Taste with your Ears

The fish tastes fishier when the background sounds are nautical.
We reach for Bordeaux wines when La Vie en Rose is on the soundtrack, and oompah bands have us craving Reisling.

The music playing, the swirl of conversation, the ambient noise in the background—they all have the power to affect our taste buds.

Drink a glass of wine in a noisy bar with the jukebox blaring.
Now sit down in a quiet room, queue up a little jazz and have another glass. It’s an entirely different experience. A British study found that the musical selections played while drinking wine can change the way the taste is perceived by up to 60 percent: a little 80’s New Wave pop makes white wine taste zingier, while ponderous German classical music gives heft to a Cabernet.

Another study, reported in the journal Food Quality and Preference, linked background noise to the taste of food. The study found that loud ambient noise makes flavors lose their intensity. Sweet foods taste less sweet and salty foods taste less salty. The researchers attribute this to the distraction—the noise seems to overwhelm the senses, drowning out the taste of food in the same way as it drowns out conversation.

Too much quiet, though, does nothing for the palate, and the solitary clink of cutlery becomes grating. The sweet spot for dining pleasure is found between 62 and 67 decibels, with a combination of muted classical music and a hint of background chatter (about as loud as the rinse cycle of a dishwasher at 10 paces).

When you want to be where the action is.
It’s not always just about the food. The smart restaurateur knows that nothing says fun like clattering dishes, chattering diners, and a pounding bass line. Some will cultivate the noise level to signify that the place has a buzz; it’s busy and lively and happening. Sedate and quiet feels empty. Raucous draws in customers who will want to be there because so many other people feel the same way. But if you want to really enjoy the meal, you’ll need a side of earplugs.


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Is it appropriate conversation for the dinner table? Then it should be fine.

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