Your Favorite Color May Make Food Taste Saltier

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When we eat, we don’t just taste food with our mouths. We actually have a full multi-sensory experience involving taste, texture (the way the food feels in your mouth), aroma, and the “feasting of the eyes.” Even before we put food into the mouth, our brain has made judgment about it which affects the overall experience, says Vanessa Harrar and Charles Spence, experimental psychologists at Oxford University and the authors of a study published in the journal Flavour.

The researchers studied the effect that utensil color has on food taste using 30-45 participants in three different experiments. After using either a fork, spoon or knife in a range of colors, the subjects were asked to rank the taste and quality of the food being consumed on a 9-point scale.

Color played a very significant role in our appreciation of food. For example, the color blue appears to make our food taste saltier. The volunteers reported that yogurt eaten from a blue spoon and unseasoned popcorn in blue bowls tasted saltier. “Blue packaging is often associated with salty snack products (at least in the UK where the study was conducted,)” write the authors. “It might be that consumers expect saltiness when they see white food on a blue background.”

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Interestingly, the shape and weight of the utensils used also had an impact on food flavor. When yogurt was sampled from a lighter spoon, it was perceived as more enjoyable and more expensive. When the spoon was heavier, it was more likely to be rated as bland and less sweet. When cheese cubes were served from knives - rather than off a spoon, fork or even toothpicks (as we might do in the US) - it was perceived as sharper and saltier.

The research could be used to help control eating patterns such as portion size or how much salt is added to foods, say Harrar and Spence. Take for example a previous study conducted at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The researchers served volunteers different sized plates filled with food. As expected, those given larger plates filled up with more food. (A tip often recommended for eating less is to use a smaller plate). The researchers also noted that when a darker plate color was used, consumers ate about 10% less.

Blue seems to be the best color when it comes to controlling appetite. As above, using a blue spoon might help you consume less salt. University of Hawaii researchers have found that blue dinnerware might help you eat less because the color is seen as an appetite suppressant.

Source: Harrar V, Spence C. The taste of cutlery: how the taste of food is affected by the weight, size, shape, and colour of the cutlery used to eat it. Flavour. 2013.

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