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Idle Science

Background Noise Affects Taste of Foods 79

Posted by samzenpus
from the that-sounds-delicious dept.
gollum123 writes "The level of background noise affects both the intensity of flavour and the perceived crunchiness of foods, researchers have found. Blindfolded diners assessed the sweetness, saltiness, and crunchiness, as well as overall flavour, of foods as they were played white noise. While louder noise reduced the reported sweetness or saltiness, it increased the measure of crunch. It may go some way to explaining why airline food is notoriously bland — a phenomenon that drives airline catering companies to season their foods heavily. In a comparatively small study, 48 participants were fed sweet foods such as biscuits or salty ones such as crisps, while listening to silence or noise through headphones. Also in the group's findings there is the suggestion that the overall satisfaction with the food aligned with the degree to which diners liked what they were hearing — a finding the researchers are pursuing in further experiments."
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Background Noise Affects Taste of Foods

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  • If my enjoyment of my surroundings enhances my enjoyment of food, why do I find the idea of eating lunch in a strip bar so offputting?
    • If my enjoyment of my surroundings enhances my enjoyment of food, why do I find the idea of eating lunch in a strip bar so offputting?

      Maybe you need to find a less seedy strip bar?

    • Well this only reflects sounds. I find I enjoy my food less when the guy at the next table is yelling "TAKE IT OFF".
    • by Calydor (739835)
      This is related to the way chocolate tastes good, strawberry jam tastes good, and a good steak tastes good - but you'd never, EVER mix the three.
      • "chocolate tastes good, strawberry jam tastes good, and a good steak tastes good - but you'd never, EVER mix the three."
         
        I'm not so sure about that. One of the best meals I've ever had was blueberry glazed pork chops.

    • by MachDelta (704883)

      I dunno about you, but eating while a girl is waving her vagina in my face makes me think of eating a girl out. Whilst entertaining, it's not exactly something that ranks way up there on the taste-bud meter. Hence it sort of spoils the taste of food. Usually I stick to liquid diets at the strippers. There's always a chance it won't stay down by the end of the night anyways, so why pay for food? ;)

    • Because you're eating a foot-long jumbo weiner with mayo and ketchup?

    • by tuxgeek (872962)

      If my enjoyment of my surroundings enhances my enjoyment of food, why do I find the idea of eating lunch in a strip bar so offputting?

      Even more so, after having a few beers, a good buzz can be spoiled by a bitching nagging woman nearby

  • People always complain that food at weddings is really bland. Of course, you don't want to start with a high baseline of seasoning when cooking for a crowd. And then again, maybe most catering halls just really suck.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by PPH (736903)

      Wrong logic.

      Get used to bland, buddy.

      • Well, I thought this was funny.

        You could have also said something like "after about ten years, the only time you're going to eat is if you cook for yourself."

        • by PPH (736903)

          Well, I thought this was funny.

          Thanks.

          The poor guy's wife probably made him mod me down.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Firethorn (177587)

      I'd argue for just having a couple bland items on the table for the wussies/people with stomach conditions, give us GOOD tasting food.

      On the other hand, this makes me wonder if crowded noisy lunch halls encourage bad eating choices - going for even sweeter/saltier food items due to this effect?

      • by immakiku (777365)

        I'd argue for just having a couple of unnatural items on the table for the fatties/people with health conditions, give us NATURAL food.

        Seriously, where else in nature can you find "seasoning"? Foods seasoned with sugar or salt are only good because they used to be hard to come by. Finding a couple packets of sugar lying around is equivalent calorically to climbing a tree and picking an apple. They only taste good because in scarcity, they should be valued. In an environment of abundance these triggers evolv

        • Seriously, where else in nature can you find "seasoning"?

          All over the place. Animals require salt to live. Some get it from their diet alone, but you ever check out the herbivore traffic around a natural salt lick? You ever try to raise animals without providing them with a source of salt and other minerals?

          And how about natural seasonings like pepper, cinnamon, thyme, etc.?

          You evolved to eat salty and fatty foods preferentially... if you want to eat what you evolved to eat, you should be eating salt

          • by immakiku (777365)

            I have no problem with pepper, thyme, spices, etc. But then there was no huge advantage to eating more of that so we usually don't have a huge craving for that.

            Yea I'm not saying don't use salt or sugar. I'm saying don't drown your food in it. Show me a jar of salt in the wild or a packet of pure sugar. Those animals like salt licks because salt licks aren't common. They get whatever they can of it because in general these are essential nutrients they don't get enough of. Are you saying the majority of us e

            • Are you saying the majority of us eat so much salt and sugar and fat because we're malnourished in them?

              I'm saying no such thing, as is abundantly clear from my post. Are you asking a silly question because it makes you feel good to have a strawman to argue against?

              • by immakiku (777365)
                In that case either you're misreading my post or I was misreading yours. Nowhere in my post did I mention getting rid of sugar or salt. I mentioned they were GOOD because they were hard to come by. The amount consumed is the key difference. We consume nowadays more than we need, and it's certainly unnatural. Your post argued none of my claims if you read it correctly.
        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Everywhere. What do you think seasoning is made out of?

          Have you never seen a pepper plant?

          • by Diantre (1791892)
            I've yet to find a Monosodium glutamate bearing plant.
            • by DEmmons (1538383)
              you probably have and didn't know it - the original source was seaweed, but for a long time the main production was from wheat glutin, and now it is commercially produced by fermentation of various plant sugars.
        • by gparent (1242548)
          Maybe I want my food to taste better and can exercise. Ever thought of that?
          • by immakiku (777365)

            That's a good point. But unfortunately they are orthogonal concepts. Both proper nutrition and exercise are necessary for health, but proper nutrition is more so. Taken to the extreme, do you think you can just a wedding cake a day and exercising 24/7 will do anything substantial for you?

            Food are the nutrients you get as inputs. Exercise controls how your body responds to these inputs, adjusting your body composition, etc. to the needs of the exercise. But no matter how much exercise you do, if you don't ha

            • by gparent (1242548)
              You don't have to dump a ton of salt over everything either, even if you make a good point. But I wouldn't want to live in a world where there's no salt, no pepper, no spices, just because you want the natural taste.
        • by Firethorn (177587)

          Didn't expect this much of a response...

          Perhaps part of the problem with 'buffet' and other wedding meal type stuff is that it tends to ONLY be seasoned with salt, fat, and sugar.

          I tend to find most lunch meats bland and untasty, but obviously loaded with fat and salt.

      • Consider that to those of us who haven't destroyed our taste buds with years of excessive seasonings, many "bland" foods have naturals flavors that we can still taste.

        • by immakiku (777365)

          Exactly. There's so many times I drink tea and can appreciate the flavors. Or I eat a tomato and think, "damn that's good". But then my friends will be on the side drinking bubble tea and dipping their tomatoes in sugar.

          Good luck finding sugar to dip your tomatoes in out in nature...

          • by damnfuct (861910)
            I totally agree with you, but I have to point out that sugar is on the tongue; most complex flavours worth tasting are detected in the nose.
    • by vux984 (928602)

      People always complain that food at weddings is really bland. Of course, you don't want to start with a high baseline of seasoning when cooking for a crowd. And then again, maybe most catering halls just really suck.

      I've been to several weddings with simply fantastic food.

      And then again, maybe most catering halls just really suck.

      Like anything, you get what you pay for. With the caveat that paying a lot doesn't guarantee you get anything good.

      But take a reasonable budget and sensible menu choices with a goo

  • Beer? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by uzd4ce (1916592) on Friday October 15, 2010 @04:17PM (#33912278)
    I wonder if there are similar effects to adult beverage enjoyment. I always enjoy my homebrew as well as local and national Craft beers, but this article makes me wonder if there are certain flavor profiles or characteristics I prefer based on my environment or the noise level related to it. When I think about it, I tend to prefer darker, deeper, more complex beers, maybe with a stronger emphasis on the malt character in a quieter setting, but then prefer a crisper, hoppier bite from, say, a classic pilsner or pale ale or IPA even in louder, more enthusiastic environments. Definitely something I'll be paying attention to in the future....
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by mim (535591)
      oh, totally...like cheap box wine tastes better while listening to NPR...
  • Synesthesia (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lobiusmoop (305328) on Friday October 15, 2010 @04:17PM (#33912280) Homepage

    This sounds like a specific case of Synesthesia [wikipedia.org], with sound and taste interacting, rather than the more often cited case of sound and colour perception.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Being a synesthetic, I see color with taste and sound, and some sound makes my mouth taste zinc(y), I was already aware of this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by immakiku (777365)
      Synesthesia is a fairly well understood defect in the brain. It seems they took a normal sample of people. It's only synesthesia if only a small population of people have it. If everyone is supposed to have it, it wouldn't be a defect.
    • This sounds like a specific case of Synesthesia [wikipedia.org]

      How can you hear what this sounds like when it's just an article on a web page? You must have synesthesia...

      • How can you hear what this sounds like when it's just an article on a web page? You must have synesthesia...

        That's a succinct statement of what's wrong with GP's comment.

        More generally, I think it's fair to say that people, especially folks who are scientifically educated but not psychologists, are much too prone to seeing human perception according to the following flawed model: human perception consists of five separate, independent sensory systems that feed their input into some sort of central process

    • I usually season my food synethesially. Colors and textures evoked by the flavors of the ingredients guide my recipes. My creations have received praise from people who didn't know that I owe my cooking prowess to past experience with hallucinogenic substances. And even tho I do not use auditory clues in my cooking, I DO use it in other applications of synesthesia. It is clearly obvious to me that the local auditory environment would influence the taste (and other sensory experiences) of food. If you don't
    • Good News Everybody!

      You are reading this post in my voice while experiencing the taste of nice crunchy apples in your mouth-parts!

      The Professor

      I don't understand how this is news. It has long been known that you hear better when your eyes are closed, or you can juggle better when someone isn't jumping in your face and screaming at you. Why should it be any surprise that taste isn't affected by noise/colour/texture?

  • by syousef (465911) on Friday October 15, 2010 @04:23PM (#33912366) Journal

    Airline food is bland because it is pre-packaged long life shit and instant tv dinners produced in a tiny galley on a budget. Blaming the background noise is ridiculous. It's a "dog ate my homework" excuse.

    • by guruevi (827432)

      Actually, it really depends on the airline (actually the operator of the aircraft) you're flying with.

      I've had some really good (in comparison to other airplanes) food on Air France (duck breast, foie gras) while the flights booked through Air France but operated by Delta really sucked (something resembling a McDonalds patty from the dollar menu and some hard noodles had to pass as Beef Stroganoff).

      • Even within the airline there are large variations and then there are certain things that are just impossible to to serve on an airline while still having them taste good. For instance pasta, I have never eaten pasta on a plane that actually had any taste. I was on a Cathay pacific flight recently and had 2 meals(one each way). the beef was probably the best meal I have e er had on an airline but the pumpkin pasta tasted like nothing, and I'm a huge pumpkin fan.
    • by kevinNCSU (1531307) on Friday October 15, 2010 @04:46PM (#33912628)
      Most of the airlines I've flown on recently, if they serve you an actual meal, has been sandwiches wrapped in saran wrap containing meat and lettuce and tomatoes all of which would spoil rather quickly, certainly not what I would classify long life shit. They are usually loaded on to that plane at the terminal by a catering truck during boarding. Not extremely excellent food, but not terrible instant tv dinner type stuff that seems like it might be months/years old either.
    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Friday October 15, 2010 @04:57PM (#33912780) Journal
      You ever stash some airline food and eat it in a different setting? It tastes very different. Not good per se, but definitely not bland.

      Did this with some breakfast sandwich that my wife didn't like... I ate mine (room-temperature, as they served it before I was really awake on a 10-hour international red-eye), and saved hers for after we landed 2 hours later.

      I even remarked to her that hers tasted different than mine... this could be a possible explanation.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      becqsue the spice..what? go away magically?

      • by Jesus_666 (702802)
        it's well-known that things taste less intensive in flying airplanes, not because the spices disappear but because our ability to taste them does. One side effect of that is that tomato juice is more popular on flights than elsewhere; it's one thing that doesn't taste completely bland.

        This study tries to link the difference in taste to ambient noise; the usual other explanation is that it's altitude dependent. Of course both may be true.
        • by camperslo (704715)

          I've experienced foods tasting better when camping than the same foods did elsewhere. I thought that part of it might have been heightened senses from the fresh air, exercise, and early to bed early to rise life, but certainly camping was also time away from quite a few intentional and incidental sounds.
          Any effect from tv or radio programming might be intensified by the extensive audio processing often used. The audio tends to be a continuous wall of sound.

          • by syousef (465911)

            My wife has severe food allergies that make eating out akin to Russian roulette (for both of us since I can in theory cause an anaphylactic reaction just by kissing her). She compensates by cooking wonderful food. It tastes no less wonderful eating it in front of a TV.

            This whole study is nonsense.

    • The fancy airlines that have chefs prepare the meals before takeoff put more spice in the foods. The theory is that the altitude affects the taste in some ways.
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The fancy airlines that have chefs prepare the meals before takeoff put more spice in the foods. The theory is that the altitude affects the taste in some ways.

        That is correct http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9408563. The cabin of an airliner traveling at 39,000ft is pressurized to the equivalent of 6,900ft. Ask any chef in Denver (~5,000ft) and they'll tell you they have to change the ratios of everything when they cook there. It doesn't dull the taste of everything and some flavors it makes your tongue more sensitive to.

  • biscuits = cookies ~ crisps = chips ~ Good deed done! What a week!
  • No control group? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Friday October 15, 2010 @04:28PM (#33912422) Journal
    Did they also do the experiment with people who weren't wearing blindfolds???
  • by kubitus (927806) on Friday October 15, 2010 @04:46PM (#33912636)
    by the potato chips industry

    enjoy our crispy couch potato potato chips

    turn down the TV so that you can hear our chips!

    -

    Silicon chips are crispier

  • by shaitand (626655)

    "participants were fed sweet foods such as biscuits or salty ones such as crisps"

    You couldn't come up with something sweeter than a biscuit and wtf is a crisp?

    • by kramerd (1227006)

      These are british terms.

      Biscuit means cookie, crisp mean chips (chips would mean fries).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...that people who listen to loud rock, rap, and hiphop have absolutely no taste.

  • This article can very easily bring up much deeper ideas based on the findings. For example, how many other things do we tend to dislike (or enjoy less) because of a particular circumstance? This is especially true of first impressions. If you think back to your first impressions of various people, you may find a pattern arise based on your surroundings. Personally, I found a large bias against people I met in less than favorable conditions. After meeting with these people a few times after, I found I enjoye

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