Of Soundscapes and Drinking With Your Ears

Music is a large portion of everyone’s life. Consider how it affects another big part of your life – your food & drink

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A few weeks ago, Science Friday had a segment that featured Charles Spence, author of the book Gastrophysics:  The New Science of Eating.   Spence is investigating how sounds enhance your victuals.  He conducted an experiment some years ago at a seafood restaurant.  Some diners listened to the sound of cutlery and others listened to the sounds of sea.  Those who listened to the sea rated the sea as better tasting or enjoyable.

The experiment (referenced in the Journal of Sensory Studies in 2010) shows how sound might be used to emphasize or draw people’s attention to certain flavors of the dish.  …  In light of findings like these … it would be smart for cooks, restaurants, and others involved in food marketing to understand how music might influence the taste of their food.

The Edinburgh Beer Factory evidently gave consideration to this research.  According to a story in The Guardian in 2016,

“Kirsty Dunsmore, co-founder, says: “We’re trying to get people to rethink lager [the Factory’s main product]; see it as more stylish. We’ve found its visual representation and musical context can help reframe that and make the customer enjoy it more.”  … She adds that the Edinburgh Beer Factory targets consumers who are most likely to buy into its brand. “We target them in three ways: through our social media activity [by selecting favourite bands when posting a tailored Facebook ad, for instance], partnerships and sponsorship and content.” David Bowie, Joy Division and New Order are often mentioned in the business’s social media posts, for example. “

Thus, soundscapes are employed not just on premises to encourage and enhance drinking but in the marketing side of the establishment.  The research paper Noise and its impact on the perception of food and drink noted that

 … it soon becomes clear that much of our enjoyment of food and drink actually resides in the anticipation of consumption and the subsequent memories we have, at least when it comes to those food experiences that are worth remembering.  (Italics added)

Flavor, it seems, is something of an illusion; a multi-sensory experience that resides in far more places than just the taste buds.  In fact, the paper noted above sates

“It has been estimated, at least by some researchers (e.g. see [53, 54]), that as much as 80% or 90% of what people commonly refer to as the taste of food and drink really originates from the olfactory signals picked up by the nose “

Following that there is anticipation of the food or drink (like when you know someone at home is making some chocolate chip cookies and it’s all you can think about all day); then there’s seeing the thing, tasting the thing, the ambiance of the venue (voices, known and unknown; clink or clunk of glasses and plates on table or bar; music.)  All these contribute to flavor.  Therefore, taste will be different each time and for each person since all of us have our own personal and disparate perceptions.  When you visit your local brewery and drink a Locomotive Stout or Legend of Tom it’s possible to be in a crabby mood; the beer may not seem as good as yesterday’s when, in fact, physically, there is no variation.  Mood impacts flavor.  Mood can be altered by the things noted above.

Spence’s research also points out that high music brings out sweet tastes and low music emphasizes sour tastes.  He mentions in his paper

the hedonic valence of sucrose (but not of sodium chloride) solutions were elevated (meaning that people reported liking the solutions more) when listening to either loud noise or music.

Friday visitors to Black Bridge Brewery are apt to hear Def Leppard Radio playing via Pandora.  The music, whether it be Def Leppard (isn’t that 80s stuff high pitched?) or other selections (for, indeed, one person’s musical proclivity is another’s hullabaloo) drives the ambiance and maybe, just maybe, that adds to pleasure of the whole experience.  Music enhances flavor.  Interestingly, too, the sweetness of the food or drink was rated better with loud background noise or music playing than when the participants had the same food or drink in silence.

These studies were also carried out with lab rats, of course.  They revealed another effect of loud noise.  The lab rats ate and drank more as the background noises increased.  Couple that with

recent findings from a 4-year study from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden [which] found that for every 10-dB increase in the road traffic noise levels, there was a 3-cm increase in waist size. More dramatically still, those exposed to loud airplane noise had a waist line that was, on average, 6 cm larger.

Loud noises (hi, Brick) will make patrons drink faster.  If restaurants, or bars, want more sales maybe they are cranking up the noise, too.  More consumption also adds to the increasing waist lines noted above.  But that is a level of loudness that prevents talking.   Generally, this will not be the case at your local.  There, talking is totally possible and music can be the backdrop of connection and an enhancement of flavor.

—- Sources for your perusal —–

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