Does the sound of your food affect how you perceive its taste? In a normal context, the answer is obviously no. But, since we’ve got a podcast title telling us to listen to our food, it probably makes sense to keep an open mind.
But there better be science behind this. Lots of science.
If host Dan Pashman wasn’t talking to an experimental psychologist from Oxford University, my skepticism would continue. Charles Spence, who undoubtedly has one of the coolest research jobs I’ve heard of, sheds some light on how food can affect taste.
It still sounds like magic to me, but Spence proposes that different tracks of music can make chocolate seem to change flavor. The important piece of this illusion, is that the flavors can’t be created out of thin air. The chocolate has both the required bitter and sweet tastes. Your brain can draw your attention to a previously unperceived, or less intense, flavor just by certain types of stimulation.
It still feels like magic, Charles. Maybe more specifically illusions, but still magic.
What blows my mind is that the perceived taste of food—which I have carefully worded—can be affected by a myriad of factors. If sound can affect taste, what else can? Weight of silverware? Eating with actual silverware instead of whatever was cheapest at Target or Ikea? And how does your environment affect how you judge the quality of food.
The secret to those Michelin star tasting menu restaurants may just be fancy service, well-plated food and excellent ambiance that includes sounds that aren’t even at a frequency audible to most humans.
The point is, this concept that stimuli other than taste can affect how your brain processes the inputs it is receiving about taste. Apparently, most of the action is actually happening in our nose. So the same illusion can occur with smell too. The possibilities are endless.
It was truly fascinating to hear Dr. Spence explain his research. He suggests there could even be positive benefits to his research that extend beyond showing off to guests at dinner parties, much to his wife’s chagrin. We could develop psychological techniques to enhance flavor while reducing less healthy ingredients like fat, salt, and sugar.
Sounds more like a trip to see Willy Wonka than actual science, but who am I to judge if it works.
Part two brings in everyone’s favorite guest , Kenji Lopez-Alt, who is the closest person I know to an internet food scientist.
Kenji claims you can judge a chef’s cutting technique just by its sound. Again, to you average cook, there is probably no discernible difference. 1 But apparently crushing, rather than actually cutting, creates a distinctly different sound.
This attention to detail goes way beyond what your average home cook thinks about, but apparently professional chefs can tell the difference. Honestly, I couldn’t, but I understand the concept. And there are important practical differences.
Crushing aromatics like onions is going to release more flavors, including he tear-inducing components. The correct sound is quieter and smooth. “Like a ninja slicing someone’s throat…as opposed to Andre the Giant”
Moving on to a question Andre the Giant most likely never asked: What is an emulsion? And how is it as dangerous as dihydrogen monoxide or monosodium glutamate?
After this episode, I’m still really not sure, but I do know there’s a right way and a wrong way to make an emulsion
in a blender. Deeper is better. Again, I don’t really know why, but I do recommend listening just to hear Kenji’s impression of the differences in how this makes the blender sound.
While it seems that there’s almost too many aural tricks illusions in the culinary world to keep track of them all, I will certainly pay more attention to the sounds in both my kitchen and at my table the next time I sit down to eat.
- and on your crappy cell phone microphone, the answer may always be no ^
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