Making Food Tastier With Music

A new study finds that chocolate tastes better with jazz music and that hip hop doesn't help food at all.

Comfort foods get even more comforting if you eat them with the right kind of musical ambiance, according to a new study on the effects of different background music on the taste of foods.

Previous research shows that genres of music can elicit different emotions, and that the enjoyment of some foods can be affected by emotions. The new work takes the next step and looks at how music affects the perception of food.

"Little has been known about the influence of background music genre on food perception," explained Han-Seok Seo of the University of Arkansas. "Most of the studies investigating influences of background music have focused on eating and shopping behaviors."

Seo is a coauthor of a paper reporting the research in the latest issue of the journal Appetite. He noted that research has shown when French or German music was played in a wine store, wines from the same country as the music outsold the other.

In this new experiment, 99 taste-testers (46 males and 53 female) sampled a "comfort" food -- one that is associated with emotions, versus a food that is not, while listening to the same piece of music which had been re-composed as classical, jazz, hip-hop and rock. The emotional food was, not surprisingly, milk chocolate. The non-emotional food was bell pepper. Afterward the subjects were asked to rate the foods.

Among their findings was the discovery that jazz made the chocolate taste measurably better and hip hop did not. The same effect wasn't seen on the bell peppers. But Seo cautions restauranteurs from rushing to switch music stations.

"This study showed that background music genre can modulate flavor pleasantness and overall acceptability of chocolate," Seo explained.

They also found that the background music-induced food perception varies by music performer, type of food, consumers' demographics, experience and culture. "Thus, to strengthen the current findings, further studies with diverse musical and food stimuli must be conducted."

Chocolatiers are the not only ones who can benefit from this kind of research, of course.

"It can be of importance in all situations where eating matters," said Thomas Hummel of Technische Universität in Dresden, Germany. Potential examples are anorexic patients -- both young people with anorexia nervosa or older people with age-related anorexia, he said.

"Personally I do not like jazz," said Hummel, "so it surprising to me that especially this ... was a more or less uniform effect on so many people." Still, it underscores how much more there is to eating than just putting food in your mouth.

"When we eat it is clearly not only the palate that determines what we eat and how much we eat," Hummel said. "The acoustic environment also plays a big role, it let's us eat faster, leaves us hungrier, changes the pleasantness of foods, turns regular food into something special. I also can imagine that this may change the depth of our social contacts."

Extreme weather events, financial collapse, political unrest: With today's overabundance of apocalyptic worry, now is a good time to start thinking about what you’ll do if and when the bottom falls out. In a survival situation, shelter, fire and clean drinking water should be your top priorities, said Tom Brown, founder of Tom Brown Jr.'s Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School. And, even though people can survive for up to three weeks without food, Brown said, extreme hunger can make you crazy. So it's worth stocking up on canned foods and other non-perishables. Read on to find out what else you can -- and really shouldn't -- eat when the cans run out.

DO: Pet food People end up eating pet food often enough -- and sales tend to go up during recessions -- that FDA standards require food made for animals to be suitable for humans to eat too, said Cody Lundin, founder and director of the Aboriginal Living Skills School in Prescott, Ariz. In an episode of the Discovery Channel show "Dual Survival", Lundin eats dog food cooked over a campfire -- and while he expresses hope that they'll catch raccoon for breakfast, he lived to tell the tale.

DO: Rodents It's easy to catch rats and other rodents, said Brown, author of "Tom Brown's Guide to City and Suburban Survival." Simply bury a five-gallon bucket in the ground up to its edges. Cover the mouth of the container with sticks and wood scraps, and wait for a startled mouse or chipmunk to scramble under the jumbled objects. The animal will fall right into your trap. Next, burn the hair off your prey, skin them, gut them and throw them into a stew pot with water and any grains, vegetables or flour you might have on hand. "Don't even bother filleting them or getting rid of the bones," Brown said. "Bone marrow is high in nutrition and protein."

DON'T: Leather During their infamous struggle against starvation, the Donner Party ate a wide variety of unappetizing objects, including leather, which is made from animal hides. Long ago, people used the tannins in oak tree bark to turn animal skins into leather, making it a safe food item. But modern leather products are tanned with chemicals that are surely poisonous, said Lundin, author of "When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes." Your belts may look as good as fruit roll-ups when you're really hungry. But it's best to leave them in the closet.

DO: Bugs Grasshoppers, cockroaches, ants, tarantulas: Virtually all insects are edible. Just make sure to cook them well enough to kill the wide variety of diseases they can carry, Brown said. You can even eat bees and scorpions as long as you remove their stingers first. One easy way to catch insects is to fill a sink with a little water and some food crumbs. Hungry bugs will go for the bait and either drown or get stuck in the tub. Ounce for ounce, Brown added, insects have up to four times more usable protein than other animals. Instead of a pound of beef, a quarter-pound grasshopper burger will do the same job.

DO: Weeds "Food plants grow everywhere," said John Kallas, director of Wild Food Adventures, an educational company, and author of "Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate." "All you need to do is go out in your backyard." You also need to build up some detailed knowledge about botany before all hell breaks loose because eating the wrong plants or the wrong parts of plants can kill you. Common vitamin-rich weeds include wild spinach, cattails, field mustard, garlic mustard, nipplewort and dandelions. No matter how hungry you are, Kallas warned, only eat a little amount of any one kind of vegetation at a time. "Dandelions have some vital chemicals that are great for you in small amounts, but too much will give diarrhea," he said. "That's what you don't want in a survival situation."

DON'T: Cardboard and Paper Cardboard boxes may seem appealing because they contain cellulose from wood pulp, which is used as a thickener, stabilizer and source of fiber in a variety of food products. And along with paper, cardboard can counter hunger pains by taking up space. But people cannot adequately digest the cellulose in cardboard and paper, Brown said. Also, many of these products are treated with chemicals that can be toxic.

DO: Acorns Like any nut, acorns can be delicious and filling, but you can't just pop them in your mouth like cashews. To make acorns edible, Brown advised, first take them out of their husks. Next, drop them in a pot of just-boiled water and let them steep for a couple hours. Drain and repeat this process two to four times until all of the bitter tannic acid is gone. At last, you can eat the acorns plain. You can roast them. Or you can grind them into flour that will accentuate your rodent stew. Play the "Dual Survival" challenge, featuring survival experts Cody Lundin and Dave Canterbury.