Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, relates to an study identifying music may trick the brain into thinking a flavour is more salty, sweet or sour than it actually is. The phenomenon has been dubbed ‘sonic seasoning’.
Playing certain music over dinner may allow one to decrease the amount of sugar in food, without changing the taste or allowing cooks to cut down on ingredients, whilst maintaining the food’s richness.
Spence goes on: “It [might] definitely work in the short term. You [may] make a dish appear up to 10 per cent sweeter or more salty through sounds, which [might] be big enough to have a health impact. You [may] prime the brain for sweetness by playing a high-pitched sound. Tempos and instruments do seem to matter. Simply by changing the environment, it [may] have a big impact on flavour.”
“In the future we may see companies creating sensory apps, which play while you are eating their product to alter the taste. In a way it’s all in our head, then again, so is taste. Perhaps you [might] think about reducing the sugar in food by changing the music in the background.”
Professor Spence first carried out experiments testing the relationship between sound and taste at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant three years ago. The experiment was made from a single trombone note, mixed with the rumble of car traffic through a tunnel and the sweet recording was from the reverb of a grand piano. The sounds associated with sweetness are high-pitched notes played by the piano, while acidic tastes are related to flatter-pitched notes played by brass instruments. This was used to stimulate the sensation of sweet and acidic. Spence concluded the diners believed cinder toffee tasted sweeter when listening to ‘sweet’ sounds.
This might be a particularly important study, following the increase in awareness about the health benefits of consuming more natural sugars from fruits, as opposed to sugar we know as sucrose and glucose. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is presently undergoing a state of transformation, as the scientific understanding of sugar develops and the food industry looks to decrease the amount of sugar in foods. Current regulations state 12 teaspoons of sugar a day is healthy, although there are calls to significantly decrease this number to six.
Professor Spence also says the phenomenon explains why air passengers commonly select a Bloody Mary or tomato juice when flying. The drinks strong ‘umami’ flavour is one of the only tastes which is able to be perceived over the sound of the engine’s noise. He explains: “It seem[s] to retain its taste much more than any other airline food and drink. It is probably why many people, who usually pick other drinks whilst on the ground, tend to go for Bloody Mary or tomato juice on a flight.”
Anyone is able to test the theory for themselves and set up some piano based music whilst cooking, to induce the taste associated with sucrose. Then carry the music into the meal and take note of certain foods and their flavours, and ask is anything tasting sweeter? If so, one might have found the healthiest ingredient of them all– music.
What other types of music might people enjoy listening to over dinner?