Exploring the Relationship Between Sound and Taste

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Family and friends are great, but when you really boil it down, the star of Thanksgiving is the food – oh, and maybe the music. It’s well known that music can affect mood and create a desired ambiance during a meal. That might be as easy as picking classical over heavy metal, but what if your music choice could affect the way your food tastes? That’s what these two studies sought to find out, and the results are fascinating.

Implicit Association Between Pitch and Taste (2009)

This study by Oxford University was designed to explore possible associations between pitch, sourness, and bitterness. It paired high-pitched and low-pitched sounds with the names of sour and bitter-tasting foods.

The results suggest people do make associations between pitch and basic tastes. Overall it found the participants had stronger responses when lower-pitched sounds were matched with bitter-tasting foods and when higher-pitched sounds were paired with sour-tasting foods.

Check out the full study.

Since this study, researchers at Oxford have conducted a number of follow-up studies to explore other sensory factors involved in taste. These studies expand the scope using soundtracks created to evoke other tastes like sweetness, while also incorporating visuals, smells, and touch to see how they impact the taste experience.

“Smooth Operator”: Music Modulates the Perceived Creaminess, Sweetness, and Bitterness of Chocolate (2016)

Fair warning, this study might make your mouth water no matter what sort of chocolate you prefer. The experiment published in the journal Elsevier, evaluated how music can impact the perceived creaminess of chocolate. This study pulled in some interesting results from previous experiments going back to the 1920s that dealt with how we associate different words and sounds with general smoothness. Using those results, they put together two different soundtracks that were produced to evoke either a smooth feel or a rough feel.

The “smooth” soundtrack was an ascending scale of long tones produced by flute and mixed with a large hall reverberation which gave it what most would consider a smooth sound. The “rough” soundtrack was three blended violin lines of dissonant ascending scales in sharp pizzicato. Both soundtracks were the same length and same approximate pitch range.

Participants were asked to taste the chocolates while listening to the soundtracks, but were not informed that the chocolates were all the same. The results:

  • The creamy soundtrack significantly elevated ratings on creaminess.
  • The rough soundtrack somewhat decreased perceived creaminess.
  • A direct relationship was found between ratings of sweetness and creaminess.

Check out the full study.

For more reading about music and science, check out these blogs on Cued In:

How Music Education Benefits the Brain
Music and the Brain
Deep Field: Exploring the Connections Between Science and Music

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Brendan Lyons
Brendan started at Pepper in 2012 and currently works in the Marketing department as a copywriter. A graduate of Villanova University, Brendan has been a musician for over twenty years. He is also an author, using his talents at Pepper to bring the knowledge of our experienced staff to our customers.

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