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Sounds Can Change the Taste of Our Food As We Eat It

When you taste something, there’s a lot more than your tastebuds at work

smithsonian.com

When you taste something, it's not just your tastebuds that are hard at work. Your brain is processing the way the food feels in your mouth, the smells that float up into your nose and, apparently, how the food sounds.

Sound's not usually considered an important part of eating, but new research suggests that the food sounds could impact its taste more than you'd expect. 

Don’t believe us? You can test this idea in your own kitchen. Next time you eat, head over to the Condiment Junkie website where they have two different sounds. Play the bitter sound, while eating, and then play the sweet one. See if you can taste the  difference. 

This is similar to what researchers at Oxford did recently. As participants ate toffee, the researchers played them high and low frequency sounds and asked them to rate the tastes. According to Amy Flemming at the Guardian, higher notes made things taste sweeter, and lower notes made the candies taste more bitter.

Another study looking at the phenomenon said that trombone noises were bitter. Those researchers then took the laboratory experiment to a London restaurant that agreed to serve a cake pop along with a phone number. When cake tasters called the number, they could choose to hear a bitter or a sweet sound. "It makes me laugh because it works every time,” food artist Caroline Hobkinson told Flemming, “and people say, 'Oh! That's so weird!'"

This aural impact on how things taste has all sorts of applications for people beyond a cool cake pop. Flemming explains:

Confirming the hunches of so many ravenous aeroplane passengers, a study published in 2011 found that loud background noise suppresses saltiness, sweetness and overall enjoyment of food. (For flyers, this is compounded by the high altitude blocking nasal passages, and therefore access to aromas.) Incidentally, for those among you who curse that you can't hear yourself think, or indeed taste, in some restaurants, it isn't unheard of for the background din to register 90db, which is a tad louder than commercial flights.

But knowing this can also help you, too. For example, you might want to order noise-proof food and drink on an airplane that are high in umami like cured meats and tomato juice. Just don’t overdo it on the Bloody Marys. 

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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