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Musical Menus – what is the effect of Music on taste?
I was fascinated by a recent invitation to meet with Professor Charles Spence for the launch of Bookatable’s Musical Menus festival. The aim – to review the principle that music doesn’t affect the taste of the food you eat and to establish whether there are certain styles of music that work best with certain types of food.
Professor Spence, world-famous experimental psychologist and gastro-physicist with a specialisation in neuroscience-inspired multisensory design is quoted as saying
We have known for years that we can enhance the taste of sweetness, sourness, and bitterness of different foods and drinks (in fact, between 5 – 10%). For instance, songs with high pitched tones bring out the sweet tastes, whereas bitter foods pair well with low pitch tones. What is really exciting about this collaboration with Bookatable, is to take the ‘sonic seasoning’ approach beyond these basic tastes, and focus on even more complex qualities such as the crunchiness, creaminess and even spiciness of certain dishes. The menus and playlists we’ve specially developed with Axel Boman work harmoniously to give food lovers the best possible dining experience.
So, a group of us were invited along to the Hispaniola for an early Christmas lunch to check out his work.
He had developed a playlist in conjunction with Swedish music producer Axel Boman, although the first experiment was not with Boman’s playlist but rather with some better-known works by Mozart and Wagner – to check out whether we could match the music to the wine.
Below deck for our delicious Christmas lunch we ate listening to Boman’s playlist. I hadn’t thought about what a challenge it would be to evaluate – since we were not wearing headphones but had ordered different dishes from the Christmas menu.
I did thoroughly enjoy my food – a rather stunning smoked salmon and wasabi salad to start
followed by a classic turkey with trimmings
and then Christmas pudding.
But, while I munched away happily, I didn’t have the opportunity to try it without the playlist and, of course, just being aware that we were eating our food with specially chosen music made me aware in a way I wouldn’t normally be.
I’d like to know more – and I am sure there will be more research to come. My own issue is that I have quite eclectic musical tastes and, with a degree in Music, tend to be fussy about what I have as ‘background music’ if anything at all. Some of the research definitely strikes a chord with me though I’m curious as to what a ‘cultured palette’ is meant to be – 38 percent of Brits believe they have one…
Apparently, 59 percent of Brits said they’d leave if the restaurant was too cold or hot, and 32 per cent of us would walk out of a restaurant that was badly lit. Only 21 percent would leave if a restaurant had an unpleasant smell, yet more than half of us (55 per cent) would walk out of a restaurant if the music volume was too high.
I do hate music that is ‘too loud’ when I’m eating – but I am actually very happy to eat with no music at all and prefer silence or the hum of conversation to music that I don’t enjoy or that I DO enjoy but that I believe needs focus. I’d love to find out more as the research shows that with the right music, people enjoy their food 15% more than if they eat in silence…
And that ‘personal choice’ thing is quite a tricky one. The most popular genres to munch to include ‘easy listening’ which came out top (37 percent), followed by pop (28 percent) and classical music (28 percent). The least favoured categories to listen to while eating were unsurprising; electronic (2 percent), house (1 percent), and techno (0.9 percent).
Is it about familiarity? I’m surprised pop and classical music tie with 28 percent of the vote each. But maybe that’s our ‘cultured palette’ again;)
I’m delighted that the effect of music on the taste of food is being researched and am looking forward to learning more. And, it DID mean we could enjoy an excellent Christmas lunch on the Hispaniola without a single rendition of Jingle Bells or the Shepherds Pipe Carol