The bigger the crunch, the better crisps taste.

That's the prize-winning finding of Prof Charles Spence, head of the cross-modal research laboratory at Oxford University's department of experimental psychology.

Prof Spence and his colleagues have been awarded the Ig award for nutrition, for proving that people believe crisps — even stale ones — taste better when eaten to the accompaniment of crunchy sounds.

In a study, volunteers ate crisps of varying freshness while wearing headphones.

As they ate, the sound of the crisp breaking was altered by a computer and then played back to see if it changed their perception of the crisp's freshness.

By making the crunch sound louder, Prof Spence found that volunteers rated the crisps 15 per cent fresher.

The Ig Nobel prizes — an irreverent alternative to the Nobel prizes awarded in Stockholm this week — have become an amusing highlight of the academic calendar.

But Prof Spence, 39, said he was delighted that the department's work had been recognised.

He said: "This research is not as silly as it sounds. Many large food companies, such as Unilever who funded the original study, and Nestlé, have now started to conduct their own research in-house, based on these findings.

"Some of my colleagues were concerned that this award would mean people would not take them seriously, but that's not the case at all.

"We have been conducting this kind of research for the past six years for a number of major companies.

“The sound of food is important."

Prof Spence's research led to him linking up with Heston Blumenthal, at the Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, Berkshire — one of the best restaurants in the world.

The chef played diners the sound of crashing waves to improve the flavour of oysters, and sizzling bacon to enhance the taste of one of his most unusual dishes — egg and bacon ice cream. Prof Spence added: "Our research became quite high-profile after we did some work at the restaurant rated second best in the world.

"The sound of the waves makes the seafood taste more pleasurable, but it does not make the seafood taste any saltier."

Another Ig award went to researchers who found that fleas jump higher on dogs than on cats.