When it comes to indulging in our favourite dishes, we tend to focus solely on the tantalising flavours and textures on offer. However, recent research has uncovered a hidden dimension of the dining experience: it appears that sound has the remarkable ability to influence the way we taste food.
People often pay through the nose for best-in-class flavours. In fact, it was only this week that we reported on a Sydney cafe selling a $1500 cup of coffee, and the infamous Salt Bae has been known to charge extortionate prices for his one-of-a-kind steak experience.
But what if we told you that there was a new way to enhance the flavour of everyday food and drink at no extra cost? Namely, by playing the right kind of music whilst you chow down on your favourite meals or beverages.
Several fascinating studies have been made into this area, most recently by Jack Daniel’s who – in the countdown to World Whisky Day – has just announced the release of a new super-premium whisky called Bonded which, through a combination of scientific research and artistic brilliance, has since been brought to life through sound.
WATCH: Jack Daniel’s has created an entirely new blend based on the sound-flavour connection.
After creating this brand-new blend, Jack Daniel’s worked alongside the award-winning Strings Musicians Australia to create a soundtrack specifically designed to enhance the flavours of their new drop according to scientific data from leaders in the field of sonic studies.
Drawing on research from the University of Oxford experimental psychologist Professor Charles Spence, the musicians were able to create music that used piano, cello and violin to evoke the flavours of caramel, oak and spice that run through the Bonded blend by up to 10%:
“A whisky like Jack Daniel’s Bonded has such big, bold flavours… I wanted to see if we could make them dance.”Professor Charles Spence, University of Oxford
The power of sound isn’t limited to whisky alone, however: An earlier study investigated the relationship between sound and our perception of food texture by placing subjects in sound-attenuated booths and giving each a single Pringle potato chip to chew on. A microphone recorded their chewing sounds which were then played back to the participants through headphones but with carefully modified sound signals.
Their findings? That the sounds we hear while biting into food can significantly alter our assessment of its crispness and freshness. Potato chips, for instance, were perceived as crisper and fresher when the chewing sounds were amplified, made louder, sharper, and with higher frequencies.
But why does sound have such an extraordinary impact on our perception of food? It appears that specific musical elements – such as loudness, low or high frequencies, and tempo – have the power to influence our sense of taste, with exciting possibilities for the culinary world…
Finnair was one of the first travel businesses to recognise that air pressure, humidity levels, and cabin noise can similarly alter our sense of taste. In an effort to counterbalance these, they created high-frequency soundscapes which could enhance specific flavours while diminishing others during in-flight meals.
Sound doesn’t solely impact our dining experiences at 35,000 feet; it also has a profound effect on our more down-to-earth meals. Research has also revealed that loud background music in restaurants can dampen our perception of salty and sweet flavours. In essence, the intensity of the sounds acts as a distractor, diverting our attention away from the food.
Moreover, certain sounds are implicitly associated with particular food tastes: low-pitched sounds align with bitter and salty flavours, while high-pitched sounds are linked to sweet and sour tastes. Following these discoveries, high-end restaurants have begun to curate sonic experiences alongside their food, with The Fat Duck’s immersive Sound Of The Sea experience being a prime example.
Clearly, there’s a lot more to taste than taste alone, and we encourage you to explore this further in your day-to-day life. However: does this mean you can wear your AirPods next time you’re summoned for dinner at Mum and Dad’s? No, it does not.