In a bid for more emotional snacking, Frito-Lay patents culinary theme songs

Innovation can be a matter of joining together things that the patent office — and maybe customers — will approve of. Corn chips, song, and the Internet are obvious influences on US patent 7942311, “Method for sequencing flavors with an auditory phrase,” granted May 17, 2011 to George Eapen of Frisco, Texas. Eapen assigned rights to Frito-Lay, the corn chip behemoth.

(Thanks to Jim Cowdery for bringing it to my attention.)

Eapen sums it up in about 50 words:

The method involves identifying sequenced flavor notes in a food product and developing an auditory or musical phrase that represents or artistically relates to the tasting experience of the flavor notes. The auditory phrase is played and listened to concurrently with tasting the food product, thus producing a combined sensory experience.

It’s rather like the marriage, arranged for both commercial and personal pleasure, of each Red Sox player to some particular theme song.

The patent explains why the world needs this:

Music, such as can be expressed in an auditory phrase, is a powerful part of a human’s sensory experience, triggering emotions, feelings, and the recall of memories. Yet, no effort has been made to correlate and link a tasting experience with a relevant musical sequence, such that the flavor notes of a food product complement the musical aspects of an auditory phrase. Consequently, a need exists for sequencing the flavor notes of a food with a corresponding auditory experience.

The same work that produced this patent led Eapen to make a TV commercial for Doritos, starring the Black Eyed Peas:

Figure 1 from the patent illustrates “the sequencing of flavor [not musical] notes focusing only on the aspect of the perception of taste. The data on FIG. 1 Was accumulated from panel testing of a salsa verde flavored corn chip.” The particular flavor notes here, each indicated by a different kind of graphic shading, are cilantro, tomatillo, a lime flavor, and an unspecified “spice flavor.”

The details of what’s in this graph give you insight about how very hard food manufacturers can yearn to understand what happens when somebody eats the food they sell.

flavor-figure1 You might best appreciate the graph by taking it to a bar or restaurant, ordering a salsa verde flavored corn chip, and (A) eating the corn chip while (B) you look at the graph and (C) a friend (or perhaps the bartender or waitperson) reads aloud the following explanation:

The vertical axis 102 is labeled and indexed on a fifteen point intensity scale reflecting the average intensity of the particular flavor as perceived by the panel. The horizontal axis 104 is event-based and progresses in time from left to right. For example, the axis 104 is labeled With a starting point of When the chip is placed in the tester’s mouth, records the perception of a cilantro, tomatillo, lime flavor 106 at the first bite, tracks perceptions at five to seven chews, nine chews, swallow, and finishes the chart at a fifteen second aftertaste mark and a sixty second aftertaste mark. The fifteen second and sixty second indices are referenced from the act of placing a chip in the tester’s mouth as starting the time clock.

Down in the bowels of the patent document, the inventor explains how these “flavor notes” link up with musical notes to benefit both the business and the customer.


The inventor offers this possibly-hunger-inducing example:

This involves scanning the bar code on the pillow bag with a cell phone that has been linked to a Website operated by the manufacturer or marketer of the food product. One or more music clips can then be downloaded to the device. The device can then be played concurrent With the act of consuming the food product found within the pillow bag. One or more music clips can then be downloaded to the device. The device can then be played concurrent with the act of consuming the food product found Within the pillow bag.

BONUS: The patent makes reference to many earlier patents. One of those patents (#646139, granted in the year 2000), has an impressively long, descriptive title: “System for storing, accessing and displaying html-encoded documents relating to an object being worked upon in a work environment by a human operator wearing a wireless http-enabled client system equipped with a code symbol reader programmed to read a url-encoded symbol on the object, access said html-encoded documents from http-enabled information servers connected to an information network, and display same for review while working said object.”

Marc Abrahams is the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research magazine and organizer of the Ig Nobel Prizes.
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