Making Food Tastier With Music

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Comfort foods get even more comforting if you eat them with the right kind of musical ambiance, according to a new study on the effects of different background music on the taste of foods.

Previous research shows that genres of music can elicit different emotions, and that the enjoyment of some foods can be affected by emotions. The new work takes the next step and looks at how music affects the perception of food.

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“Little has been known about the influence of background music genre on food perception,” explained Han-Seok Seo of the University of Arkansas. “Most of the studies investigating influences of background music have focused on eating and shopping behaviors.”

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Seo is a coauthor of a paper reporting the research in the latest issue of the journal Appetite. He noted that research has shown when French or German music was played in a wine store, wines from the same country as the music outsold the other.

In this new experiment, 99 taste-testers (46 males and 53 female) sampled a "comfort" food -- one that is associated with emotions, versus a food that is not, while listening to the same piece of music which had been re-composed as classical, jazz, hip-hop and rock. The emotional food was, not surprisingly, milk chocolate. The non-emotional food was bell pepper. Afterward the subjects were asked to rate the foods.

Among their findings was the discovery that jazz made the chocolate taste measurably better and hip hop did not. The same effect wasn't seen on the bell peppers. But Seo cautions restauranteurs from rushing to switch music stations.

“This study showed that background music genre can modulate flavor pleasantness and overall acceptability of chocolate,” Seo explained.

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They also found that the background music-induced food perception varies by music performer, type of food, consumers’ demographics, experience and culture. “Thus, to strengthen the current findings, further studies with diverse musical and food stimuli must be conducted.”

Chocolatiers are the not only ones who can benefit from this kind of research, of course.

“It can be of importance in all situations where eating matters,” said Thomas Hummel of Technische Universität in Dresden, Germany. Potential examples are anorexic patients -- both young people with anorexia nervosa or older people with age-related anorexia, he said.

“Personally I do not like jazz,” said Hummel, “so it surprising to me that especially this ... was a more or less uniform effect on so many people.” Still, it underscores how much more there is to eating than just putting food in your mouth.

“When we eat it is clearly not only the palate that determines what we eat and how much we eat,” Hummel said. “The acoustic environment also plays a big role, it let's us eat faster, leaves us hungrier, changes the pleasantness of foods, turns regular food into something special. I also can imagine that this may change the depth of our social contacts.”

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