The color of the plate food is served on influences taste perception

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Academics have examined the effect of color among picky and non-picky eaters, in a first-of-its-kind study.

Previous research has demonstrated that the smell and texture of food can affect how it tastes for picky eaters, but little is known about other senses.

A team from the University of Portsmouth has discovered the color of the bowl in which food is served also influences taste perception.

The experiment comprised nearly 50 people to measure their food neophobia, which is a reluctance to eat or try new food. The participants, who were divided into picky and non-picky eaters, then tasted the same snacks served in red, white and blue bowls.

Results revealed that both the perceived saltiness and desirability of the foods were influenced by color in the picky group, but not the non-picky group.

Specifically, the snack was rated as higher in saltiness in the red and blue versus white bowl, and least desirable when served in the red bowl. In the UK, salty snacks are often sold in blue packaging, and the team believe that this might explain some of the saltiness findings.

Dr. Lorenzo Stafford, an olfactory (sense of smell) researcher in the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth, said, “Having restricted diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies as well as health problems like heart disease, poor bone health and dental issues.

“There is also a social cost because normally enjoyable moments between family members can easily turn into stressful, anxious, and conflict-causing situations when picky eaters feel ashamed or pressured to eat food.

“That is why it’s important to understand the factors that act to ‘push and pull’ this behavior.”

Picky eating behavior is usually categorized as having a limited diet, specific food preparation, strong dislikes and difficulty accepting new foods. Across a lifespan, a picky eater will generally consume fewer than 20 different food items.

The paper, published in the Food Quality and Preference journal, says this study is believed to be the first to provide insight into the interaction between color and taste perception in adult picky and non-picky eaters and reveal a difference in the way that color affects the perception of food in picky eaters.

It recommends further research to see if these findings extend beyond the food and colors tested here.

“This knowledge could be useful for those trying to expand the repertoire of foods,” added Dr. Stafford.

“For example, if you wanted to encourage a picky eater to try more vegetables well known to be viewed as bitter, you could attempt to serve them on a plate or bowl that is known to increase sweetness.

“Through further research we could determine ways to help positively affect a person’s diet, and as a result their mental and physical health.”


Human perception and preference for food and beverage products are undoubtedly major determinants of their success in the marketplace (e.g., [1,2]). The multisensory experience of a food product, and thus product choice, is a multifactorial and dynamic phenomenon.

A vast body of research now supports the view that both food product-intrinsic and food product-extrinsic factors (such as environmental or packaging cues) play an important role in the perception and acceptance of what we choose to eat and drink. However, it is still unknown as to how these ever-present intrinsic and extrinsic factors interact.

Here, we focus on how the interaction between the flavour of carbonated beverages on the one hand, and the colour and weight of the serving receptacle on the other, can influence product preference, and the perception of basic tastes and carbonation.

Crossmodal Influence of Aroma on Basic Taste Perception

In terms of product-intrinsic factors, the aroma (perceived both ortho- and retronasally), colour, and oral-somatosensory texture of food and beverage items have, among others, been found to affect sweetness perception (for reviews, see [3,4,5,6,7]).

Aromas can be used to modify taste perception (see [3] for a review), Interestingly, “sweet” is one of the most frequently used descriptors for odours, even though sweetness itself is, by definition, not an odour, but a basic taste [8]. This is a learned behaviour, given that the majority of the aromas that are typically associated with sweetness are those related to previous instances of co-exposure in food products with a dominant sweet taste [3].

For example, aromas such as caramel and strawberry have both been shown to increase the perception of sweetness in Western participants [4,9,10]. In a study of Frank and Byram [9], four sub-studies were conducted looking at the perception of sweetness and saltiness in different food matrices: sucrose-sweetened whipped cream with strawberry aroma, sucrose-sweetened whipped cream with peanut butter aroma, salted whipped cream (with sodium chloride) with strawberry aroma, and finally sucrose-sweetened whipped cream with strawberry aroma, evaluated with the participant’s nose pinched shut.

These researchers found that strawberry aroma enhanced the perception of sweetness; that an aroma’s ability to enhance sweetness is aroma-dependent; and that an aroma’s ability to enhance taste is taste-dependent. Finally, the authors concluded that the influence of the strawberry aroma on sweetness perception was caused by the perception of the aroma orthonasally through the nose, rather than retronasally via the mouth. However, other researchers have subsequently demonstrated that both orthonasal and retronasal enhancements effect certain aromas for tastes such as sweetness [11,12] (see [5] for a review).

Influence of Container Colour and Weight on the Perception of Basic Tastes and Flavour

A growing body of scientific research shows that people systematically associate different colours of foods and beverages (regardless of whether they are found in the food itself or in the food presentation/packaging), with specific basic tastes (see [13,14] for reviews). In one early study, O’Mahony [15] reported that U.S. participants consistently matched the colour red to sweet tastes, yellow to sour tastes, and white to salty tastes.

The impact of particular colours on the perception of specific tastes has been repeatedly demonstrated over the years. Specifically, in terms of sweetness, red-coloured drinks have been found to enhance the detection of sweetness [16], expectations of sweetness [17], and perceived sweetness intensity [18,19,20,21]. However, in terms of the sensitivity to sweet taste, Maga [22] did not observe any effect from the colour red on taste detection thresholds. Rather, the colour red decreased people’s sensitivity to bitter tastes.

Going beyond the colour of the drink itself, pink receptacles are more closely associated with sweetness than are transparent receptacles [23], and popcorn tasted from red bowls is reported to be approximately 15% sweeter as compared to popcorn from a white bowl [24]. Additionally, Woods and colleagues [25] found that pale pink alone or as part of a colour pair communicated the sweet taste more effectively than did any other colour.

That said, it is worth noting that in all of the early studies between colour and taste, participants were restricted to the set of four or five basic tastes—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and possibly also umami. That these studies focused on a basic taste framework may be seen as somewhat limited in perspective, given that red colour is, in addition to being matched to sweetness, also associated with other sensory attributes of food such as spicy [26,27], and even carbonation [28,29].

Context presumably plays an important role here, such that a red-coloured salsa might be seen as being more spicy, whereas a red-coloured beverage would likely be rated as being sweeter.

Compared to colour, the influence of container weight on food perception has not been studied extensively. Piqueras-Fiszman and colleagues [30] tested consumers tasting identical yogurts from bowls that only differed in terms of their weight. The yogurt samples from the heaviest bowls were rated as being more dense, more highly preferred, and the participants expected them to be more expensive than those from lighter bowls; however, there was no significant difference in terms of the perceived flavour intensity.

In a follow-up study, the weight of the bowl was also found to influence the expected satiety, with food served in the relatively heavier of two containers expected to be more satiating [31]. The influence of the weight of packaging on increasing the desire for consumption and willingness to pay was also documented by [32], using boxes of chocolates as well as cans of soft drinks, some with added weights. The authors proposed a model whereby the weight of the packaging influenced consumer purchase intentions via the mediating effect of raising the perceived flavour intensity (see [33], for evidence that perceived fragrance intensity of bottles of liquid soap is also influenced by their weight).

Finally, there is some evidence that extrinsic factors can influence the perception of carbonation. Carbonation is a type of oral-somatosensory texture, which, from a physiological point of view, is typically perceived as having an acidic taste, presumably because carbon dioxide is detected by the sour-sensing cells on the tongue [34].

In addition, dissolved carbon dioxide in water forms a small amount of carbonic acid in equilibrium [35], which can taste mildly sour. In a study on the relationship between the level of carbonation and container weight, Maggioni and her colleagues [36] found that sparkling mineral water sampled from heavier receptacles was perceived as less pleasant and more carbonated than the same samples from lighter receptacles. Furthermore, Risso and her colleagues [29] went on to demonstrate that mineral water at various carbonation levels tasted more carbonated when tasted from red or blue receptacles, as compared to when tasted from a white receptacle.

The Food Matrix as a Moderating Factor

In terms of interactions between food-intrinsic factors, it has been demonstrated that taste-aroma interactions are moderated by the nature of the food matrix in question. Labbe and his colleagues [37] tested the taste enhancement effects of cocoa and vanilla flavouring in cocoa and caffeinated milk. They found that, in the cocoa beverage, cocoa flavouring led to an enhancement of bitterness, and vanilla flavouring enhanced sweetness.

However, when it came to the relatively less familiar caffeinated milk product, the addition of vanilla flavouring unexpectedly enhanced bitterness instead of sweetness. Elsewhere, Alcaire et al. [38] reported that while an increase in vanilla flavour in a dairy dessert product had a minor effect on sweetness enhancement, the combination of increased vanilla concentration, together with higher starch concentration, led to an increase in vanilla flavour intensity, as well as an increase in perceived sweetness.

This was presumably due to the thickened viscosity of the dessert product from the addition of starch. Hewson et al. [39] investigated the effect of varying types and levels of sugars (glucose and fructose) and acids (citric and lactic acid) on flavour and taste perception in a model citrus-flavoured beverage. Despite there being no instrumentally measured effect on aroma release and viscosity, they found that flavour perception increased upon the addition of tastants, but that glucose- and fructose-containing beverages showed different profiles even though the levels of glucose and fructose used were not perceptibly different in terms of sweetness.

There is also evidence that the flavour of the foodstuff itself can moderate the influence of extrinsic factors such as colour, shape of receptacle, or background sound [26,40,41]. For instance, adding red colouring to tomato salsa samples has been shown to enhance their perceived spiciness, but only when the samples were somewhat spicy to begin with [26].

Similarly, Wang and colleagues [41] recently demonstrated that a custom-composed spicy soundtrack had similar spiciness enhancement properties; but once again, the auditory enhancement effect was only present for samples of spicy, but not mild, salsa.

As seen above, both product-intrinsic and product-extrinsic factors affect how we perceive and affectively respond to foods and beverages. Due to the dynamic correlation between all factors, they should ideally all be taken into consideration in consumer studies on food and beverages. However, researchers most often tend to focus on either intrinsic or extrinsic factors.

In fact, this trend is also somewhat reflected in the organisational structure of many large food companies where Research & Development (R&D), which is in charge of food-intrinsic properties, typically sits far away from, and actually has little interaction with, the marketing department, who may be responsible for product packaging.

reference link : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6112041/


Original Research: Open access.
How Colour Influences Taste Perception in Adult Picky Eaters” by Madison Annette et al. Food Quality and Preference

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