Have you ever watched a commercial for a restaurant and thought, ‘that looks good?’ Advertisers know that sight affects the way food is perceived to taste. They will do anything to make the food look more delicious. However, just because it looks delicious, doesn’t mean it is.
Advertisers are not the only ones who know that the way food appears is important to the consumer. Meat companies have been adding carbon monoxide treatments to beef and chicken to keep it looking fresh even after it has spoiled. Fruit and vegetable companies often use waxes to coat their products and keep the skin looking vibrant. When the average consumer reaches for an orange, they are more likely to buy the one with perfect orange skin than the one with spots or imperfections.
There are cookbooks, shows and even channels on you tube dedicated to teaching you how to cook food that looks as good as it tastes. Americans aren’t the only ones obsessed with making food look good. In Japan, food is often crafted, garnished, cut into interesting shapes and packaged with ribbons and bows. All this work to serve the consumers desires to enjoy the look of the food as much as the taste.
In an experiment by Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D., test subjects were given various colored and various flavored drinks to see how color affected the flavor and aroma. In one part of the experiment, an orange drink that was colored red was reported to be sweeter and smell stronger than a separate orange drink of a different color. Test subjects also reported the red orange juice to taste less natural. The only actual difference was the color. For more information on this test, visit Dr. Chudler’s website
Color does affect the way we perceive food to taste. It may be psychological but it is real. Try a thought experiment on yourself. Imagine your favorite flavored ice cream. Now imagine the same ice cream as being purple. If you don’t have a good imagination, try this experiment with real vanilla ice cream, but add some read and blue food coloring to it. Ask yourself which one looks like it would taste better and then try eating it. The flavor may be the same, but the one you like the color of more will be more enjoyable.
There may be a link between how we see our food and how nature prepares it. Banana’s are more sweet when yellow than when green, for instance. Perhaps through evolution, the affect of color on our perception has helped us decide when to eat the banana; our minds have adapted to give taste to color.
Our minds create links for scent and taste to sight. To see how this works, just imagine biting into something sour. Without thinking too hard, what color is that sour food? Here is another experiment. Read the next sentence quickly.
Red. What flavor first comes to your mind?
If you said cherry, then perhaps I can read your mind. If you said anything else, then regardless of the fact that I am not psychic, you have a flavor associated to the color red. Let’s try a reverse experiment.
Sweet apple. What is the first color you think of?
You probably thought red. If I said sour apple you would probably think green. Not all red apples are sweet and not all sour apples are green but the color gives us an idea of how it will taste.
Food is more than just taste, and more than just scent or color. The combination of these three things can make food more delicious. In a blind world, color makes no difference, However, food actually does tastes better when it looks better. Think of that the next time your order a burger at a fast food restaurant and it looks nothing like the pictures in the advertisements.