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Does a color have a taste?

Author: Alyona Trifonova.

Color is one of the most important design elements. Under the influence of a certain color, our mood, perception of the reality and even sensations that we receive from it could be changed. With the help of the right shade, we can express in design the taste and even the aroma of a product and construct certain emotions.

First of all: what is color?

Color is how our eyes perceive the light. In fact, objects do not have color; they acquire it only when light falls on them. Our perception of the color of an object depends on its ability to absorb or reflect light waves of different lengths. For example, if light hits a red strawberry, this means that its surface reflects the longest wave of light - red, and the rest of the waves are absorbed.

How can color affect our taste?

Perception is influenced by the context in which we previously perceived color, and the associations that we have already formed regarding it. Like everything that is built on associations, the perception of color is not absolute and it is not one and the same for all people, however, a number of the most common interpretations can be distinguished.

The perception of taste can be influenced by the color of the product itself, the color of the packaging, the color of the dishes and the color of the space.

  • For example, the light shade of the packaging seems to tell us without words that we have a low-calorie, "light" product, and this can accordingly affect our taste perception.

The fact is that light shades are traditionally associated with airy clouds soaring above the ground.

  • Another example. When the color of butter turns yellow, its consistency is usually perceived as a softer one [1].

Perhaps this is due to the fact that white butter is associated more with a piece of ice, cold and dense, which is more difficult to cut. And the more yellow its color, the more it feels like a sunny and warm piece which should be more pliable and soft therefore.

  • Another curious fact. In an experiment [2] conducted by David Gal, S. Christian Wheeler and Baba Shiv, it was found that people who prefer strong coffee drank it more in bright light than in dim light. At the same time, people who prefer soft coffee drank more in dim light than in bright light.

This suggests that the brightness of the lighting contributed to the perceived strength of the coffee, forcing participants to drink more or less depending on whether such strength was desirable.

  • Bright red fruits tend to taste sweeter than green ones. The latter may turn out to be underripe. Our brain has already learned this association: we expect sweetness from red.

Therefore, for example, if you produce a natural product and are afraid that consumers may perceive it as not tasty enough, not sweet enough, you do not have to add sugar to it. You can try to enhance the sweetness experience by adding reds or pinks to the packaging.

  • At the same time, simply using red to enhance the sweetness perception cannot be expected to work with any product.

Most likely, this effect can be achieved if the product still contains certain fruits or berries, which in nature, when ripe, get a bright scarlet color. For example, cherries, strawberries, or raspberries. If you try to do the same, for example, with a packaging of a banana pudding, then this "trick" is unlikely to succeed.

  • In another study, hot chocolate appeared to have more chocolate flavor when served in an orange plastic cup rather than white, cream, or red. [3]

In confirmation of the thought expressed in the previous paragraph, the orange and red colors of the cups did not affect the perception of the sweetness of the drink in any way (the chocolate poured into a cream-colored glass received the highest sweetness rating). This is likely because the sweetness of the chocolate and the ripeness of the cocoa beans from which it is made have nothing to do with orange or red.

As for why the orange cup influenced the perception of the chocolate flavor of the drink, then perhaps it happened because the fruit “orange”, with which we traditionally associate orange color, in a normal situation could just enhance and emphasize the taste of chocolate.

We can conclude that color is indeed could influence the perception of taste and even aroma of a product, but it is a very subtle instrument that needs to be handled.

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[1] Eva Derndorfer "Sensorics. How people perceive food" / Publishing house "Humanitarian Center" / Yakovenko K.N.., 2019. – 256 с.

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/255996969_Cross_-_Modal_Influences_on_Gustatory_Perception [3] https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Influence-of-the-Color-of-the-Cup-on-Consumers%27-Piqueras-Fiszman-Spence/842e173307a8270d35c2988d6be403a8c9c4b9c4

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