Review of scientific literature by Louis Brouillette, PhD, musicologist and researcher in education
May 5, 2018
Can listening to music change the perception of food’s taste? This is the intriguing question on which several European and North-American researchers have focused their attention in recent years. Their studies undertaken with different types of music (classical, jazz, rock, hip-hop, etc.) and different foods (chocolate, ice cream, beer, wine) have made it possible to discern the influence of music on the taste of food and on the pleasure we feel while consuming it. As for the relationship between music and chocolate, what were the main research findings and how did scholars reach these results? Read on to find out.
In a study by Reinoso Carvalho et al. (2015), 24 participants tasted six chocolates made by Bruges chocolatier The Chocolate Line (two sweet, two semi-sweet, and two bitter) and listened to three musical compositions produced in collaboration with the Musicology Department of the Université de Gand (one so-called “sweet” composition with highly resonant filters, one “semi-sweet”, and one “bitter” with low resonance filters). Participants were asked to associate each chocolate with the music to which it best corresponded. Then, using a 9-point scale (-4 = very bitter, 0 = neutral, 4 = very sweet), participants evaluated the bitterness or sweetness of each chocolate by tasting them in silence as well as while listening to the compositions. The study showed that the bitter chocolate seemed significantly sweeter when it was tasted while listening to the music that the participant had described as “sweet”.
In another study by Reinoso Carvalho et al. (2017), four types of chocolates by chocolatier The Chocolate Line were used (a crunchy chocolate with 70% cacao, a creamy chocolate with 70% cacao, a crunchy chocolate with 80% cacao, and a creamy chocolate with 80% cacao) along with two 1-minute compositions (available at http://tinyurl.com/creaminess-chocolate). The so-called “creamy” composition contains long, smooth, consonant sounds while the “rough” composition has short, detached, dissonant sounds. The 116 participants were asked to taste two randomly selected identical chocolates while listening to the two compositions and evaluating the creaminess, sweetness, and bitterness using Likert 7-point scales (1 = not at all, 4 = neutral, 7 = very much). The study reported that the chocolates seemed creamier and sweeter while listening to a “creamy” composition and the chocolates seemed more bitter with the “rough” music. Neither the shape of the chocolates nor the cacao percentage produced a significant impact on the results.
Guetta and Loui (2017) tested the influence of taste preferences and musical preferences in the relationship between taste and music. 23 university students were asked to evaluate four chocolates (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) along with compositions corresponding to the four types of chocolate (see Table 1 for descriptions of the compositions) according to a Likert 7-point scale (1 = very displeasing, 4 = neutral, 7 = very pleasing). A significant correlation between the taste preferences and musical preferences was observed, indicating, for example, that an individual who liked salty chocolate would probably like the “salty” music or, like most of the participants, that an individual who liked the sweet chocolate would probably like the “sweet” music. This study thus suggests that taste preferences and musical preferences influence the complex relationship between the taste of a chocolate and a type of music.
Composition Descriptor / Characteristics of the composition (determined using prior research)
Sweet / Legato playing, more vibrato, emphasis on high notes
Salty / Rapid tempo, staccatos
Sour / Dissonances, slight glissandos
Bitter / Richer tone, slower tempo, vibrato, emphasis on lower notes
Table 1: Descriptors and characteristics of the compositions used by Guetta and Loui (2017). They can be listened to at https://wesfiles.wesleyan.edu/home/ploui/web/SoundTasteCrossmodal/.
Fiegel et al. (2014) examined the impact of different types of music on altering the taste of food with sentimental associations (milk chocolate) or without (a red pepper). 99 North-Americans, divided into two groups (A and B), ate chocolate and red pepper while listening to four types of music (classical, jazz, rock, and hip-hop) and evaluating both the intensity of the food’s flavour and the degree of pleasure on a 15-point scale (0 = extremely disagreeable, 15 = extremely strong or pleasant). The music listened to by group A was performed by the same musician while that of group B was performed by many different musicians. The study shows that the degree of pleasure felt when tasting food can be altered by a specific type of music, since group A participants significantly preferred the chocolate and the peppers while listening to jazz instead of hip-hop.
In short, science shows that music can influence the taste of chocolate and that certain types of music alter perception or degree of pleasure more than others. Accordingly, chocolates eaten while listening to Symphonic Chocolates by Maxime Goulet could taste different than those eaten in silence. Go ahead, try it for yourself!