Remember the guy from the Dr. Seuss book who hates green eggs and ham? His preferences might have less to do with a picky palate than with the science of how we taste. Food flavor is a multisensory experience, and it turns out that sight is a major part of the equation.
In this blog, we’ll share some of the coolest facts about how color affects taste. Read on to learn why blue foods can seem “wrong,” how color can trick your taste buds, and why red candy might actually taste the sweetest.
6 Food Color Fun Facts Backed by Food Science
1. Red candy tastes the sweetest.
If you find yourself drawn to red M&M’s even though you know all the colors of this classic candy-coated chocolate treat have the same flavor, you might actually be onto something. Studies show that people do indeed perceive red candy, food, and beverages to taste sweeter than those of other colors.
2. Most people consistently associate certain colors with certain flavors.
Nope, it’s not just red candy and food. Food science shows that there seem to be patterns to which flavors people associate with certain colors.
In one study based on the work of experimental psychologist Charles Spence, dinner guests were invited to eat a series of spoonfuls of food in different colors – white, brownish-black, green, and red – in the order of salty, bitter, sour, then sweet. The catch? Guests weren’t told which color corresponded to which flavor but were instead left to determine their own order based on inference.
About 75% of participants arranged their spoons in the order the experiment’s designers had intended, suggesting that a majority of people associate the same colors with certain flavor profiles.
3. Packaging and container color matter too.
Yep – even just drinking something out of a red container instead of a yellow or blue one can make what’s inside taste sweeter.
Contrasts between the color of the packaging and the color of the food can also affect flavor. Some research shows that blue dishes or packaging can make food taste saltier. Another study showed that people perceived white yogurt eaten with a white spoon to taste “denser and more expensive” than pink yogurt eaten with a white spoon, even though the flavors were identical, while both yogurts were perceived as sweeter when eaten with white spoons than with black spoons.
4. Color can fool us into tasting what’s not there.
Studies have shown that we take so many cues about taste from sight alone that we can mistake one flavor for another just based on the color of the food, beverage, or packaging. In one of his experiments, Charles Spence fooled people into thinking salt and vinegar chips were actually cheese or sour cream flavored simply by switching the packages.
Other studies have fooled professional wine tasters into citing flavors associated with red wine when they were really drinking white wine that had been dyed with red food coloring.
5. The relationship between color and flavor is contextual.
Conventional wisdom says that we associate certain colors with certain flavors based on what seems “natural.” For example, many believe humans have an innate aversion to blue foods because blue is so uncommon in nature. Yet there are plenty of blue candies and beverages that people love.
This has to do with the fact that certain colors are acceptable in certain situations but not in others. For example, a blue M&M or even a blueberry sounds perfectly appetizing. Blue meat? Not so much.
Studies have indeed confirmed that there are “right” and “wrong” contexts for certain colors. Spence cites one infamous experiment in which dinner guests were treated to a dimly lit dinner of steak, French fries, and peas. When the lights were turned up and the guests realized the steak had been dyed blue, the fries green, and the peas red, some actually reported feeling physically ill.
So much for green eggs and ham!
6. Sight (and color) make eating more fun.
No, really! The color of foods seems to contribute significantly to the pleasure of eating. There is some evidence that people who are blind or have visual impairments that affect their ability to perceive color sometimes report diminished appetites or interest in eating. The Guardian notes that Oliver Sacks covered a case like this in his book An Anthropologist on Mars.
At Candy Club, we offer sweet treats in every color you can imagine – we’ll let you be the judge of which ones taste sweetest! (Or most sour, if you prefer.) Check out all our gourmet candy options, and for more candy fun facts, explore the Candy Club blog.