60-Second Science

Restaurant Noise Can Alter Food Taste

Noise can make food taste more bland, but also increase the perception of its crunchiness. Christopher Intagliata reports

A noisy restaurant can distract you from your dinner conversation. But all that clatter may also drown out the taste of your food, making it more bland. That's according to a study in the journal Food Quality and Preference. [A.T. Woods et al., "Effect of background noise on food perception"]

Researchers recruited 48 college students, and fitted them with headphones playing either loud white noise, soft white noise, or nothing at all. Then the participants closed their eyes and chomped on snack foods like Pringles and cookies.

Turns out the students listening to blaring static rated the chips as less salty and the cookies as less sweet—even though they were tasting the same foods as the other groups.

Previous studies have shown that sound can interfere with how the brain processes smell; the researchers say the same could be true for taste. Or, loud noise could simply divert attention from the food's flavor.

But it's not all bad news for loud restaurants. In a second study, students rated crunchy foods as crunchier in the presence of loud white noise—perhaps because it tuned them into the sound of their food. The researchers say this study may explain why airline food ain't earning any Michelin stars. Me, I think there's a little more to it than the engine noise.

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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