Food that smells good, and is colorful and appealing to the eyes makes our mouth water and is often relished. However, now scientists say that the sound of food; sounds of consumption, is also important and it affects our perception of a particular dish. Can we bite and eat chips without making any sound? It is quite impossible.
You can tell a lot about the texture of a food—think crispy, crunchy,and crackly—from the mastication (chewing) sounds heard while biting and chewing. The latest techniques from the field of cognitive neuroscience are revolutionizing our understanding of just how important what we hear is to our experience and enjoyment of food and drink.
It might seem somewhat counterintuitive at first but flavor is not simply in the food or drink we’re consuming. Flavor is created in our brains from the information our senses are providing on what we’re eating or drinking. What makes flavor interesting is that all of our senses can affect how we perceive food and drink.
In other words, what we see, smell and feel can affect our flavor perception and according to a recent review by Professor Charles Spence, Head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford, one sense that’s often forgotten about is hearing. In his review, Charles Spence calls sound the “forgotten flavour sense” because regular consumers and researchers in the field alike, often disregard its importance for flavor.
Sounds of consumption, or the sounds that are created through our interaction with food, are important because they probably provide information on the textural properties of food. That’s why the perceived freshness and crispiness of an apple or potato chip can be affected by manipulating the crunch sound heard while biting into said apple or potato chip.
These are just some of the possible explanations for why what we hear can affect our flavor experience. Research into multisensory integration, which looks at how our nervous system integrates input from various senses or sources, provides some clues on how these kind of associations might come about on a more fundamental level.
So, next time you take a bite, remember to listen to the sounds around you. They probably play a bigger role in your enjoyment of whatever you’re biting into than you realize. And of course, so do all your other senses. As Charles Spence points out, flavor is perhaps the most multisensory of our everyday experiences.