Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sound bites

The sound of the first bite
You know the sound of biting into a potato crisp (or potato chip). Being a good dietitian, I don’t of course. OK, once back in the 1980s I ate some. Maybe twice. Anyway, you know the sound that you are expecting. No crunch means that the crisp is stale or you have an ear wax problem.

A couple of researchers from the University of Oxford, in the land where they love their crisps, placed headphones on subjects, got them to bite into a crisp and instantly played the sound back through the headphones, surreptitiously changing the sound the subjects heard.

Turning the volume up to 11
When the volume was increased, or when the higher frequency of the crunch was amplified, people believed the crisp to be fresher. A decrease in volume was perceived to mean a staler crisp. Now, this is pretty much what is to be expected. What this is likely to mean in the future is that for certain foods, the technologists will pay a bit more attention to the sound of that first bite, in addition to the flavour and aroma of a food.

When people discuss food, they rarely mention the importance of sound in preparing your mind for an eating experience – the sound of a barbeque cooking, the pop of the champagne bottle, the snap of a chocolate bar. You could argue that nature knew about the importance of sound all along when it gave you the apple.

Reference: Journal of Sensory Studies 2004; 19: 347-363

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