How Sounds Influence The Way Foods Taste

It's no secret that sounds have a tremendous impact on the way we eat. We know the louder the background noise in a restaurant, the less likely we are to order healthy food options, and vice versa. We also know that listening to downtempo music makes us more likely to eat slowly (via Journal of Consumer Research). But what if sound could do more than just push us toward certain diet decisions? What if, for instance, hearing a certain song could actually make your ice cream taste sweeter? Or playing the sounds of ocean waves in your ear could make your kale taste as yummy as cookies?

The possibility of that happening might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. According to Quartz, there's a good amount of scientific evidence that suggests what we hear as we eat certain foods significantly influences how they taste to us. One study led by Dr. Charles Spence, a psychologist and professor at Oxford, demonstrated that people viewed the exact same chips as 15% fresher and crisper if they heard their crunch sounds played back to them at a louder volume while eating them (via The New Yorker). These findings point to what Spence calls "sonic seasoning," the idea that exposure to certain sounds while eating can make us more aware of certain textures and tastes without actually modifying the food itself. It also sort of explains why it's so darn difficult to stop and put the chips down once you start eating them. Nothing's more satisfying than a good crunch!

Low-frequency sounds enhance the bitterness, while high frequency sounds enhance sweetness

Other research into the sound-taste connection has found that certain types of external noise that have nothing to do with the food itself, such as background music, can intensify or minimize our ability to detect certain flavors (via Quartz). In one study, people who ate bittersweet toffee while listening to trombone noises thought what they were eating tasted more bitter, while those who ate it while listening to a high-pitched flute reported it was more sweet. Similar findings were confirmed with an experiment using chocolate (via Scientific American). As a result, scientists have been able to conclude that listening to high frequency sounds is likely to bring out sweetness in food, while low-frequency noises are more prone to highlight the bitterness.

This phenomenon isn't lost on restaurateurs and winemakers. In fact, some eateries and wineries now opt to play certain music with the hopes it will enhance the dining experience. Understandably, some evidence suggests we tend to enjoy our meals the most when we eat them while a song we actually like is playing (via PubMed). So if you're looking for the best sonic pairing for your dessert at home, it's probably already in your playlist! But if you need some inspiration, putting on a classic like Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" might just work as the perfect the cherry on top.