Color my Palate!: Color and Taste Perception

Chefs spend a significant amount of time on beautifying their dishes, making sure that it is attractive. As what food industry experts say, you have to treat your food as an art – making it visually appealing and at the same time deliciously satisfying. Thus, it is no secret that the way a food is presented affects the appetite of its consumer. And, one of the aspects of presentation that significantly influences a person’s appetite is color.

Naturally, people often say that taste is the most important sense when it comes to food because it is usually the “primary” way by which we judge and “experience” it.  For example, when I was a kid, I didn’t really pay much attention to how a food looks like. Just as long as it tastes good, I didn’t really mind. Now that I’m older, I still don’t mind the food presentation that much but there are times when I unconsciously judge a food based on their appearance. Why is this so? It is because there is an interplay of sensory processes in perception and specifically in taste perception, visual cues such as color tend to play a big part in the overall experience (Hoegg & Alba, 2007).

Color can largely affect our experience of food. By just seeing its color, we can readily experience enjoyment or distaste for that food. For instance, studies have found that seeing food in unusual colors (e.g., an orange fruit that is green in color) can influence liking, identification, and perceptions of quality (Garber, Hyatt, and Starr, 2000; Levitan, Zampini, Li & Spence, 2008). For example is the Crystal Pepsi launched by Pepsico in the early 1990’s (Triplet, 1994; as cited in Garber, Hyatt & Starr, 2000). Apart from its clear color, Crystal Pepsi is totally similar to Pepsi including its flavor. However, cola drinkers were dissatisfied by its flavor and didn’t like it. The clearness of the drink implied “non-cola” flavor expectations which made them experience a “different” flavor even if it actually has the same taste with regular Pepsi.

Crystal Pepsi vs. Regular Pepsi

Moreover, in the study conducted by Hoegg and Alba (2007), they found that the color intensity of food, in particular orange juice, can affect the perceived taste. By changing both the sweetness and the color of orange juice in various increments, they found that participants reported a greater difference in sweetness between juices of different colors, that are of the same sweetness in reality, than they did between juices with unequal levels of sweetness but the same hue. Thus, they used the color as a basis for discrimination. The orange juice with a darker hue was experienced to be “sweeter” than the lighter ones.

This importance of color is the reason why companies go to great lengths just to find the perfect mouth-watering hue for their products. They rely on this to help sell their products and alter their customers’ perception of how products will taste by manipulating their coloring. So now, when we cook up food for our loved ones, let’s focus not only on the taste but also on its color because now we now know that color really does matter. :>


Garber, L. L., Jr., Hyatt, E. M., & Starr, R. W., Jr. (2000). The effects of food color on perceived flavor. Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 8, 59-72.

Hoegg, J. & Alba, J. W. (2007). Taste perception: More than meets the tongue. The Journal of Consumer Research, 33 (4), 490-498.

Levitan, C. A., Zampini, M., Li R. & Spence, C. (2008). Assessing the role of color cues and people’s beliefs about color–flavor associations on the discrimination of the flavor of sugar-coated chocolates. Chemical Senses, 33 (5), 415-423.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: