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You taste what you see

I had a plan on what I was going to write today but I was struck and the debate between real and artificial Christmas trees will have to wait. I saw a news article that linked to a study about how the colour of your coffee mug affects how your coffee tastes.

So the original study that caught my attention was published in the journal Flavour. I didn’t even know there was a journey Flavour, but really, why not. The examined the impact of the mug, transparent, white, or blue on the perception of the flavour of the coffee. Coffee in the white mugs was described as more intense, while that in the transparent and the blue mugs was sweeter. I’m not a coffee drinker, so I can’t replicate this experiment on myself. It did however, make me think about how the colour of the dish that you serve your guest dinner on may affect their perception of the meal. This is definitely worth investigating in the future. For now, I wanted to know whether the colour of food affected how it tasted and what I found was what I consider an excellent educational site for kids.

It doesn’t have any games, and it may not drive users to the site. What it did have was references to actual journal articles, straightforward descriptions of the experiments, and an explanation of the results. It doesn’t talk down to the user. I have seen so much science that doesn’t believe in kids enough. It talks down to them, when, from my experience, kids quite often show more of the qualities of thinking like a scientist than most scientists.

The site is Neuroscience for Kids: Does the color of foods and drinks affect the sense of taste? It lays things out in a brilliant way for any user. It is straightforward and to the point. So, while I normally go looking for the original research, in this case I am going to use the website I found all of the research on and just provide a summary here.

The gist is both surprising and not. Things that look like what we expect, tend to taste like what we expect. If it’s yellow, it tastes like lemon. If it isn’t yellow and it should taste like lemon, you may not think it tastes like lemon. Cherry seems to be particularly difficult to distinguish if it isn’t the right colour. More intense colours are associated with more intense flavours. But there reaches a point, when the colour becomes a negative and people think the flavour isn’t as good. It also seems that the younger you are, the more susceptible you are to being confused by a colour/flavour discrepancy.

So where does all that leave me, I totally want to see how much I can mess with people. Can I make cakes that look like one thing and taste like something else? What about cookies? Would the Daiquiri tart I am about to eat taste the same if I had put in red food colouring instead of green? Hmm, it is the season of Christmas baking…

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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