Life’s two greatest pick-me-ups are undeniably chocolate and music. But did you know that music can actually act as a pick-me-up for chocolate and in turn impact the way you perceive its taste?
Prof. Charles Spence, an Experimental Food Psychologist and winner of the 2008 IgNoble, has been researching the oft abstract and curious association between specific sounds and tastes. In 2012, he tested the puzzling connection between pitch and test. Using a bitter sweet toffee made by Heston Blumenthal, his study found that the toffee was perceived as 10% more bitter while listening to low-pitched notes, and 10% sweeter when listening to higher-pitched music. Over the years, he has successfully replicated the results of his original study with people from across the globe.
In a related study, it was found that long legato flute notes make a piece of dark chocolate taste creamier while sharp staccato violin notes make the same chocolate taste bitter.
While the effect is real, the underlying principle has remained a bit more elusive. According to Professor Charles Spence who led the study, “It seems we find it difficult to keep our experiences separated. What we feel about one thing carries over to influence what we think about others we experience at the same time.”
Felipe Reinoso Carvalho, a food scientist and psychologist at Vrije University Brussels, who was the first author of the study, and has also explored the impact of music on taste perception of beer, said it appeared the musical notes altered the perception of texture.
According to Carvalho, “It is not in the scope of taste anymore, it is in the scope of flavours. Creaminess is related to consonant harmonics, legato and reverberation. Roughness is an opposite auditory universe.”
Replicating the experience in a restaurant is certainly challenging when everyone is eating a different course at a different time.
But it certainly gives a way forward to restaurants and chefs to consider the sonic aspects of eating and drinking by playing carefully considered, well-thought out music so we can get something out of the experience.