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A Sensory Feast: How Audio Affects the Dining Experience

Leading on from our last blog in our Sensory Feast series, where we looked at how visuals can enrich the dining experience, today we will be delving into how audio affects our perception of flavour.

‘Sonic Seasoning’: can certain music and particular frequency pitches really alter the taste of food to such an extent that it might be able to partially replace salt and sugar in recipes? With big ice-cream brand, Ben & Jerry’s toying with the idea of releasing a sonic range of tubs that include QR codes for consumers to play around with a selection of complementary sounds and the Crossmodal Laboratory at Oxford University performing studies with very intriguing results, science suggests yes.

From verbal noise to ambient background music, the sounds you choose to surround your dining experience with should be chosen with care. Just as Studio William flatware enhances your interaction with your food, as opposed to low-quality utensils which can have a negative impact, sonic seasoning might just make or break a meal.

THE SOUND OF SEASONING

Modulating taste by playing with the senses is an incredible way to tweak flavour and one that has been gaining a lot of attention in the scientific world. Just as we discovered that visuals can have a huge impact on taste, in our blog ‘A Sensory Feast: How Visuals Enrich the Dining Experience’, audio plays a key role too.

Have you ever been in a loud, overcrowded restaurant and upon leaving, feel as though you can barely recall what you just ate? That’s not just down to being flustered – being overwhelmed with certain sounds does have the potential to actually dull flavours and others, to enhance them. Noise also has been shown to affect our perceptions of aroma and our expectations from food, which in turn leads to further altered flavours. However, that’s not to say that food is best enjoyed in silence, you just need to choose your soundtrack with caution.

With food critics worldwide commenting on noise levels in a restaurant right there alongside reviews of the food itself, sticking on any old album to accompany a dinner party is a serious culinary faux pas! It’s time to consider your audio contributions if you want to wow your guests…

ENHANCING SWEET FLAVOURS…

  • Higher pitched music makes for a sweeter meal, so choose the background music the time you serve your dessert wisely.
  • Loud noise or music (80Db or above – the noise level of city traffic) often leaves us enjoying sweet foods more, theoretically due to a stress response within the body, however, it does not necessarily make sweet flavours more apparent. When there is a combination of flavours and you are aiming to bring the sweetness out, low background noise (moderate conversation or a moderate rain shower) is preferable.
  • Soft foods are associated with sweetness, so the ‘hearing’ the silence of putting a spoon into whipped cream or cutting through a velvety cake invites us to expect a sweet taste.

ENHANCING SALTY FLAVOURS…

  • We expect crunchy foods to be either fresh or salty, depending on the appearance of the item in question. Allowing the dining to hear an audible crunch enhances the perception of salt. Add a perceived salty contrast with a few crunchy elements, such as pecans on a pecan pie.

ENHANCING BITTER FLAVOURS…

  • Low-pitched sounds bring out the bitter taste in food.

TO ENHANCE UMAMI FLAVOURS…

  • Unami (or savoury) taste is the only one that is enhanced by very loud noise, whereas all other tastes are suppressed. This is why the Bloody Mary is the most frequently ordered drink on aeroplanes – it literally tastes better.

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