If you’re a dab hand with audio equipment, this may be worth trying out during a meal or two. Experiments show that you can make your food taste better or worse just by manipulating what you hear.
A few things affect how we experience the things we eat. We know about taste and smell. We know, these days, that “mouth feel” is all the rage as a food criterion. Something most people don’t consider is sound. Two scientists, Massimiliano Zampini and Charles Spence, have done a series of experiments which show that what we hear affects how we experience food.
Each experiment requires the subjects to wear headphones while eating. The headphones can do a number of things. They can filter out the high-pitched or low-pitched sounds that a person makes when they bite into food. They can dampen the sound entirely. Or they can heighten the intensity of the sound. Depending on the food we’re eating, these variations can make a big difference.
Zampini and Spence started with potato chips. A subject would bite into a potato chip with only their front teeth, and then rate the freshness and crispness of the chip. When the researchers cranked up the sound of the crunch, or even only the high-frequency sounds made by the crunch, the chip tasted fresher and felt more crisp.
Next came carbonated water, and it gave the same result. When the volume of the high-frequency sounds or the overall volume of the sound of bubbling increased, the experimental subjects believed they were tasting a more vigorously carbonated beverage. This didn’t require headphones. The simple trick of holding the water closer to the ear made people think they were drinking better carbonated water. Apples seem crisper and harder when the volume of the crunch is increased. High frequency sounds make food taste sweeter. Low frequency sounds enhance bitterness. And even moist food seems juicier when people listen to the amplified sound of chewing.
All you need to do to improve your meals is really, really listen to them. All you need to do to mildly ruin someone else’s meal is mask the sound of them eating.