February 5, 2011

Green Eggs and Ham by Patrick N. Rabanal

I could not, would not, in a house.
I would not, could not, with a mouse.
I would not eat them with a fox.
I would not eat them in a box.
I would not eat them here or there.
I would not eat them anywhere.
I would not eat green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

How about green ketchup? Or black rice? Or black tacos? Or any of these food for that matter.

I remember being very picky with food when I was little. There were many things that I really didn’t want to eat, may it be because of its taste, texture, smell, or even just by its color. It may be easier to understand how taste, texture, and smell affect food’s taste because they seem to be a more “personal” experience as compared to just seeing its color. So now the question is: Does color of foods and drinks affect the sense of taste?

Charles Spencer et al. made a review of empirical literature concerned with the question of whether or not color does influence taste and performance. They found that previous studies showed ambiguous results because they were not able to distinguish two important aspect of the question: the identification of a flavor and the perceived intensity of the taste or flavor.

With regards to the identification of flavor, most studies support the claim that a food’s color does in fact affect a person’s judgment. One study they reviewed was DuBose’s Effects of colorants and flavorants on identification, perceived flavor intensity, and hedonic quality of fruit-flavored beverages and cakes. In the study, subjects tasted grape, lemon-lime, cherry and orange drinks with different colors. Results show that it was easier for the subjects to identify the correct flavor when the drink had the expected color. People made errors toward the taste that were expected for a particular color. For example, an orange-colored drink that was really cherry-flavored was often thought to taste like an orange drink or a green colored cherry drink would taste like lime.

With regards to Flavor intensity, studies show the color intensity affected the strength of a particular taste (Roth et al. 1988; Philipsen, 1995; Johnson & Clydesdale, 1982). In these studies, subjects were given flavored drinks that differed in sweetness and the amount of coloring. (lemon and lime – Roth; red – Philipsen and Johnson & Clydesdale). Results were similar showing that as the color of the drinks intensified, the people reported it to be sweeter.

It is apparent that color can affect the perception of foods and drinks. It is likely that people learn and become familiar with specific combinations of colors and tastes. These learned associations may alter our perceptions and create expectations about how a food should taste.

Food and drink companies are also very interested in the results of these experiments. It is important for companies to know how their products are perceived by consumers. Companies work very hard to make their foods and drinks the most desirable so they can sell more product.

Charles Spence; Carmel A. Levitan; Maya U. Shankar; Massimiliano, Z. (n.d). Does Food Color Influence Taste and Flavor Perception in Humans?. Chemosensory Perception, 3(1), 68-84.

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