Science Says: What A Food Sounds Like Makes A Difference In How We Experience Eating It

Though we might not think about hearing our food when we eat it the way we do when it comes to taste, smell and even sight, if you bit into a potato chip and it didn’t make a sound in your head, it’d be weird, right? A new study that looks into how the sounds our food makes when we eat it factors into the overall experience.

Calling the “forgotten flavor sense,” in a new report published in the journal Flavour, researcher Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University (via Time.com), reviews a bunch of research related to how sound can change how we perceive flavor.

He comes to the conclusion that what a food sounds like is integral to the experience of eating it, as his findings show people use sound to assess how tasty a food is, even if they don’t know they’re doing it.

“What we hear can help us to identify the textural properties of what we, or for that matter anyone else, happens to be eating: How crispy, crunchy, or crackly a food is or even how carbonated the cava,” Spence writes, adding that “sound plays a crucial role in determining how much we like the experience.”

One study found that consumers used the word “crisp” more than any other descriptor when evaluating 79 foods, which makes sense. Biting into an apple that snaps with freshness is going to be a different experience than when your teeth meet unyielding mush.

Another study he reviewed took on the delicious concept of bacon as not only just the taste and aromatic pork odor, but the crunchiness that sounds when you bite down.

“We often think it’s the taste and smell of bacon that consumers find most attractive. But our research proves that texture and the crunching sound is just—if not more—important,” the lead researcher wrote in that study.

Spence’s own work showed that people like carbonated beverages more when the sound of bubbles popping is louder and more frequent.

We put importance on the way foods sound because it could be indicative of texture, and therefore quality, says Spence. Even a softer food like breads or bananas can whisper to you in their own special way, conveying something special about how it tastes.

“Just think, for instance, of the subtle auditory cues that your brain picks up as your dessert spoon cuts through a beautifully prepared mousse,” he writes.

The importance of sound while eating could lead to a surge in food sounds in trendy restaurants, Spence predicts, starting with “modernist chefs.”

Understanding how foods sound and trying to modify those foods to appeal to senior citizens could make eating more pleasurable for the elderly, he adds, as their other senses decrease. The idea being, if you can’t see your meal that well or even smell it, the way it sounds when you sink your teeth into it could go a long way toward increasing enjoyment.

Eating with our ears: assessing the importance of the sounds of consumption on our perception and enjoyment of multisensory flavour experiences [Flavour]