Endpoint. Synesthesia is Music to our Taste Buds


Music can be one of life’s most influential sensory experiences, crescendoing its way into our neuronal networks and very being. It evokes deep emotion, stirring up old memories or giving us new hope.

Music influences the way we think. In fact, many great scientists have a musical or artistic hobby. Coincidence? I doubt it, especially considering all the recent work happening in the realm of cross-modal perception and synesthesia.

The Sound of the Senses

A great example is an award-winning paper presented at the 2016 International Federation of the Societies of Cosmetics Chemists (IFSCC) Congress, on “Sonification: Translating Product Performance into Sound.” Here, Damien Velleman of Nihon L’Oréal showed how the tactile experience of hair could be translated to sound. For instance, smooth, soft hair matched the gentle glide of a harp.

Cosmetic industry expert John Jiménez, of Belcorp, has spent his career in the neuromarketing area and thinks synesthesia has potential to be the next big movement for personal care. “I am sure we will see new product launches around this concept very soon,” he said.

The concept of crossing sensory boundaries is perhaps most prominent in the flavor and fragrance industry, especially considering how the very organs for these sensations are biologically connected. But Oxford researchers have expanded this duet to a trio, as The Daily Mail recently reported.[1]

“Listening to different musical notes while eating chocolate can change how the sweet treat tastes,” it stated. “Food scientists have found they can alter the sensation of creaminess in a piece of chocolate by playing different sounds to people as they eat.”

The article explained that a series of soft notes could make a piece of dark chocolate taste creamier. Short, sharp notes plucked on a violin, on the other hand, could make the same chocolate taste sharper or bitter. The research was published online in advance of the January 2017 edition of Appetite.[2]

Listening to Texture

According to another source, RT, which also reported on this paper, Felipe Reinoso Carvalho, co-author of the study, said that the experiment showed that sound not only influences taste but also the subtler qualities of food.[3] “It is totally about textures. It is not in the scope of taste anymore, it is in the scope of flavors, which are much more complex.” This should come as no surprise to flavorists.

“Creaminess is much more related to consonant harmonics, legato and reverberation. Roughness is an opposite auditory universe,” he added. The authors are developing real-world uses for their findings, including working with Belgian chocolatiers to market boxes with special soundtracks.

In related cross-modal research, Wang and Spence published[4] an article on the effects of various soundtracks and the taste perception of mixed fruit juices. Participants evaluated samples of mixed fruit juice while listening to music harmonized with consonant or dissonant tones. Each sample of juice was rated on three scales: one ranging from sour to sweet, while others involved hedonic ratings of the music and juice.

According to the study abstract, the results of an internet-based pre-test found participants reliably associated the consonant soundtracks with sweetness and the dissonant soundtracks with sourness. On-site, participants rated the juices as significantly sweeter in the consonant than in the dissonant music condition—regardless of the melody or instrumentation.

The authors concluded these results provide support for the claim that the cross-modal correspondence between a higher level musical attribute, i.e., harmony, and basic taste can be used to modify the evaluation of the taste of a drink.

It’s interesting how all this advanced research comes back to primal instincts and reactions. No doubt there’s something beyond the basic senses when you combine them. That puts the F&F market at an advantage, considering the very nature of olfaction and taste. Use these powers wisely, and for good.


All websites accessed on Nov. 30, 2016.

1. dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3956566/Can-music-change-taste-chocolate-test-different-sounds-trick-tastebuds.html

2. sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666316306134

3. rt.com/news/367685-chocolate-music-creamy-taste/

4. http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/10.1163/22134808-00002505

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