A study conducted by Oxford researchers has shown how sound affects the taste of our foods – high frequency sounds enhance the sweetness in the food, while low frequencies bring out the bitterness.
In order to figure out how sounds influence our food, Crossmodal Laboratory at Oxford University fed a group of volunteers some cinder toffee while playing them high- and low-frequency sounds. They then asked people to rate the taste on a scale running from sweet to bitter – the results showed that high notes make the food seem sweeter.
Ok you’ll say, but a lab setting is much different from real life – are the same effects happening in real life? In order to test this, scientists set up a nifty experiment, with lab leader Charles Spence teaming up with food artist Caroline Hobkinson.
For one month, London restaurant House of Wolf served a “sonic cake pop” of chocolate-coated bittersweet toffee, which came, intriguingly, with a telephone number. If people called that number, they were asked to press “1 for sweet” and “2 for bitter” – high and low notes were played accordingly.
“It makes me laugh because it works every time, and people say, ‘Oh! That’s so weird!'”
Meanwhile, another study by Spence also matched the savoury taste, umami, with low pitches. He also explains why airplane food simply doesn’t taste that good: loud background noise suppresses saltiness, sweetness and overall enjoyment of food. However, Spence points out:
“Have you ever noticed how many people ask for a bloody mary or tomato juice from the drinks trolley on aeroplanes? The air stewards have, and when you ask the people who order, they tell you that they rarely order such a drink at any other time.”