Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Hearing the flavour

Karaoke - my own bête noire
I read in the Morning Advertiser that a neuroscientist has demonstrated that music can alter the way we taste. Experimenting with food, he discovered that a change in music, such as pitch, tempo, volume or instrumental, alters diners' wider perceptions. For example, people tended to eat more quickly when the music had faster beats and consequently did not taste the fuller range of flavours in the food. The opposite effect occurred when the music was slower. The Advertiser suggested that food pubs may wish to take advantage of this finding.

We tend to think of our senses as separate, but they are all inter-connected. For example, when the appearance of food is changed using food dye, people often claim the taste has been affected, even though food dye is odourless and tasteless. Our eyes tell us that, say, a blue tomato isn't right, so the taste buds concur. Green beer for St Patrick's Day had one friend unimpressed, even though without the dye it was the kind of beer he favoured.

Another experiment was with Pringles. Test subjects were told to taste them in a sound booth with headphones, through which the sound of the crunching was modified by boosting or muffling particular frequencies, or the overall volume. Test subjects then described some Pringles as fresh and others as stale. In fact all were the same.

What applies to food should logically also apply to drink. It is certainly true we all have places where we prefer to have a drink and some we tend to avoid. While other factors come into play, such as comfort, the presence of people we know and the ability to have a chat without shouting, I wonder whether a prominent musical background can affect the way we actually taste our beer.

I have no scientific way of determining this, but seeing that there does seem to be a link between hearing and taste, perhaps drinking in, say, a rave with fast beats and rapidly flashing lights might make our pint actually taste different than if you drank it in a heavy metal concert with slow ponderous chords. Does the absence of all music alter the taste again?

Some pub regulars aren't especially fond of music in pubs, and there are certain beer festival goers who like quiet sessions so that they can appreciate their pint properly. While 'properly' is a matter of opinion, I wonder whether from this research we could conclude that perhaps the simple presence of music of any type might affect how we actually taste our beer.

I don't know the answer to that, and in some cases a preference against music might merely reflect a dislike of the particular music being played, or even of music in general. However, the research does throw up one possible scientific reason, perhaps among other non-scientific ones, for the varying attitudes to music in pubs and beer festivals.

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