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Colour Enhances Taste

November 2016 - Is there a relationship between colour and taste? We look at two studies that have a bearing on this question.

A study reported in the Journal of Sensory Studies in 2012 found that food is perceived differently depending on the characteristics of the container.

Betina Piqueras-Fiszman from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain) and Charles Spence from the University of Oxford (UK) conducted an experiment with 57 participants who were asked to evaluate samples of hot chocolate served in four different kinds of plastic cup. The cups were all the same size but with different external colours: white, cream, red and orange with white on the inside. They found that the participants rated hot chocolate in an orange or cream coloured cup to taste better than in a white or red one.

Perception of the sweetness, rather than the flavour of the cocoa, and also the aroma (smell) where much less influenced by the colour of the cup, although participants found the the chocolate to be slightly sweeter and more aromatic in a cream coloured cup.

According to Betina Piqueras-Fiszman:

"The colour of the container where food and drink are served can enhance some attributes like taste and aroma. There is no fixed rule stating that flavour and aroma are enhanced in a cup of a certain colour or shade. In reality this varies depending on the type of food, but the truth is that, as this effect occurs, more attention should be paid to the colour of the container as it has more potential than one could imagine."

Their article also summarised previous studies that also confirmed the effect of containers on sensory characteristics of food or drink. For example, the flavour of lemon in yellow tins was preferred to that of soft drinks presented in a cold colour such as blue. Drinks in pink containers were viewed as being more sugary. Strawberry mousse presented on a white plate seemed sweeter than on a black plate. Coffee in brown packaging was associated with a stronger flavour and aroma.

Reference: Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, Charles Spence. "The influence of the color of the cup on consumers' perception of a hot beverage". Journal of Sensory Studies 27 (5): 324-331, 2012.

The Colour of Orange

A study in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2007 found that a drink's colour can influence perceptions of how it tastes more than quality or price. JoAndrea Hoegg of the University of British Columbia and Joseph W. Alba of the University of Florida altered the characteristics of cups of the same orange juice by darkening with food colouring, sweetening with sugar, or labeling with brand and quality information.

The study found that the colour of the juice had a huge effect on perceptions of taste; participants perceiving non-existent differences when given two cups with one artificially darkened. However, the same group failed to perceive taste differences when given cups of the same color with one sweetened. Brand name influenced people's preferences for one cup over another, but labeling one a premium brand and the other an inexpensive store brand had no effect on perceptions of taste.

The researchers explain:

"Perceptual discrimination is fundamental to rational choice in many product categories yet rarely examined in consumer research. The present research investigates discrimination as it pertains to consumers' ability to identify difference - or the lack thereof - among gustatory stimuli.

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

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