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Why You Should Listen To Your Food

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Jan 18, 2016

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

In eating, sound is the forgotten sense.

Studies show that potato chips with a louder crunch taste better to us, even when the chips are identical. And changing the background music can make chocolate taste sweeter or more bitter. (Take the test yourself below!)

This week on The Sporkful we're exploring how sound affects taste and what we can learn from listening to our food.

Dr Charles Spence3_lo res

First up: Dr. Charles Spence (above), an experimental psychology professor at Oxford University. He's the researcher who showed that when you amplify the sound of a potato chip’s crunch, people think it’s a better chip (or crisp, if you're in England!).

"This thing that we think we're feeling -- crispness or freshness in our fact, it's being influenced more than we realize by what we're hearing," he says. "We could make things crunchier or crisper or fresher simply by changing the sound."

But Dr. Spence didn't stop at potato chips. He has devoted his career to studying the many factors that contribute to our perception of taste.

In this episode, he and Dan conduct an experiment with chocolate and background music. Follow the steps below to try it out yourself at home -- and be sure to let us know if you get the same results.

1) Get some dark chocolate, coffee or beer.

2) Take a bite (or sip). If you’re doing this with chocolate, keep that bite in your mouth and don’t chew it -- treat it like a sucking candy. If you're going the drinking route, don't swallow your coffee or beer right away.

3) Hit play on this clip:

When that music kicked in, did your chocolate/beer/coffee taste more sweet or more bitter?

4) Still got your chocolate/beer/coffee in your mouth? Now listen to this:

How did that second clip affect sweetness or bitterness?

When Dan tried that experiment with Dr. Spence, that first clip made his chocolate taste more bitter; the second, higher pitched music made it taste more sweet.

What on earth is happening in your brain and your mouth when music changes the way your food tastes? Listen in to the full episode to hear Dr. Spence's explanation of "sonic seasoning."

(And shout out to Nicola Twilley, who wrote a great profile of Dr. Spence in The New Yorker and devoted an entire episode of her podcastGastropod, to Dr. Spence's work.)

Lopez-Alt_credit Vicky Wasik

Later in the show, we learn that sound also matters in cooking.

Food science guru Kenji Lopez-Alt (above), author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, takes Dan into the Serious Eats test kitchen to show us how you can tell if you're ruining your dinner -- just by the sounds you're making as you cook.

Kenji had to learn the hard way in his first fancy restaurant job when he was assigned to cut chives:

"The chef...didn't even look at me -- she was like, 'you're cutting those [chives] wrong' and made me throw them all out," he recalls. "And the way she could tell was because of the sound they make."

But you can learn the easy way -- by listening to the episode. Kenji has the low down on how to cut scallions, make homemade mayo (below -- which one would you rather eat??), and cook a pork chop.


Listen in to the episode to learn how to cook by ear and check out Dan's companion post on Digg for more details on what your sizzling pork chop is telling you.

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

Connect with me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook!

Music in this episode from Black Label Music:

- "Midnight Grind" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

- "On The Floor" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

- "Fresh Air" by Erick Anderson

Music clips in the Sonic Seasoning Experiment by Condiment Junkie (courtesy of Charles Spence)

Photos: Anne Noyes Saini and courtesy of Charles Spence

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