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Looks Can Taste Deceiving: How Color Can Affect Taste

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Image Courtesy of ground000 via Stock Exchange

Is it possible that our vision can affect our taste perception? Let’s review some examples of studies that claim to have demonstrated that sometimes what we see can override what we think we taste. From wine to cheese to soft drinks and more it seems that by playing with the color palette of food one can trick our palates into thinking we taste things that aren’t necessarily there.


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Liang P, Roy S, Chen ML, Zhang GH. Visual influence of shapes and semantic familiarity on human sweet sensitivity. Behav Brain Res. 2013 Sep 15; 253:42-7. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2013.07.001. Epub 2013 Jul 5.

Piqueras-Fiszman, B. and Spence, C. The Influence of the Color of the Cup on Consumers’ Perception of a Hot Beverage. Journal of Sensory Studies. 2012; 27: 324–331. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-459X.2012.00397.x

Stillman, J. A. Color Influences Flavor Identification in Fruit-flavored Beverages. Journal of Food Science, 1993, 58: 810–812. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2621.1993.tb09364.x

Wadhwani, R. McMahon, D.J. Color of low-fat cheese influences flavor perception and consumer liking. Journal of Dairy Science – 2012 May; 95 (5): 2336-2346, DOI: 10.3168/jds.2011-5142

Original Art: (Blue Ketchup, Which Cheddar is Better? and Which Tastes Best? by Cheryl G. Murphy, OD; Photo Skeleton on a Bike by Cheryl G. Murphy OD)

Photos retrieved from Stock XChange, credits to: tomato by swer_rock, food plate meal by bigevil600, ice cream 1 by hisks, red stuff by igaldew, eating cereal 4 by amdavis, place setting by nosheep, girl and wine by minotaurus, red and white wine by inxsive28, rose by bom bom, red wine by cienpies, grapes by alesia17, cheers by abcdz2000, glass by giniminigi, i love wine! by tiano69, fresh gouda cheese by wahlerb, colored beverages by klau@lauf, glowing drink by verzerk (green and purple), RGB by ilco, background by duchessa, frosted cinnamon buns by deboer, cupcake by ground000, post no bills by andrewatla, brownies three by diamond joy, pan by ba1969, a blank red can by killerwig, chocolate swirl by ale_paiva, fruit bowl and forgotten fruit by BeverlyLR,  chocolate cheesecake 1 by cx_ed, Fish Cake by chrissi, chef by intruso4, chefs in action by argearge, talk 1 by porah.

Cheryl G. Murphy About the Author: Dr. Cheryl G. Murphy is an optometrist and freelance science writer who playfully ties the science of sight in with pop culture in order to share her love and fascination of vision science with others. She began writing about vision science on her blog Science Hidden in Plain Sight in 2008. Links to her previous contributions to Scientific American’s guest blog can be found here. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @murphyod.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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