Eating with Our Ears

Seyine Park

The muted crunch of a perfectly toasted pastry. The pop and sizzle of fresh meat the moment it hits the pan. Or the fizz of sparkling water as it fills your glass. All these sounds actually play a large role in how we taste our food – and we don’t even realize it.

“Sound is the forgotten flavour sense.” In a new report recently published in Flavour journal, Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, explains how we “eat with our ears.” From the sound of a crispy apple to even the background music playing at a restaurant – all sounds can affect one’s perception of flavor.

Why do these sounds affect us so much? Spence claims that it very well could be that sound is a prime indicator of an ingredient’s texture and therefore its inherent quality. Texture often signifies the freshness of food – like that crispness of an apple as you bite into it.  Take, for example, a trip to the grocery store. When selecting ingredients, we poke and prod our way through the piles of onions or potatoes, feeling for freshness. Even the very music you hear as you’re eating plays a role in all of this. For example, hearing Italian music as you indulge in Italian food can make you “perceive the food as more authentic,” Spence says.

The great modernist chefs of our time are all over this. Chefs like Heston Blumenthal and Elena Arzak all believe that dining is and should be a multisensory experience. The cover sheet of the tasting menu at The Fat Duck so states, “Eating is the only thing we do that involves all the senses. I don’t think that we realize just how much influence the senses actually have on the way that we process information from mouth to brain.” Professor Spence told TIME magazine that he looks towards these modernist chefs and expects that they will continue pushing and leading the field of multi-sensory dining.

HEART Ibiza is one example of modernist chefs extending the preconceived boundaries of the dining experience. Opening this summer 2015 in Ibiza, Heart Ibiza is a collision of art, music, and food brought to you by the creative minds of the Adrià Brothers and Cirque du Soleil. 

To quote Zata Vickers as Spence does in his conclusion, “Like flavors and textures, sometimes sounds can be desirable, sometimes undesirable. Always they add complexity and interest to our eating experience and, therefore, make an important contribution to food quality.”

Photography by Signe Birck.


To find out about eating with our eyes, click here.