Eating With Your Ears: How the Sound of Food Influences us

What’s the “music” of the food you eat? A number of recent scientific researches reval that the “sounds” of foods influence our perception of their flavor.

What if taste had a sound? The crunch of a potato chip when crunched, the crack of a carrot bitten, the fizz of a drink that has just been opened: the “sounds” of foods greatly influence our perception of their flavor. A number of recently published scientific researches have revealed such, which once again highlight how the perception of taste is a multi-sensory experience.

We already knew the different aspects and senses that influence taste: smell, of course, and then sight, touch – think, for example, of the material from which a glass is made, and sound: a study conducted last year revealed how shrill sounds are mainly associated with sour and acidic tastes, while those that are more “rounded” enhance sweetness and lower, more serious tones relate to that which is bitter and umami (having a pleasant, savory taste). Now we know that it is not only external sounds that alter the flavor of food. Actually, it is the sounds intrinsic to the food itself, peculiar to each bite, to change the nature of the perception that we have of it while we experience it in our mouth. Revealing this information is yet again Professor Charles Spence, the guru of multi-sensory food science, who serves as inspiration to master chefs and companies.

That sound is “the forgotten flavor sense”, says Spence. And the latest techniques developed in the field of cognitive neuroscience can demonstrate this. Crispy, crunchy and crackly are some of the terms that describe some of the most exciting sound-based experiences taking place under our palate, during the acts of biting and chewing. For example, what kind of taste would a French fry have without the noise it makes underneath our teeth? It is very probable that this simple and almost universally appreciated food would not have had quite the same worldwide success. One characteristic – crispiness – is used by the food advertising industry whenever possible. It is no coincidence: crispiness and pleasantness are highly correlated when it comes to classifying foods. Why? First and foremost, in fruits and vegetables crispiness equals freshness. And that sound, that inviting sound… And then there’s bacon: it has been proven that its sizzling, crunching sound and texture are just as important – if not more – than taste and smell in making it the favorite food of millions of Americans.

And it’s the kind of sound that makes the difference in our perception. Crispy and crunchy are not the same thing: the first describes a sound at a higher frequency made by the act of snapping (higher-pitched biting sounds), such as lettuce, for example, while the second describes lower frequency sounds like almonds and croutons. But there isn’t just crunchy and crispy. There is also the sound of the carbonation, what we hear when we hold up a fizzy drink. And the sound of creaminess: that is, when the cream in the coffee envelops the oral cavity, the mouth truly starts to produce a subtly different sound, because of the associated change in friction). It’s a sound that our brain associates with a languid creaminess.

In short, sound is a valuable source of information as regards the properties of the food we are eating, at least in terms of its texture, which is information that we process without even realizing it. Altering the sounds emitted during the act of eating thus changes the perception of the food we have in our mouth, and the experience of wonderful vital act as a whole.

Eating With Your Ears

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