Music and Food – How Do They Go Together?

Have you ever wondered how restaurants choose the music they play?

Have you ever wondered how restaurants choose the music that they play? Most likely it is just down to the personal taste of the restaurant manager, but has the choice of music ever affected your enjoyment of your meal? Further, do you think that the music has actually influenced the way you have perceived the tastes and textures of that meal and that you would have perceived them differently to a different sound track? Sounds unlikely? Well apparently not. Research is focusing on how our perception of tastes, flavours and textures is influenced by the sounds we experience whilst we are eating.

Tempo and pitch as well as genre of music, have all been shown to influence eating behaviours and response to foods. Slow music tends to slow down our speed of eating with the result that customers spend longer in restaurants and potentially order more courses. The type of music may also influence the choices we make: one study has shown that people bought more expensive wines when classical music was played but selected lower priced bottles when pop hits were in the background. Genre has also been shown to impact how much people say that they like the same foods. Jazz music was found to significantly enhance people’s liking for chocolate compared to hip hop music for example.

Music and sounds are powerful triggers of memory and this can be used to enhance our perception of the flavours and quality of a meal. Heston Blumenthal serves his fish course at the Fat Duck in Bray with an iPod that plays ‘Sounds of the Sea’. The result? Diners remember days at the seaside and the associated images and smells heighten their perception of the dish which tastes fishier and fresher.

What about pitch? Pitch has been the subject of much research that has shown that it can influence the type and intensity of flavours perceived. So for example, high pitched music played on a piano enhanced the sweetness of toffee whereas lower pitched music played on brass instruments led to the same toffee being rated as more bitter. However, the piano music was also rated as more pleasant which may in itself explain the association with sweetness. Other studies have found an association between high pitched sounds and sourness or acidity. With wine for example, red light and ‘sweet’ music increased the enjoyment of wine whereas green light and ‘sour’ music reduced liking for the wine which was described as less fresh and of poorer quality.

How sound and music can influence our perception and enjoyment of foods and wines is the subject of on-going research. Think carefully as you select a playlist the next time you have friends round for supper!

This article was based on an essay written by Ruth Greenaway. Click here to access the full paper and associated references.