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Sound found to affect taste perception

Researchers at Oxford University have found that high-pitched music enhances the flavour of sweet and sour foods, while low-pitched sounds enhances bitter flavours.

“Sound of the Sea” at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, where diners listen to a recording of the ocean while eating the seafood dish to enhance the overall flavour experience. Photo credit: Star Chefs

As reported by National Public Radio, professor Charles Spence is leading the study in “multi-sensory food perception.”

“Flavour is probably one of the most multi-sensory of our experiences because it involves taste and smell more than we realise,” Spence told NPR.

“All of the senses come together to give us that one unified experience of flavour,” he added.

Spence believes sound plays into taste perception via the texture of foods. “Think of the crackling of chips or the fizzy sounds of a carbonated drink – sound plays a major role in our experience of those textures,” he told NPR.

The sounds in your dining environment can also influence taste perception according to Spence, such as eating fish while by the seaside.

Spence is currently working on “synesthetic sounds” – matching flavours with certain sounds that will enhance the overall taste experience.

“You can create experiences where you play particular kinds of music to diners or to drinkers while they’re tasting,” said Spence, who claims to be able to alter the flavour experience “by about 5-10%”.

Spence and his team are also exploring the idea of “sonic seasoning”, where sound designers can craft sound experiences to match what diners are eating.

“With a dark chocolate or coffee dessert, something like Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma is the perfect complement to help bring out the bitter tastes in the dark chocolate or the coffee,” Spence revealed.

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