Finally, Some Research That Makes Sense!
Every once in a while I come across a report about some sort of mind boggling research that some academic has conducted. Like the guy who attempted to link the obesity epidemic with increasing portion sizes in paintings of the Last Supper. Or the guy who advocates etching an outline of a fly in public urinals because men will aim at the fly and as a result “spillage” will be decreased by 80%. The report I saw made this assertion but didn’t explain how the measurements were made. Or by whom.
Usually I end up wondering how the people who do this research got the money to do it. But the other day I found some research that although a little bizarre, could have major benefits for civilization.
A psychology professor at Manchester University decided to study the effect that sound has on our ability to taste our food.
As a person who is put off by restaurants where music is blasted from speakers strategically located above each table, I read the findings with interest.
They found that when we are subjected to ‘white noise,’ we lose the ability to taste our food. The airlines (who may well have paid for the study) are ecstatic because now they have a scientific explanation why airplane food is so bad—actually, it’s really pretty good but because the engines and ventilation system of an aircraft create a lot of white noise, we just can’t taste it!
Apparently there has been a lot of debate on how sound affects our sense of taste. There is a celebrity chef named Heston Blumenthal, who I must admit I’d never heard of, who has taken the idea to its illogical conclusion. At his restaurant when you order a certain seafood dish, it comes with an iPod (which I don’t think you get to keep) that has sounds of the ocean on it. You listen to the iPod while eating your seafood special and it is supposed to taste better.
At first I thought that wouldn’t be something you should order on your first date because it might be a bit anti-social to listen to an iPod while eating. But it turns out that this seafood dish is part of a 17 course meal so you won’t be tuned out all night. In fact the whole thing is a real extravaganza—the seafood dish is served on a crate with a glass top. The crate is filled with what looks like sand and seashells (to remind you that you are eating seafood).
But guess what? It’s not sand! It’s a mixture of tapioca, breadcrumbs, “crushed fried baby eels, cod liver oil and langoustine oil topped with abalone, razor clams, shrimps and oysters and three kinds of edible seaweed.”
I guess that means you can eat it. But all I can think of is my mother’s old admonition: Don’t play with your food!
It gets better. For people who haven’t yet figured out that they are eating seafood, they “have the juices from the shellfish [yuck] made into a foam and placed along one side of the tapioca dish, so it looks like the sea. Alongside the dish we’ll serve a glass of seaweed extraction [double yuck] and mirin, which will give diners a massive umami hit.”
I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true.
Anyway, back to sound and food, at first I was happy, thinking that restaurants would take heed and turn down the noise so that we have a chance to (1) taste our food and (b) talk to each other while eating.
But on second thought, I think we may be doomed after all. The accountants responsible for restaurants’ bottom lines will put two and two together. Realizing that loud music means we can’t taste the food properly means that they can cut down on food quality and camouflage it by increasing the volume.
And the result will be a proliferation of bad restaurants with bad food blasting bad music.
Give me that iPod.