British Chef Plays with the Psychological Taste of Words to Enhance Flavor

Does this cheese taste maluma to you?

Brie de Meaux

Dominik Hundhammer (GNU Free Documentation License)

A chef and a professor are teaming up to create a dining experience that capitalizes on synaesthetic perception that links tastes to certain sounds. Synaesthesia is the association of different sensory perceptions -- hearing shapes or seeing music.

But while synaesthesia is considered rare -- found in less than 1 percent of the population -- Oxford University researcher Charles Spence says that, in fact, most people actually do experience some form of it. Spence, a professor of experimental psychology, and co-author Cesare Parise conducted tests and found that volunteers seemed to match certain tones with certain shapes -- a lower pitch matched a larger dot, while a higher pitch matched a smaller dot. Likewise, an experiment in 1929 found that people consistently paired up a shape with rounded edges with certain names containing "softer sounds," and a shape with hard angles with a name with "sharper sounds."

In his culinary collaboration with chef Heston Blumenthal, Spence plans to attempt a similar effect with food, associating particular tastes at Blumenthal's restaurant with the sounds of certain words.

[Via the BBC]