OK, we understand that sort of makes no sense. "How can the color of the cup we're using affect the liquid we're drinking?" That question was central in a new study from the Journal of Sensory Studies, which examined how our brains affect the way our food and drink tastes. Is it really possible to change flavors by changing colors? Read on to find out.
The study, co-authored by Betina Piqueras Fiszman, a researcher at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, and Charles Spence from the University of Oxford, somehow found 57 people who wanted to drink four cups of hot chocolate (tough sell, we know). The catch: The otherwise identical drinks were served in cups of different colors — white, cream, red, or orange, all with white interiors. Participants then rated each sample (two of which had been artificially sweetened at random). The participants reported that orange and cream cups enhanced the chocolate flavor of the drink, across the board. The cream cups also rated higher for sweetness and a richer aroma.
Why It Matters
First off, awesome. Second, what? The different colors didn't change the content of the cups, but they affected the perception of the drinks in some complicated ways. "There is no fixed rule stating that flavour and aroma are enhanced in a cup of a certain colour or shade," Piqueras-Fiszman told Science Daily. "In reality this varies depending on the type of food, but the truth is that, as this effect occurs, more attention should be paid to the colour of the container as it has more potential than one could imagine." This isn't the first study to test how other senses affect taste. The researchers cited similar studies which found soft drinks in cold colors (like blue) seemed more thirst-quenching than warm colors (like red). Another found coffee packaged in red or brown bags seemed to have stronger flavor and aromas where blue and yellow packaging made it seem "softer." It's not exact science — people will have different emotional and primal responses to different colors — but the studies have interesting implications for all sorts of food and beverage markets. Chefs plating a new dish might choose different sauces or different plating, for example, or soda companies could switch their can color to draw out citrus flavors. (There's gotta be a reason Mountain Dew comes in a green can.)
Can We Trust It?
Absolutely, and also not entirely. The study is spot on in that "taste" can be affected by external factors like color and serving vessel, but it's not accurate to say cream colored cups will return better-tasting hot chocolate all the time. The study also had limitations: The drink could have changed in flavor as it cooled or as participants consumed more, the randomly added sweetness could have changed the strength of the aroma of certain drinks, and 57 people is unfortunately a small sample size. Those caveats aside, the study opens a door into how people can use their brains to essentially hack their food. For example, studies found that people could eat less and cut calories simply by using smaller plates (thereby making their portions look larger). Another inventor is experimenting with some bizarre-shaped spoons (see photo above) to activate different parts of the mouth and create more intense flavors. The connection between our brain and our mouth is getting some scientific credence. Now that's something to drink to. What do you make of brain science affecting what we eat? Cool or just plain weird? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or tweet the author at @zsniderman. Photo by Louish Pixel