Scientists Make Stale Chips Taste Fresh With An Audio Edit

Brilliance | Dec. 10, 2017

If you've ever decided to chow down on snacks left open in your kitchen for months, you know the disappointment of biting into a stale potato chip. But what is it that makes that chip taste stale? It turns out that the sound of the chip has as much to do with it as its flavor.

Fresher Frequencies

For a 2004 study published in the journal Flavour, participants wore headphones as they bit into 180 identical Pringles potato chips and rated each one on its freshness. The headphones let them hear real-time audio of the crunch with each bite.

Here's what they didn't know: that the researchers were subtly changing the sound, boosting or lowering the high frequencies of some chips and changing the volume on others. The results showed that people will rate a chip as tasting fresher if the crunch has more high frequencies or a louder volume, and more stale and soft when the high frequencies or volume were turned down.

What's Going On?

This interaction of multiple senses is called cross-modal perception, and it's nothing new. In fact, the researchers got the idea from a phenomenon called the parchment skin illusion, where scientists can change your perception of your skin's texture by altering the sound you hear when you rub your palms together.

It's an important skill for interacting with your world, which is why you develop it as a baby: infants as young as one month have been shown to successfully pick out the image of an object that they had previously mouthed but never saw. Change one sensation, and you form a different mental picture as a result. Now if only they could change your cross-modal perception to fix itchy shirt tags...

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