Whether it's freshly baked bread or sizzling bacon, we all have our own favourite smelling foods. However, what if the noises certain foods make could also influence the way we taste food? Recent research suggests that hearing louder sounds can actually have an impact on our tastes when eating.
Noisy foods are more common than you may think
The next time you go to take a bite out of an apple, pay attention to the noise it makes. Is it crunchy? Do your celery sticks make a snapping sound when broken? Are your potato chips, well, crispy? These noises are just some examples of how the food we eat possesses sounds that can heavily influence how good we think something tastes.
Take halloumi – otherwise known as squeaky cheese, this dairy product has become increasingly popular in the last few years, with UK supermarkets seeing an increase of 132 per cent in sales, according to Tesco. Its famous squeak sound comes from the protein strands rubbing against the enamel of our teeth. But could this iconic noise be the reason we enjoy eating it so much? Professor Charles Spence of Oxford University certainly thinks so.
How important is sound to our overall eating experience?
One of the studies highlighted in Spence's research from the University of Leeds analysed just how important the crispiness of bacon is in a bacon, lettuce and tomato (BLT) sandwich1. The average Australian eats around 27.9 kilogrammes of pork each year, according to an Australian Government Agricultural study – showcasing our love for bacon and the like2 . The study revealed that the crunch and crispiness was the most important factor in creating the perfect offering – overtaking taste and other sensory stimuli.
An additional study conducted by Spence and fellow researcher Zampini focused on potato chips and how altered sounds can affect how much we enjoy eating them1. The results showed that participants found the potato chips to taste both crispier and fresher when exposed to louder sounds and increased levels of frequency. When noise levels and frequency were decreased, they found the potato chips to be staler, softer and not as enjoyable.
Both of these studies tie in with work carried out by Cornell University who tested multisensory perception with the five main tastes – sweet, salty, savoury, bitter and sour3. They exposed participants to noise levels of 85 decibels (dB) compared with lower sound conditions. Interestingly, they discovered that in the higher noise levels, savoury tastes were increased and altered, while all other tastes remained the same.
What can these sounds tell us?
From the crispiness of lettuce and the crunch of a potato crisp, these louder, prominent sounds work to let us know the textural properties of the food being eaten and just how fresh they are. Without the technology and in depth knowledge we possess today, these factors would have provided previous generations with an idea of the quality and how fresh the produce they were eating was.
Modifying food with sound in mind could also work to help the elderly. As we age, our senses decrease, including our hearing. In Australia, 50 – 60 per cent of people over the age of 60 live with some form of hearing loss according to The National Foundation for the Deaf4. Experimenting with sounds in food could help make eating a more pleasurable experience for older people.
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1Flavour Journal, Eating with our ears: assessing the importance of the sounds of consumption on our perception and enjoyment of multisensory flavour experiences. Accessed September 2017
2Australian Government, Agricultural commodity statistics 2016. Accessed September 2017
3American Psychological Association, A Crossmodal Role for Audition in Taste Perception. Accessed September 2017
4The National Foundation for the Deaf, Age-related hearing loss. Accessed September 2017