Does Color Affect Taste?

Three drinking glasses with red, green, and blue liquid in them.
Areas of Science Cooking & Food Science
Human Biology & Health
Difficulty
Time Required Very Short (≤ 1 day)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety No issues

Abstract

Does green apple juice taste the same as red apple juice? That might seem like a silly question. Food coloring does not have any flavor—so how could it change how something tastes? Find out whether it does in this food science project!

Objective

Find out if color changes perception of taste.

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Credits

Megan Arnett, PhD, Science Buddies
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

Cite This Page

General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Arnett, Megan, and Ben Finio. "Does Color Affect Taste?" Science Buddies, 8 Feb. 2019, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/FoodSci_p081/cooking-food-science/does-color-affect-taste. Accessed 21 Oct. 2019.

APA Style

Arnett, M., & Finio, B. (2019, February 8). Does Color Affect Taste? Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/FoodSci_p081/cooking-food-science/does-color-affect-taste


Last edit date: 2019-02-08

Introduction

The taste buds on your tongue detect flavors and food groups, and help you identify the foods you eat. However, other senses play a role in how we experience food. You probably know that the smell of foods can have a strong effect on how they taste, but did you know that the appearance of food also changes how we experience it? Because we usually look at food before we put it in our mouths, the very first information your brain gets about any particular food comes from your eyes!

From an early age, we learn to associate colors with flavors. When something is orange, we expect an orange flavor. If you tasted green pudding, you would be surprised to find that it had a cherry flavor. Discrepancies between the appearance of food and their taste can make it more difficult to identify the flavoring.

Research has shown that the appearance of food can dramatically affect how it tastes. In one study, participants ate a plate of normal-looking steak and French fries. All the participants said they enjoyed the food, and it tasted fine. However, when the lights were brightened, it was revealed that the steak was dyed blue, and the fries were dyed green. When they saw this, many of the participants refused to eat any more of the food, and a few even grew sick! In this experiment, you will explore how the appearance of the food we eat affects how it tastes. Do not worry—there will not be any blue steaks!

Terms and Concepts

  • Taste buds
  • Flavor
  • Senses

Questions

  • Do you prefer certain types of foods that are a certain color? Do you associate that color with a flavor? For example, red cherry-flavored candy instead of green lime-flavored?
  • Do you think the color of a food or drink will affect how it tastes? What if the color is "unexpected" (for example, if red and green were switched for cherry and lime flavors)?

Bibliography

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Materials and Equipment

  • Volunteers (at least 3)
  • Large bottle of apple juice
  • Red, green, and blue food coloring
  • Clear disposable cups (3 per volunteer)
  • Permanent marker
  • Drinking glasses (1 per volunteer)
  • Water
  • Table where you and your volunteers can sit
  • Timer or stopwatch
  • Lab notebook

Experimental Procedure

Working with Human Test Subjects

There are special considerations when designing an experiment involving human subjects. Fairs affiliated with Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) often require an Informed Consent Form (permission sheet) for every participant who is questioned. Consult the rules and regulations of the science fair that you are entering, prior to performing experiments or surveys. Please refer to the Science Buddies documents Projects Involving Human Subjects and Scientific Review Committee for additional important requirements. If you are working with minors, you must get advance permission from the children's parents or guardians (and teachers if you are performing the test while they are in school) to make sure that it is all right for the children to participate in the science fair project. Here are suggested guidelines for obtaining permission for working with minors:

  1. Write a clear description of your science fair project, what you are studying, and what you hope to learn. Include how the child will be tested. Include a paragraph where you get a parent's or guardian's and/or teacher's signature.
  2. Print out as many copies as you need for each child you will be surveying.
  3. Pass out the permission sheet to the children or to the teachers of the children to give to the parents. You must have permission for all the children in order to be able to use them as test subjects.

Note: It is important that your volunteers do not know that there is apple juice in each cup! The idea is that your volunteer should expect something different in each cup. Therefore, do not let them see you prepare the drinks ahead of time!

  1. Use your marker to number the clear cups. Label one third of the cups with the letter A, the next third with the letter B, and the final third with the letter C.
  2. Add about 1/4 cup of apple juice to each clear cup.
  3. Line up all the cups labeled 'A' in a row, all cups labeled 'B' in a row, and all the cups labeled 'C' in a row.
  4. Add two drops of blue food coloring to the cups labeled A (add more food coloring if the color is not dark enough).
  5. Add two drops of green food coloring to the cups labeled B (add more food coloring if the color is not dark enough).
  6. Add two drops of red food coloring to the cups labeled C (add more food coloring if the color is not dark enough).
  7. Make a copy of Table 1 in your lab notebook.
Letter on Cup Volunteer 1Volunteer 2Volunteer 3 Total
A     
B     
C     
Table 1. Example data table. Add more columns if you have more volunteers.
  1. Fill the three drinking glasses with filtered water.
  2. Have your first volunteer sit down at the table. Line up a cup labeled A, B, and C in front of your volunteer. Also give them a glass of water.
  3. Ask them to start by drinking some water to cleanse their palate.
  4. Tell your volunteer that you want them to taste the drink in cups A, B, and C, drinking water in between each. They have two minutes to taste the drinks. Once they have tasted the drink in each cup, they should rate them from the one they liked the best, to the one the liked the least. Your volunteer can taste each cup more than once, but they should drink water in between each taste.
  5. Have your volunteer start the test. When they taste their first cup, start your timer or stopwatch. Do not answer any questions your volunteer asks you, or react to anything they say!
  6. After two minutes, stop your timer and tell your volunteer to stop tasting.
  7. Ask them which drink was their favorite. In the 'Volunteer 1' column, mark their favorite cup with the number '3.' For example, if your volunteer said they liked the drink cup B best, you would write the number 3 in the 'B' row under 'Volunteer 1.'
  8. Ask your volunteer which drink they liked least. In the 'Volunteer 1' column, record their least favorite cup with the number '1.'
  9. Write the number '2' in the remaining row.
  10. Repeat steps 1-9 with your remaining two or more volunteers. Record their responses in the corresponding columns.
  11. Add the values across each row and record the totals in the 'Total' column. For example, if cup A was rated a 2, 1, and 2 by the three volunteers, you would record '5' in the Total column for cup A.
  12. Which cup has the highest total? Which cup has the lowest total? Were there any patterns in which cup the volunteers seemed to prefer? How does this compare to your prediction about whether color affects taste?

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Variations

  • Try this experiment with other liquids or solid foods.

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