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Exploring links between music and our perceptions of chocolate

Stack of cherry-filled chocolate squares.
Food scientists at Washington State University are exploring the marriage of different types of music and chocolate in an experiment happening today at the Sensory Science Lab.

Does milk chocolate taste creamier when you’re listening to Beethoven? How might the crunch of nuts in a chocolate bar play off against rhythm and blues?

Food scientists at Washington State University are exploring the marriage of different types of music and chocolate in an experiment happening today at the Sensory Science Lab. Findings could help food scientists understand whether certain types of tunes and chocolate treats are in harmony, or are better off apart.

“Our experiments help us discover how people experience the foods we eat,” said Carolyn Ross, professor and director of the Sensory Science Lab. “It’s all about understanding what we prefer or dislike, and why.”

WSU’s Sensory Science Lab helps scientists and food companies fine-tune understanding of the variables that influence perception and enjoyment of foods and beverages.

The chocolate panel happening today builds on work by researchers in Europe, who found that music influences how we perceive creaminess, bitterness, and sweetness.

Ross is interested in seeing how volunteers react to the chocolate pairings—pure milk chocolate and a sample with raisins and nuts, combined with a “smooth” sampling of classical music as well as a dissonant, jangly and “rough” tune.

Together, music and chocolate offers endless combinations.

A woman taste tests chocolate in a testing room.
WSU researchers are using the Sensory Science Lab to look at how our perceptions of different kinds of chocolate change based on music (WSU photo-Seth Truscott).

“There are so many variables that you can introduce,” Ross said. “And so many ways you can go, musically—heavy metal music vs. Kenny G?”

In addition to providing valuable data for food companies, research from the Sensory Science Lab is also used in the classroom where Ross said she discusses projects like this with students in her undergraduate- and graduate-level course, Sensory Evaluation of Food and Wine.

A previous sonic experiment at the lab asked listeners to rate freshness based on the sound of carrots being eaten. One carrot was raw, the other blanched. Consumers, perhaps naturally, favored the raw carrot.

“This kind of project helps my students think about other things that influence our sensory perceptions, beyond what is in our food and beverages,” she said. “We want to explore new variables that come up, things we hadn’t thought about.”

Learn more or sign up to be a tasting panel volunteer at the Sensory Science Lab website.

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