Oh, yeah? British Airways wants to retune our tastes

Oh, yeah? British Airways wants to retune our tastes


norman lebrecht

October 14, 2014

Read and recoil:

Hi there,
From November, British Airways is introducing ‘Sonic Seasoning’ on flights to bring out even more flavour in the food and drink served. The science behind it is taken from Professor Charles Spence from Oxford University, quoted in the release.<

A full press release and image of our Sonic taster attached!
Many thanks,
Sophia Procter

British Airways, Consumer PR Manager
british airways

When it comes to perfect pairings, food and music may seem an unlikely combination, however research by Oxford University suggests that the right music can influence taste buds. To put it to the test, British Airways has created a unique ‘Sound Bite’ soundtrack, for customers dining at 35,000ft.

Known as ‘Sonic Seasoning’, the study found that specific music can make food appear up to ten per cent more sweet or salty.  Based on the findings, the airline’s 13-track playlist is available on long-haul flights from November, to complement the dining experience.

Diners start with a choice of Paolo Nutini to complement the Scottish providence of the salmon dishes, or Louis Armstrong ideally matched for savoury dishes. Lily Allen and Coldplay are among the choices for main meals, as the findings claim that ‘British food and music belong together’. For those choosing a hearty main, Debussy is available, since classical music is perfectly paired with roast style dinners. For dessert, high-pitch tones from James Blunt and Madonna bring out the sweet flavours.

Sonic seasoning can also have an effect on drinking wine, with classical and rock music said to enhance perception of quality and depth of flavour. The Pretenders have been chosen to accompany red wines, as they can make it appear more ‘robust’ and ‘heavy’, while white wine is served with The BBC Symphony Orchestra, since classical music can enhance the perception of its quality. To round off the meal the low tones of Tenor Domingo are a great match for coffee.


Mark Tazzioli, British Airways’ chef, said: “Your ability to taste is reduced by 30 per cent in the air, so we do everything we can to counteract this. As the ‘fifth taste’ we use umami rich ingredients in our meals, and choose wines that work well with these dishes. The sonic seasoning research is fascinating, and our pairings should really help bring out the flavours.”

Professor Charles Spence from Oxford University, who conducted the study, said: “In the coming months and years we are going to see far more interest in the matching of music and soundscape to what we eat and drink. I think that it is a really exciting and innovative development to see British Airways taking the first steps in this direction.”


Based on Professor Spence’s study, the playlist compiled by the airline’s in-flight specialists Spafax can be found on the airlines ‘Rock and Pop’ audio channel on long-haul flights as of November. It features the following songs to accompany dishes:

Artist and song
Dining option
Findings from the study
Paolo Nutini,                  Scream (funk my life up)
Scottish salmon starter
Scottish musicians can enhance the providence of Scottish foods
Anthony and the Johnsons, Crazy in love
Savoury starter
Low tones complement savoury starters
Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Azalea
Savoury starter
Low tones complement savoury starters
Johnny Marr, New Town Velocity
Full English breakfast (early morning flights)
British music should be paired with British food
Lily Allen, Somewhere only we know
Main meal,
British classic
Piano notes can enhance the sensation of sweet and bitter tastes. British music should also be paired with British food
Coldplay,                                             A sky full of stars
Main meal,
British classic
British music should be paired with British food
Debussy, Claire De Lune
Main meal/ roast dinners
Classical music is suitable for meals such asSunday lunch.  Piano notes can also enhance he sensation of sweet and bitter tastes
James Blunt, You’re Beautiful
High-tones boost sweet flavours
Madonna, Ray of Light
High-tones boost sweet flavours
Otis Redding,                   The dock of the bay
After-dinner chocolate
Low tones can bring out the bitterness in chocolate
The Pretenders, Back on the chain gang
Red wine
Rock music can enhance depth of flavour, making red wine appear more ‘heavy’
Hope/BBC Symphony Orchestra/Shostakovich, Romance from the Gadfly, Op.97
White wine
Classical music can enhance the overall experience and perceptions of quality when paired with wine
Plácido Domingo, Nessun Dorma from Turandot
Tenors low tones are suited to the bitterness of coffee
British Airways features more than 130 movies, 650 TV shows from around the world, 550 audio albums and 200 radio shows in its in-flight entertainment systems.
In previous months, the airline has introduced ‘Slow TV’ programmes on board – including an unedited seven and half hour train journey from Oslo to Bergen. Last month it launched a new ‘Paws & Relax’ channel, dedicated to showing footage of cats and dogs for pet fans.
Notes to Editors:
·        Professor Charles Spence of Oxford University conducted a study (Spence et al, Flavour 2013) into the relationship between food, drink and music, and found that specific sounds can make foods appear more salty or sweet. More about his studies can be found here: http://www.psy.ox.ac.uk/team/principal-investigators/charles-spence



  • Halldor says:

    ‘The Scottish providence of the salmon dishes…’ When I see stuff like thus in classical music press releases (pretty much daily) I assume it’s because cash-strapped arts orgs can’t afford functionally literate PRs. But what’s BA’s excuse?

    • Neil McGowan says:

      It keeps the sprogs of Hampstead and Highgate homes in employment?

      I’ve given the ‘world’s favourite airline’ a wide berth since their decision to hand out only one newspaper – The Daily Mail – to economy-class passengers 🙂

  • Halldor says:

    Ha! Yes, I meant ‘this’. That’ll learn me.

  • Daphne Badger says:

    What an extraordinary pile af arse.

  • mhtetzel says:

    I don´t know about music and food but British Airways would serve their music loving passengers a lot better by improving the selection of Opera and Classical music in their long haul flights.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      Why? I’ve always got a great and varied selection of two shortened Puccini operas with Angela Gheorghiu on my flights! Plus, they play a sloppy version of Lakmé’s Flower Duet with their safety instructions video! 🙂

  • mb says:

    But does their version of Siegfried have English subtitles? (Australian in-joke)

  • bratschegirl says:

    What do they recommend with rubber chicken?

  • Dave T says:

    Great idea. British food could use all the seasoning it can get.

  • clarrieu says:

    Can’t they just spell correctly Debussy’s “Clair” de Lune? With the extra e (“Claire”) it sounds like some oyster-related product…