Does bowl color change the taste of food? - study

A research team has discovered that the color of a plate or bowl can affect the taste perception of picky eaters.

 Buffet of food (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Buffet of food
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The color of the bowl in which food is served can influence taste perception among picky eaters, according to a study conducted by a team from the University of Portsmouth.

Previous research has demonstrated that the smell and texture of food can affect how it tastes for picky eaters, but little is known about other senses. But now, British researchers have examined the effect of color of plates and bowls among picky and non-picky eaters in a first-of-its-kind study.

The findings were published in the Food Quality and Preference journal under the title “How color influences taste perception in adult picky eaters.”

Plate or bowl color does affect perceived taste

The experiment included almost 50 people to determine whether they suffered from food neophobia – a reluctance to eat or try new food. The participants, who were divided into picky and non-picky eaters, tasted the same snacks served in red, white and blue bowls. Results revealed that both the perceived saltiness and desirability of the foods were influenced by color in the picky group but not in the non-picky group.

 Vegetable plate (credit: INGIMAGE) Vegetable plate (credit: INGIMAGE)

Specifically, the snack was rated as higher in saltiness in the red and blue versus the white bowl, and it was least desirable when served in the red bowl. In the UK, salty snacks are often sold in blue packaging, and the team said this might explain some of the saltiness findings.

“Having restricted diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies as well as health problems like heart disease, poor bone health and dental issues,” said Dr. Lorenzo Stafford, an olfactory (sense of smell) researcher in the psychology department at the university. “There is also a social cost because normally enjoyable moments between family members can easily turn into stressful, anxious, and conflict-causing situations when picky eaters feel ashamed or pressured to eat food.”

“That’s why it’s important to understand the factors that lead to this ‘push and pull’ behavior."

"This knowledge could be useful for those trying to expand the repertoire of foods.”

Dr. Lorenzo Stafford

Picky eating behavior is usually categorized as having a limited diet, specific food preparation, strong dislikes and difficulty accepting new foods. Across a lifespan, a picky eater will generally consume fewer than 20 different food items.

A different domain of research, a branch of food science called molecular gastronomy, focuses on the manipulation of multisensory factors through physical and chemical processes during cooking and eating. Modifications to color, sound and smell can enhance or diminish taste qualities, changing an individual’s perception and overall preference for a dish. For example, one study found that certain people enjoyed eating oysters to a greater extent while listening to ocean sounds versus farm sounds.

The study is believed to be the first to provide insight into the interaction between color and taste perception and reveals a difference in the way that color affects the perception of food in picky eaters. It recommended further research to see if these findings extend beyond the foods and colors it tested.

“For example, if you wanted to encourage a picky eater to try more vegetables well known to be viewed as bitter, you could attempt to serve them on a plate or bowl that is known to increase sweetness,” the researchers concluded. “Through further research we could determine ways to help positively affect a person’s diet and as a result their mental and physical health.”