Is Visual Taste Perception Coloring Your Appetite?

Is Visual Taste Perception Coloring Your Appetite?

Is yellow sweet like a banana or sour like a lemon? From casual observations of our own eating we know that the visual 'taste' of food can be just as important as the ingredients in a dish. But how much does your internalized color and food associations - the ones we started developing from the very first time we saw our mothers' arm reach across and place before us a dark green round leafy Brussels sprout - impact what you are tasting now, and how are food producers exploiting this information to influence consumers?

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Some recent research might make you think twice about what you are tasting, and whether or not you might just be seeing a difference.

Food Color Research


A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research entitled, Taste Perception: More than Meets the Tongue:

The researchers manipulated orange juice by changing color (with food coloring), sweetness (with sugar), or by labeling the cups with brand and quality information. They found that though brand name influenced people's preferences for one cup of juice over another, labeling one cup a premium brand and the other an inexpensive store brand had no effect on perceptions of taste.

In contrast, the tint of the orange juice had a huge effect on the taster's perceptions of taste. As the authors put it: "Color dominated taste."

Given two cups of the same Tropicana orange juice, with one cup darkened with food coloring, the members of the researcher's sample group perceived differences in taste that did not exist. However, when given two cups of orange juice that were the same color, with one cup sweetened with sugar, the same people failed to perceive taste differences.

"It seems unlikely that our consumers deliberately eschewed taste for color as a basis for discrimination," write the authors. "Moreover, our consumers succumbed to the influence of color but were less influenced by the powerful lure of brand and price information."

- ScienceDaily: More Than Meets The Tongue: Color Of A Drink Can Fool The Taste Buds Into Thinking It Is Sweeter

Meaning, people thought the orange juice tasted different when there was no actual taste difference just because it was a slightly different color, but when the color remained the same, and the actual taste was changed, people didn't taste a difference.

More Food Color Research


During one experiment in the early 1970s people were served an oddly tinted meal of steak and french fries that appeared normal beneath colored lights. Everyone thought the meal tasted fine until the lighting was changed. Once it became apparent that the steak was actually blue and the fries were green, some people became ill.

Studies have found that the color of a food can greatly affect how its taste is perceived. Brightly colored foods frequently seem to taste better than bland-looking foods, even when the flavor compounds are identical. Foods that somehow look off-color often seem to have off tastes. For thousands of years human beings have relied on visual cues to help determine what is edible. The color of fruit suggests whether it is ripe, the color of meat whether it is rancid. Flavor researchers sometimes use colored lights to modify the influence of visual cues during taste tests.
-Excerpt taken from Erice Schlosser's book Fast Food Nation


Examples of Food That Probably Shouldn't Be the Color It Is

Crystal Pepsi
I think my first experience with Crystal Pepsi went something like this: "Alright Pepsi has a new lemon lime soda! Oh, wait! Why does it taste like cola!? Weird."

The last time I saw a cow produce bright yellow milk was when I wondered off from Woodstock into a neighboring farm. There I met a sociable hen named Margery who introduced me to that magical and mysterious milk cow.

And any other highly processed food targeted towards the most rational of consumers, children. But the bright colors do make it more exciting.
- Check out these previous food color posts:
Color Guide to Staying Healthy and Eating Right
Wonders of the Food Coloring World

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Showing 1 - 19 of 19 Comments
very interesting read and it inspired me. Froot Loops
This is so true! When I tried that green ketchup it tasted so different to me! tasted like it had vitamins in it, maybe because it was a bright vegetable green? All I know is I never had green ketchup again. Just looking at it, I couldn't stomach it.
Did you know you said "an lemon" near the beginning?
dude, I loved green ketchup but my mom couldn't stand it so my dad used it on the dog food (our dog, Jessie loved ketchup)
I recently moved to the US from the UK and I have found this to be so true. There are many foods here that I just can't stomach because of the food colourings used. I think in the EU the restrictions on food additives are stricter and so, on the whole, colours tend to be more natural.

I also remember, years ago, a friend serving me bread and butter pudding, to which he had added blue and green colouring. Tasted fine - so long as you kept your eyes shut!
When we were kids, my brother & I concocted a scheme to get more Christmas cookies. My mom let us decorate the cookies, so we colored the frosting dark, putrid colors. They tasted just fine but my mom refused to serve ugly cookies to her friends and our relatives. So she baked another batch and made us frost them in unoffensive, pastel colors. My brother & I got to eat all the ugly cookies ourselves. :)
My husband told me of an experiment his art teacher did, where he served them some strange blue food and they had to guess what it was. No one could. It was scrambled eggs...
I will eat almost anything that is blue. Blue foods, even though they're full of likely-to-be-unhealthy food coloring, are exciting to me. But I could not eat blue meat or blue fries. I think much of it has to do with how much I know the food I'm eating has already been processed. Soda and candy and cakes and things, all processed and sugary foods, can be bright shades of blue and I'll just love them more. Brown seems to be an unappetizing color as its the color of mud and you-know-what but it's also the color of tasty hamburgers. And even though I dislike most green vegetables, I'll be more likely to eat the darker, greener varieties of them as they look healtheir.
Every morning I stare at my cup of milk+coffee and a competition between vision and taste begins. More coffee or more milk? I love the dark option but the mild taste is appealing too. I always bet on taste, but colour frequently wins.
Taste wins

Colour wins
mmmmm i really want a blue strawberry now
. . .
I think I have not the stomach for bold colour.
I like my ketchup red and organic. *whimper*

But green eggs and ham . . . now that I'll try.
That blue strawberry grossed me out, haha
this makes so much sense, i can think of so many times where i have not eaten something because of its colour... could this be the next big thing? flavoring food just by changing its color?
ha! my first color and my third palette were inspired by such fancifully dyed junk foods:


haha I like the crystal pepsi reaction ;P

That blue steak kindof made me squirm. I doubt I could eat it unless I really set my mind to it >.>

Random Fact: Margarine was the first food product the FDA allowed to have added coloring. Margarine is actually white but it kindof grossed people out so they added yellow to make it more inviting. I guess the white made it look fatty or something. Even though when you think about it, yellow isn't that much better xD
How interesting. :o
I might start colouring my food to see if it tastes different.
I tried blue rice. I just couldn't eat it.

Blue is always far away, it's immaterial.

On blue sky: Atoms are great, but I can't see them. As far as I know, they are hardly material at all (atoms are more like a potency. The ocean is'nt made of waterdrops either, is it.

Good greetings, Evelien

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