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Week in Geek: Snap, crackle, pop edition

How your food tastes depends a lot on how it sounds
Sure, they look good, but how do they sound?
Sure, they look good, but how do they sound?

When you drink your morning coffee or sit down to dinner, are you ever aware of the sounds around you? Not just the sounds of your environment, but the sounds of your actual food? You should be.

It turns out that sound can affect our perception of flavor and alter our eating experiences more than you might think. Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley of the Gastropod podcast looked into this in one of their recent episodes. They explore the effects of the crunch of your potato chip and the splash of water in a glass.

The neuroscience of flavor perception focuses mostly only five factors: taste, smell, temperature, texture, and "top-down processing". The latter involves what prior experiences and expectation you have when encountering a particular food. An example would be when you drink an unlabeled brown soda expecting the taste of Coke or Pepsi, but it turns out to be root beer. Even if you like root beer, you'll often have an adverse reaction to the taste when it conflicts with your expectations. Another example would be when you grab some orange or yellow M&Ms and they turn out to be Reese's Pieces. I could go on...

Sound can also play a role in this category. In 2008, Professor Charles Spence, at Oxford University's Crossmodal Research Laboratory, showed we judge the taste of potato chips based on the crunch that they make when we eat them. He could alter people's perception of freshness by playing crunch sounds in sync with their biting of the chip. Another experiment of his shows you can intuit whether a liquid poured in a glass is hot or cold based on sound alone.

And it doesn't stop there. Science says your enjoyment of your beer or whiskey can be manipulated by listening to music while you drink. Spence collaborated with Bompas & Parr design studio and Johnnie Walker to create the world's first flavor organ to amplify the taste profile of their Blue Label whiskey.

You can listen and read about the full episode here. Now I wonder if Kellog's already knew all about this when they introduced Snap, Crackle, and Pop for Rice Krispies.

Here's some other geek from the week:

Keep on geeking!

@Summer_Ash, In-house Astrophysicist