Can the sounds around you influence the flavor of your food? Find out using a few bites of chocolate and a little bit of music.
Listen to song #1 through your headphones while you eat a piece of the chocolate. Take your time: Close your eyes, chew slowly, and breathe in and out through your nose. Focus on the chocolate flavor. Jot down your observations about how sweet and bitter the chocolate tastes on the Eat with Your Ears notes page or a blank piece of paper (see the ratings table below for an example).
Listen to song #2 through your headphones while you eat your second piece of chocolate. Take your time: Close your eyes, chew slowly, and breathe in and out through your nose. Focus on the chocolate flavor. Jot down your observations about how sweet and bitter this piece of chocolate tastes.
Was that as crazy for you as it was for us?! When our team did this experiment, one of us—and we’re not naming any names (Molly!)—actually gasped out loud. Even though both bites of chocolate were exactly the same, each bite probably tasted different to you, depending on the piece of music you listened to while you ate it.
Why? The flavor of food depends on so much more than what it tastes like in your mouth. Your other senses—sight, touch, smell, and hearing—influence flavor, too, sometimes in ways you don’t even notice!
Sound can change the flavor of food.
It can be the sound of the food that’s in your mouth (think crunching potato chips or slurping soup). It can also be the sound in the atmosphere around you. Scientists have discovered that food can taste sweeter or more bitter depending on the music playing in the background.
In general, “sweet” music has more high-pitched notes and “bitter” music contains more low-pitched notes. In our experiment, song #1 was the “sweet” music and song #2 was the “bitter” music. Could you tell? Did the chocolate taste sweeter during song #1? Did it taste more bitter during song #2?
So why does music change the way you experience the flavor of chocolate? No one really knows. (Maybe you’ll become the scientist who figures it out!?) But theories range from the way the music vibrates in your body to the way different music can make you feel happy or sad.
Try this experiment on your (unsuspecting) friends and family. Shh! Don’t tell them anything about the music—or the chocolate—ahead of time. Change up the order you have them listen to the music: For one person, play the “bitter” song first. For another person, play the “sweet” song first. Did they make the same observations you did?
Try repeating this experiment with other pieces of music. Composer and professor Ben Houge wrote the songs in our experiment (thanks, Ben!). For the high-pitched “sweet” music, he suggests looking for songs that highlight instruments such as flutes, bells, or the glockenspiel (similar to a xylophone). Have a music box? Those often play high-pitched songs, too. For the lower-pitched “sour” or “bitter” music, look for pieces that feature instruments such as the tuba, trombone, or bass guitar.