Want To Enhance The Flavor Of Your Food? Put On The Right Music
ARUN RATH, HOST:
I'd like you to stop what you're doing and take a bite of food. Don't crash your car or anything. But right now, whatever you have handy, bite into something and start chewing.
RATH: So does that taste any different now, maybe? How about now?
RATH: Researchers at the University of Oxford had been looking for a link between sound and taste. They found that higher-pitched music, like flutes, enhances the flavor of sweet or sour foods, while lower-pitched sounds, like tubas, enhance the bitter flavors. Charles Spence is leading that study. He joined us by Skype to explain his team's research into what they call multi-sensory food perception.
CHARLES SPENCE: I suppose flavor is probably one of the most multi-sensory of our experiences - or our everyday experiences - because it does involve taste and more smell than we realize. But all the senses come together to kind of give us that one unified experience of flavor.
RATH: So some of the things you've done in your research, the connections with taste, say, smell and even how things look, that makes a sort of intuitive sense. But I was really surprised to hear there was a link between taste and hearing.
SPENCE: That's right. Now, the (unintelligible) can be everything from kind of the crunch of your crisp or the crackle of your crackling, the - kind of the carbonation of your Cava. All of the things we think of as kind of the texture of foods are actually being experienced as much by the sounds we hear. What's even more surprising, I think, is that the sounds in the environment in which we eat and drink have an impact too. And that could be everything from, you know, listening to the sounds of the sea maybe enhancing the taste of the seafood that you might eat - foods that we're working on a lot at the moment and it's very exciting to us is it's kind of the synesthetic sound. So we find that when we give people sweet tastes to try or bitter tastes that they all normally match those tastes with different sounds, so sweet tastes seem to make people think more of high-pitched sounds. You know, the sound of piano, say...
SPENCE: ...whereas bitter-tasting foods tend to make people think of lower-pitched sounds or more like brassy instruments seem to kind of correspondent or go together with bitter tastes.
SPENCE: You can then start kind of creating experiences where you play particular kinds of music or soundscape to diners or to drinkers while they're tasting, and we're able to show that we could change the experience in mouth by about 5 or 10 percent.
RATH: I understand you worked with British Airways on something called Sonic Seasoning.
SPENCE: That's right. So we kind of first take participants, give them a whole range of tastes and flavors to try out. From there we kind of take the results to composers or to sound designers and turn them into kind of pleasant sounding things that you might want to listen to while eating or drinking.
RATH: Could you give us an example of one of those pairings?
SPENCE: A dark chocolate or a coffee-tasting dessert, then something like a Pavarotti "Nessun Dorma," with kind of much more low-pitched sounds seem to be the perfect complement to help bring out those kind of bitter tastes in the dark chocolate or in the coffee.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NESSUN DORMA")
LUCIANO PAVAROTTI: (Singing in Italian).
RATH: But when he gets to the end of "Nessun Dorma" and goes up high, would that make the coffee taste worse?
SPENCE: (Laughter) So there are challenges, certainly. But if you find the right piece, you can find kind of the selection that will be fairly consistent, and so hopefully give it kind of a constant flavor.
RATH: Charles Spence leads a team at the University of Oxford investigating multi-sensory food perception. Professor Spence, thanks very much.
SPENCE: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NESSUN DORMA")
PAVAROTTI: (Singing in Italian).
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