If you love a nice bar of milk chocolate but there’s only the dark variety around, you may want to throw on a smooth, slow jam and indulge in the bitter stuff anyway. According to a new paper from University of Oxford psychologists, your choice of dining music has a big effect on your perception of taste.
In the study, the scientists report that songs with long legato notes cause people to perceive chocolate as sweeter and creamier, whereas harsh staccato-rich tracks increase the perception of bitterness. To come to these conclusions, the researchers, led by experimental psychologist and food production consultant Charles Spence, Ph.D., asked 116 volunteers who to taste the same chocolate twice but were not told that the chocolates were the same. Each chocolate was consumed while listening to a different soundtrack: One song featured long, legato notes from a flute, and the other had rapid, staccato notes played on a violin. The participants then were asked to judge how creamy each of the chocolates tasted.
The softer flute song increased the sensation of creaminess, while the pricking of strings of the violin increased the perception of bitterness. The participants said they preferred the creamy soundtrack, but they didn’t prefer the creamy chocolate flavor more than the bitter. This observation, according to Spence and his team, means that sounds can have a “perceptual effect on gustatory food attributes” without actually changing the pleasantness of food, a conclusion that revisits the idea that taste is not the same thing as flavor. Taste refers to the five sensitivities (like saltiness and sweetness), while flavor incorporates texture, smell, and expectation.
So, for example, this Philharmonic Winds rendition of Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” would most likely increase the creamy, sweet qualities of chocolate:
Whereas a spin of DMX’s “X Gon’ Git It To Ya”, with its short trumpet spurts and “Grrrs” would probably make chocolate taste more bitter:
This research is built off of previous work arguing that sound can affect the perceived flavor of food and the experience of consuming that food. For example, other research teams have found that people will enjoy chocolate gelato less if music they don’t like is playing and that beer is more enjoyable if consumed while listening to music.
Spence told The Daily Mail that his team now plans to work with Belgium chocolatiers to produce boxes of chocolates that come with their own accompanying soundtrack. Throw in a DVD copy of The Notebook and it sounds like the perfect setup for your next pity party.