The Value Of Sound Bites

Taste, smell and texture have long been associated with eating enjoyment but there is one characteristic that is yet to be fully explored: sound. The noise food makes influences perceived quality and now the latest advances in analysis technology are making it possible for manufacturers to extract this valuable data. Jo Smewing, Applications Manager, Stable Micro Systems

From the satisfying crunch of a potato chip to the energetic fizz of a carbonated drink, the sound heard when a food is consumed provides vital information on its quality, both actual and assumed. It may seem surprising that this aspect has had relatively little attention in terms of food analysis.

According to Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University and author of a new study examining sound and flavour perception, it is the ‘forgotten flavour sense’ with untapped potential. In fact, growing recognition of the intrinsic role of sound in eating enjoyment now looks set to emerge as an important trend.

It is driving a new generation of food acoustics analysis designed to align product development with end-user expectations, create a positive point of difference and secure consumer loyalty. As such, manufacturers have identified a growing number of texture-related attributes that influence the appeal of a product, including crunchiness, hardness and crispness, to name but a few.

Acoustics In Action

By analysing the unique characteristic of each product, manufacturers can gain a greater understanding of overall performance and make any necessary changes to improve texture. Once a winning ‘noise’ for a food product has been determined, the aim is to ensure consistency during manufacturing. Therefore, the measurement of product’s acoustic signature is also key to determining the gold standard and ensuring quality control of all future batches.When a cereal bar, cracker or hard fruit is crushed, it releases acoustic energy from the brittle fracture of the cell walls. Naturally, these sounds (acoustic emissions) differ between products. For example, a relatively large proportion of high-pitched sounds indicate a product is crispy, whereas the equivalent ratio of lower-pitched sounds would mean it is crunchy. Equally important to measure is volume or ‘amplitude’; the louder the noise, the greater the crispness for example.

A carbonated drink, for example, is judged partly on the sounds of effervescence and bubbles popping in the glass. Make the ‘fizz’ louder or the bubbles pop more frequently and perception of the quality of the beverage may go up. If manufacturers are using a texture analyser for product testing, these important sounds can be measured at the same time to build a detailed picture of the multi-sensory experience.

Halloumi cheese is also a useful case in point. The ‘squeaky’ noise heard when it is bitten into has become a strong auditory cue and an expectation. Due to a phenomenon known as stick-slip, this frictional feature can be readily measured by a standard texture analyser, so it makes sense to measure the acoustic component of this quality at the same time.

By expanding the scope of analysis in this way, manufacturers can also measure and evaluate performance of a product against its competitors and so ensure positive differentiation.

Sounds Like The Next Big Thing

Food and drink is obviously a multi-sensory experience but the focus is shifting to fully explore the potential benefits of encouraging consumers to ‘eat with their ears’. Mr Spence believes it could be the next big trend in food.

Unilever, for example, is quoted in Spence’s research to highlight the importance of signature sound to brand value. The global giant reformulated the ice cream for its premium Magnum brand to stop it falling off in pieces, only to discover that losing the distinctive ‘crack’ as the chocolate is broken with the first bite was an even greater disappointment for consumers – this element was naturally reinstated.

With so much activity and innovation in this area, manufacturers would be wise to keep their ears open for the latest developments.

Note: This is a condensed version of the article. Read the original article here .

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  • Last modified on Monday, 04 September 2017 14:29
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