Tastes and textures associated with specific sounds and shapes, finds study

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cranberry juice Brand management Food

Certain flavours and textures are better suited to high-pitched sounds and angular graphics, while others suit soft sounds and rounded graphics, finds a new study that could help marketers develop appropriate food product branding.

Choosing a brand name and graphics that accurately represent a product’s qualities and what a consumer may expect from it can mean the difference between commercial success and failure.

Charles Spence from Oxford University’s experimental psychology department and Alberto Gallace from the University of Milano-Bicocca set out to test how food products may be linked to sounds and taste. Their findings have been accepted for publication in the journal Food Quality and Preference​.

Their study involved 20 participants aged between 18 and 60 years, who were given a set of linear scales either with a shape at each end or a nonsense word. They were asked to taste certain foodstuffs and indicate whether their perception matched the shape or word at one end of the scale more than the other.

The commercially-available foodstuffs tested were: still water, sparkling water, cranberry juice, brie cheese, and two kinds of chocolate confectionery.

The sparkling water, cranberry juice and Maltesers (chocolate-covered honey-comb) were seen to be most associated with angular shapes and high-pitched pseudo-words like ‘kiki’ and ‘takete’, pronunciation of which requires sharp inflection of the mouth.

The still water, brie and Caramel Nibbles (chocolate-covered caramel) were most associated with rounded shapes and lower pitched pseudo-words like ‘bouba’ and ‘maluma’.

The researchers say these results “demonstrate that the phenomenon of sound symbolism extends beyond the visual modality, and in terms of the oral-somatosensory attributes of foodstuffs as well”.

They may help companies design novel brand names and graphics for packaging that best represents the food and drink products they contain, and can give an indication of what the consumer can expect.

Chocolate positioning

Spence and Gallace said the different results for the two chocolate confectionery products are especially interesting because Maltesers and Caramel Nibbles have similar market positioning – but Maltesers are noisier to eat.

“It may be this different in aural texture that was driving the participants’ responses,”​ they wrote.

Future research will need to determine whether brand names and graphics that have been designed on the basis of sound symbolism actually change a consumer’s sensory expectations about – and hence experience of – real products.


Food Quality and Preference (article in press)

DOI: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2010.11.005

Tasting shapes and words

Spence, C; Gallace, A.

Related topics Science

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