Your tongue has a lot less to do with taste than you can imagine. I would argue that flavour perception is amongst the most multisensory of our everyday experiences. Sure, taste is involved, but I would say it is actually one of the least important senses as far as flavour perception is concerned.
This radical notion that taste isn’t everything comes from Professor Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford. Spence, who studies the relationship between taste and sound, believes sound is the forgotten flavour sense. Restaurants ruminate over menu choices, lighting, decor and table settings, but will throw on any old playlist (or have none at all) without a second thought.
The next time you’re eating out at a restaurant, take note of the sounds around you. Is it loud and booming, or quiet and serene? Is there music, or is it just the general buzz of conversation? Whatever the answer, it could be affecting the way you experience your meal.
Variation in sound has distinct ways of enhancing or detracting from the flavour of food. In the past few years, this area of research has exploded, but Spence, who is also the head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory, is heralded as the first person to successfully show that changes in sound can alter taste. He’s been collaborating with, famous personality chef and proprietor of the Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal for almost 15 years now. The two famously collaborated on the restaurant’s signature dish, Sound of the Sea, which came about after a last-minute presentation for a conference they both attended. In conclusion, variations in sound, have distinct ways of enhancing or detracting from the flavor of food.