Things I did not know until today include the fact that apparently sound plays a huge part in how we perceive food. Combine that with what we know about color and, well… let’s just say that, with all these factors secretly affecting how I view the world, I’m having a little trouble trusting my five senses now. Crazy!
According to Jonathan Hirsch of Vice’s Munchies blog, there’s a rapidly developing scientific field geared towards studying how sound affects what we taste and experience when we eat. One of the forerunners of the field, Charles Spence of Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Lab has been studying it since 2000. An experiment he conducted way back then somewhat amazingly demonstrated that how loud a Pringles chip crunches when we bite into it makes us think it’s either fresher or staler — regardless as to whether it actually is fresh or stale.
From there, it was only a hop, skip, and a jump into how sound might be used in the restaurant industry. For example, after discovering that recorded ocean sounds enhance the salty and briny flavors of oysters, a UK restaurant called Fat Duck started offering an experimental seafood dish called “Sound of the Sea.” The dish comes with an “audio supplement” that boosts specific flavors within it. Or consider a dessert offered at the House of Wolf in London called the “sonic cake pop”: A chocolate-covered bittersweet toffee, the cake pop arrives at your table with a phone number. Dialing the phone number gives you two options to choose from: “Sweet” and “bitter.” Depending on which option you pick, a sound recording is played that’s designed to shift your perception of the cake pop, moving it either towards the sweeter end of the spectrum or the bitterer one. Wacky, no?
Since restaurants are the sites of many a romantic evening for couples around the world, naturally the next thought for many (e.g., me) is something like, “So how might this play out during, say, date night?” In response, the Date Report rightly notes, “No amount of strategically played ocean recordings or soft jazz or Graceland or whatever will save you from the sounds of a date gone wrong, but at least it will make your dinner taste extra-delicious?” But I would also argue that even a bad date can be made more interesting by wacky dishes like these. At least you’ll have something other than an awful tie or an instance of foot-in-mouth to remember, right?