by Melanie Potock
My first love as a speech-language pathologist is pediatric feeding. I spend lots of time talking to little kids about “carrot crunchies” and “pea-pops” and various silly names for the sounds that different foods make in our mouths as we explore all of the sensory components of food in weekly treatment sessions.
Is it possible that sound is a larger component of our eating experience than many of us realize? What’s sound got to do with eating, or more specifically, with taste? Discovering how the sound of a crunching potato chip affects flavor is more than just curiosity. Prof. Charles Spence, who leads Oxford’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory, studied how the sound that food makes in our mouths influences our perception of freshness. It’s an important point for potato chip manufacturers, who strive to create the “crunchiest crisp possible.”
Background sounds in the environment also influence our interpretation of taste. Spence conducted an experiment where individuals were presented with 4 pieces of identical toffee. Two pieces were eaten while the subjects listened to the lower pitch of brass instruments. Two other pieces were eaten while listening to the higher pitch of a piano. The pieces eaten during the higher pitched piano music were rated “sweet” by the subjects and the pieces eaten during the lower pitched music were rated “bitter.”