When people hear the zingy Just Can’t Get Enough music they rate the wine as more ‘zingy.’ With the powerful and heavy Carmina Burana, they rate the wine as more ‘powerful and heavy’.
Bottom line: choose your dinner soundtrack wisely.
Header. Banquet Still Life. Abraham van Beyeren. 1667