Thinking outside the box: First-of-its-kind research turns breakfast sounds into music

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Lyle's turns the consumer reaction of eating syrup into sounds. Pic: GettyImages/banusevim
Lyle's turns the consumer reaction of eating syrup into sounds. Pic: GettyImages/banusevim

Related tags Lyle's Golden Syrup Research Split Second Research Camden BRI

Research from the UK Brain Music Research Project has identified the sound of some of the nation’s favourite breakfast toppings – measuring brain activity when eating syrup, marmalade and butter – and turned them into music.

The project was commissioned by Lyle’s Golden Syrup to help describe the 140-year-old product’s ‘indescribable’ taste. Previous consumer research found consumers couldn’t quite put a finger on its unique flavour, with descriptions ranging from ‘buttery’ to ‘caramel’.

That’s when the company hit upon the idea to identify it through the universal language of music.

Scientists from Split Second Research – a UK market research agency specialising in implicit response testing and biometric testing – were tasked to identify the electroencephalogram (EEG) brain activity of 23 study participants fitted with sensors attached to their scalp to pick up the electrical signals they produced as they tucked into traditional breakfast toppings of golden syrup, marmalade and butter.

Research was conducted by Split Second Research and tested at Campden BRI labs in February 2023.

The EEG brain activity measured changes in electrical activity in different areas of the brain as the toppings were eaten. The results were then analysed and linked to different emotional responses such as excitement, anticipation and relaxation.

The researchers also identified the participant’s individual emotional responses to the tickling of their tastebuds, such as ‘comforting’ and ‘enjoyable’.

Combining the EEG data with the implicit responses, the findings reveal the taste of Lyle’s Golden Syrup activated feelings of enjoyment and nostalgia.

The research team then mapped these responses with musical sounds, to create audio tracks that reveal the sound equivalent.

“Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but this was the first time anyone has ever used EEG brain sensor technology to discover what the taste experience may sound like,”​ said Dr Eamon Fulcher, cognitive behavioural psychologist and CEO of Split Second Research.

“As part of the research, we created a set of attributes associated with taste and how it made the respondents feel when they were eating the breakfast toppings.

Dive into a golden world

Swirling syrup stilllifephotographer
Pic: GettyImages

“Combining the EEG data and implicit responses together allowed us to create a series of musical tracks that vary, based on tempo, scale, instrumentation, chord progression and melody, while mapping the research clips in a meaningful way.”

Digital instruments were used to create the Sound of Lyle’s soundtrack.

Elements of smooth bass and retro synth illustrate feelings of relaxation and nostalgia, while rich layers of sound and major scale chords reflect feelings of enjoyment and anticipation.

The research also mapped out the participant’s response to butter and marmalade, also turned into corresponding music.

The marmalade track features an up-tempo speed of 135 beats per minute to illustrate the tangy sweetness, while butter displays gritty synths to demonstrate the salty undertones.

“People have been enjoying Lyle’s Golden Syrup on their breakfast since 1883, yet it’s been said so many times that the taste is indescribable,”​ said Louise Coates, Lyle’s Golden Syrup brand manager.

“For the next generation of golden syrup lovers, this is a fascinating way of describing the taste to them.”

Lyle's Golden Syrup tin

Lyle’s Golden Syrup has proved a time-honoured addition to many breakfast tables, along with a must-have ingredient in recipes like flapjacks and sponge pudding. Made with just one ingredient, the exact process remains a closely guarded secret at the Lyle’s Golden Syrup historic home in East London.

Fun fact

Lyle's iconic green tin holds a Guinness World Record for the longest unchanged branding. Also available in fully recyclable bottle formats.

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