How High-Pitch Tones Will Demolish Diets

istock / istock

As the old adage goes, you are what you eat. And, as it turns out, you hear what you eat too, at least according to a growing body of research that shows how sound affects our tastebuds. The upshot: Imagine a world in which we could sweeten food without sugar and reduce epidemics like diabetes and obesity (and, in turn, health-care costs) simply by piping certain sounds into our ears.

Not convinced? Just ask Caroline Hobkinson, a food artist who teamed up with the University of Oxford’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory on an experiment that tested sound-based taste modulation on diners at the London eatery House of Wolf. The Oxford team had previously determined that high notes tend to enhance sweetness and low ones bring out bitters. No one’s quite sure why, but one theory is that the brain has a tendency to “match” perceptions across the senses. (In more pronounced cases, this is what causes synesthesia.)

To demonstrate the effect for the public, House of Wolf offered a bittersweet chocolate toffee cake pop served with a telephone number. Diners were invited to dial one for sweet or two for bitter, prompting a high- or low-frequency sound. “It makes me laugh because it works every time,” Hobkinson told The Guardian, “and people say, ‘Oh! That’s so weird!’”

The lesson to be learned? If you’re looking to reduce your sugar intake and lead a healthier life, keep those low, lumbering tones on full blast. The tuba never sounded so good.