Monday, April 9, 2012

Burger with a side of Bach: Food and Music

I found a blog post through Twitter today that asked, "Does Adele go better with a burger and fries?" -- or, in layman's terms, does sound affect the flavor of the food we eat? 

Now I'm not saying that eating my dinner as the radio is playing will chemically change the taste of my entree, but perhaps it will change how I perceive the dish.

The blog post discussed Peter Smith's column in The Smithsonian Magazine. Recently, Peter Smith wrote about the concept of  synesthesia: a neurological condition where one often sees colors as sounds, and tastes in musical notes. Smith uses Anne-Sylvie Crisinel's recent research to argue that everyone has a little bit of synestesia in them. 
"Crisinel had volunteers match wines, milk and other foods with particular musical notes. A sweet-tasting dessert or something like lemon juice tended to be matched with a higher-pitched notes, whereas something savory or something with umami tended to be matched with brassy, low-pitched sound."
If science is proving that music affects our perception of taste, what does this mean for our culinary experiences -- and how could restaurants manipulate this scientific link to their advantage in a cutthroat industry? 

Just picture it -- A grand ballroom with dozen of tables and formally dressed guests. Hundreds of waiters exit the kitchen with trays of covered dishes as a tympani begins to play. The tympani gets gradually louder until the waiters whisk away the silver domes that cover the dishes in unison. The tympani plays one last note, and dinner is served. Gives the whole scene a little extra something, no? 

Oh, and for those who want to follow me on Twitter, my handle is @StephExpress


  1. I think restaurants have long used particular music as a marketing or branding tool to stand out and aid recall to encourage repeat customers. However, the issue and the objective of choosing the music here is different: the restaurant would be trying to affect the perception of taste instead of aiding recall of its brand. Not sure why the restaurant would do it. Btw, the grand ballroom image reminds me of the song "Be Our Guest" from the Disney vidio Beauty and the Beast.

    1. I think the idea here would be to add an additional dimension to the flavors in the dish -- that scientifically it is possible for different sounds to create perceived taste experiences.

  2. I was in New Orleans recently, enjoying a wonderful brunch at Arnaud's Restaurant (, and I couldn't help feel that the whole dining experience was enchanting, not only because food was perfectly done, but moreover because of the roving four-man jazz band that came to each table to serenade us with classic jazz staples. I don't have a culinary background, nor do I have any degrees in the sciences of eating or cooking, but I sure feel that the whole experience of just how delicious my food was was made that much better because of the music that kissed my ears that day.