Oxford University professor of experimental psychology Charles Spence suggests wind chimes hanging in a kitchen can help fussy children to eat their greens. He claims that parents can help enhance taste and suppress the bitterness of vegetables through ‘sonic seasoning.’
Prof. Spence has found that playing high chirpy notes like wind chimes while children eat, inadvertently improves flavor, by sweetening the taste. “So the idea with chirpy music like wind chimes is that it contains the high pitched musical notes that have been shown to bring out the sweetness in a food that contains a sweet note,” said Spence in an article in The Telegraph.
“The idea is that by accentuating sweetness, that will reduce the perceived bitterness of vegetables. And since bitterness is mostly what kids are averse to in e.g. Brussels Sprouts then it should help make cruciferous vegetables just that little bit sweeter.”
Spence’s research has shown that restaurants can bring out sweetness, spiciness, creaminess, or bitterness in a dish simply by playing matching music. “One cafe just opened up in Vietnam where they play only sweet music—think tinkling, high-pitched piano or wind chimes. The idea is that they’ll be able to add a little less sugar to their cakes and drinks.”
In the book The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining, Spence and psychologist Betina Piqueras-Fiszman from Wageningen University in the Netherlands explore the psychology of food.
“When the plating is artistic, people tend to enjoy the food more than if the same ingredients were just dumped on the plate,” Spence says. Spence and his colleagues found that people enjoyed salad more when it was plated to resemble a Kandinsky painting.
The shape and color of the dinnerware can affect taste as well. In general, round, white plates tend to enhance sweet flavors in food, whereas black, angular plates tend to bring out more savory flavors, Spence says. And serving food on a red plate tends to reduce the amount diners eat.
In England, inspired by Spence’s research, chef Heston Blumenthal serves a dish called “Sound of the Sea” at his three-Michelin-star restaurant, the Fat Duck. The seafood plate comes with an iPod tucked into a conch shell, so diners can listen to the sound of the ocean as they eat.
The distraction of blaring tunes can make it hard to hear your friends, and may impede your ability to pick up on flavors. “If music is too loud, it can suppress your ability to taste the food,” says Spence.
Culturally specific music can put your mind and your mouth in the mood for specific types of cuisine. “If you are in an ethnic restaurant, then playing music that people associate with that region can lead to food being rated as more authentically ethnic,” says Spence.