By Pam Vukelic

One of the things I love best about being a teacher is that it gives me the opportunity to continue to learn. I learn from my students about books, movies, their school experiences, and trends. I even learn new language sometimes! I learn as I work to expand and keep current my course content. Since I’m an online teacher, my understanding of technology expands frequently.

Being a writer for Inspired Woman gives me the opportunity to learn, too. My goal is to take my typical topic, which is food, and relate it to the theme of the magazine, which this month is music. I had to dig a little for content for this article. I was not disappointed.

One logical avenue to pursue was foods named after famous musicians. Peach Melba immediately came to mind. Our dear friend, Lois, served this to us at one of her memorable dinner parties. She recalled that in years past, when Casper’s East 40 was a Bismarck landmark, the chef put a North Dakota spin on Peach Melba and called it Peach Medora. Medora, an accomplished pianist, lived in the Badlands in the late 1800s. The original Peach Melba was developed by the infamous French chef Escoffier, in the late 1800s, to honor the Australian soprano Nellie Melba after her triumphant performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin.

According to Barron’s Food Lover’s Companion (a must for any foodie’s library), Peach Melba is made with two peach halves that have been poached in syrup and cooled. Each peach half is placed hollow side down on top of a scoop of vanilla ice cream, then topped with Melba sauce (a raspberry sauce), and sometimes with whipped cream and sliced almonds (toasted, I am sure).

Another dish that might be popular in our neck of the woods is the dish common in Swedish homes on Christmas Eve called Jansson’s Temptation. It’s a potato casserole consisting of thinly sliced potatoes baked with onion, anchovies (maybe referred to as sprats), butter, and cream, often topped with buttered bread crumbs. It is named after a Swedish opera singer of the early 1900s who was also a gourmand.
In addition to recipes named for musicians, there are musicians named after food. Your age will determine which of these ring a bell for you. To name just a few, there are the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Spice Girls, Salt-n-Pepa, Meat Loaf, Korn, Lovin’ Spoonful, Sugar Ray, Vanilla Ice, and the Black Eyed Peas. When my son, Reed, was in high school, in the late 1990s, the Korn logo adorned many of his notebooks although their music was never much appreciated by his parents.

I also learned how important sound is as one of the non-gustatory factors related to eating. The other senses are obvious. We’ve all heard the saying, “The eyes eat first,” and know how important the appearance of food is. Some say that smell is 90% of taste. Texture is a huge factor in food and I know is related to the fact that mushrooms and avocados are not high on my list of favorite foods.

But sound? There is an amazing amount of research available in various journals. I found a 140-page master’s thesis prepared by an MIT student titled “Exploration of the Interaction Between Music and Flavor Perception.” Michigan State University professor Sungeun Cho believes that sound is the forgotten flavor sense and may not get the credit it deserves when we think about sensory evaluation. I guess we eat with our ears, too. Can you imagine a chip that doesn’t crunch?

Studies have shown the pitch of a tone influences the perception of how sweet or salty a food is. Eaters also perceived saltiness and sweetness as less intense when they ate food in the presence of loud background noise, in contrast to when they ate it with no or soft background noise.

Some restaurants spend a great deal of time and money developing their background playlist in order to most positively influence their clientele. They want their music to match their food (e.g., pop, classical, ethnic). They also know if the volume of music is loud a customer will leave more quickly. Is it better that he leaves more quickly and frees up the table or lingers to order more drinks and dessert? Faster music also causes us to eat more quickly.

I encourage you to read more on the subject. It is a burgeoning science. You’re likely to expand your vocabulary and, no doubt, improve your dining experiences.  

Pam VukelicPam Vukelic is an online FACS (Family and Consumer Science) instructor for the Missouri River Educational Cooperative. Unlike her husband, Jim, who sings in five different musical groups, Pam is more comfortable writing about music than performing it.