Does food color influence taste and flavor perception in humans?

by Charles Spence, Carmel a. Levitan, Maya U. Shankar, Massimiliano Zampini
Chemosensory Perception ()


In this paper, we review the empirical literature concerning the important question of whether or not food color influences taste and flavor perception in humans. Although a superficial reading of the literature on this topic would appear to give a somewhat mixed answer, we argue that this is, at least in part, due to the fact that many researchers have failed to distinguish between two qualitatively distinct research questions. The first concerns the role that food coloring plays in the perception of the intensity of a particular flavor (e.g., strawberry, banana, etc.) or taste attribute (e.g., sweetness, saltiness, etc.). The second concerns the role that food coloring plays in the perception of flavor identity. The empirical evidence regarding the first question is currently rather ambiguous. While some researchers have reported a significant crossmodal effect of changing the intensity of a food or drink's coloring on people's judgments of taste or flavor intensity, many others have failed to demonstrate any such effect. By contrast, the research findings concerning the second question clearly support the view that people's judgments of flavor identity are often affected by the changing of a food or drink's color (be it appropriate, inappropriate, or absent). We discuss the possible mechanisms underlying these crossmodal effects and suggest some of the key directions for future research in order to move our understanding in this area forward.

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