The importance of sound on flavour perception is often underestimated, says Professor Charles Spence, head of Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory – but an appreciation of its role may be experiencing a renaissance. Chefs like Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adrià recognise that all the senses – including audition – are important in the way people experience flavour, and Spence cites recent research from the University of Leeds that suggested the sound of crispy bacon was perhaps even more important that its taste and smell for creating the perfect BLT sandwich.
“Sound is undoubtedly the forgotten flavour sense,” he wrote. “Most researchers, when they think about flavour, fail to give due consideration to the sound that a food makes when they bite into and chew it. However, […] what we hear while eating plays an important role in our perception of the textural properties of food, not to mention our overall enjoyment of the multisensory experience of food and drink.”
The crunch of crisps and the crack of chocolate-coated ice cream are examples, and Spence acknowledges that big food and drink companies have become increasingly interested in the sounds their foods make when eaten.
Researchers previously have found that manipulating the sound of noisy foods via headphones alters consumers’ perception of crispness and freshness, with louder and higher frequency sounds linked to perception of freshness in crisps and quieter and diminished high frequency sounds linked to the perception of crisps as staler and softer.
The sound of carbonation also affect perception of fizziness – but Spence notes that this effect usually diminishes once the liquid enters the mouth, when other sensory cues tend to dominate.
Spence suggests that food marketers could enhance the natural sounds of foods by using consumers’ digital devices, and such technologies could also be used specifically to improve food experiences for the elderly.
“Given the growing ageing population, there may also be grounds for increasing the crunch in our food in order to make it more interesting (not to say enjoyable) for those who are starting to lose their ability to smell and taste food,” he wrote.
Vol. 4, Iss. 3 doi:10.1186/2044-7248-4-3
“Eating with our ears: assessing the importance of the sounds of consumption on our perception and enjoyment of multisensory flavour experiences”
Author: Charles Spence