Have you ever wondered how certain restaurants choose their music or why coffee shops tend to stick to acoustic tunes? I’ve definitely wondered why Applebee’s seems to be stuck in the '90s.
Thanks to modern research, Oxford professor Charles Spence has found the answers we’ve desperately been waiting for.
In 2008, Spence and Max Zampini published their award-winning study on “sonic chip” – a study that involved 20 volunteers and 180 Pringles.
During the study, Spence and Zampini asked their participants to wear headphones that emitted loud and soft crunching sounds while they gnawed on potato chips. In the end, the team found those who heard a louder crunching sound perceived the chips to be 15 percent fresher than those who heard the softer crunching sounds.
Crunchier doesn’t always mean better, though.
“Aside from the withdrawn Sun Chips packaging by Frito Lay due to its excessive noise back in 2010, one of the biggest problems at the moment lies in those incredibly noisy restaurants in the States (especially in NYC),” Spence said. “With certain background noise or music levels exceeding 100dB, diners are effectively hampered in their ability to taste and enjoy the food.”
In a separate study, the Crossmodal Laboratory at Oxford University gave a group of willing participants cinder toffee while playing high- and low-frequency sounds, asking each volunteer to rate the taste of the toffee on a scale running from sweet to bitter.
Results of the study showed that high notes contributed to sweetness, while low notes brought out a bitterness.
So, how do we determine which sounds we should be listening to?
To see how this study would work outside of a lab, Spence partnered with food artist Caroline Hobkinson to create the “sonic cake pop.” Volunteers who ordered the pop were also given a telephone number that connected to an operator who would ask the caller to press “one” for sweet and “two” for bitter. And, like before, the high- and low-pitched sounds acted accordingly.
"It makes me laugh because it works every time, and people say, 'Oh! That's so weird!'," Hobkinson said.
What do you think? Do you think sound plays a part in your perception of taste? Tell us in the comments!