Sound as seasoning is a bit of a foreign concept.
We’re familiar with adding herbs and condiments into our cooking. But we also know that the entirety of a dining experience hinges on much more than that. For instance, we notice that Soft Jazz and the incessant but soothing clink of cutlery in a restaurant makes a steak taste that much more delicious.
The role of sound when we eat is far from a foreign one to most of us, just as certain condiments make certain foods, most of us are likely to balk at the thought of a potato chip without its crunch. A non-crunchy potato chip tells you that the chip is probably stale or improperly stored. You wouldn't eat that. .
Speaking of foods and sounds, the 80s gave birth to the marketing platitude, “sell the sizzle and not the steak”.
The year 1984 saw quite a literal example of this when Chili’s, then only a fledging Mexican food chain in America began serving fajitas. While Chili’s did not create the fajita, nor was it the first restaurant in the states to serve it up, Chili’s spread the name of the fajita far and wide by making it into something of a performance art.
After the tacos were loaded with vegetables and meat, they were put on a hotplate, creating a delicious sizzling sound that let every patron in the restaurant know that fajitas were coming out of the kitchen. Fajita orders skyrocketed to the point that when one person ordered the first plate of fajitas for the day, chefs would start preparing fajita ingredients en masse in the kitchen. This gave birth to what is now termed the Fajita effect.
While we might have certainly observed this effect for ourselves, scientists have attempted to put it into writing.
Charles Spence is a professor at Oxford’s Crossmodal Research Lab, over the years, he has spearheaded research that listening to certain kinds of music can in fact make certain tastes more prominent than others. A crossmodal connection is formed when what you hear affects what you see or when what you see affects what you taste.
According Charles Spence’s research, higher tones ( a la piano) bring out sweet and sour tastes, while lower tones (like the tuba) bring out tastes that are more bitter and complex. Don’t take our word for it, grab a bar of chocolate and try the two tunes below, then make a note of the changes in taste, pay special attention the aftertaste!
According to Spence, the first tune supposedly brings out the sweet flavours in the chocolate while the second one brings out the complexity and bitterness in your chocolate. His research is so compelling that British Airways has integraated this into their flights, providing a unique soundtrack, creatively titled “sound bite” where passengers can pair their meals to music, thus creatively solving the problem of bland in flight food, a phenomenon that happens because the ability to taste is reduced by 30% when you’re up in the air. Some pairings are Debussy with Roast and Domingo’s Nessun Dorma with bitter coffee.
But before you race to put on some lush Jazz for your next wine drinking session (that is, if you’re not already doing so) do bear in mind that sound is not the only thing that plays a role in the taste of a food, you’d be hard pressed to find umami in milk chocolate, so don’t hold out hope for something as extreme as that.
Otherwise, go forth and experiment.
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