How Color Affects Taste

Heather Haney

Student Projects, Color


"Eating is a festive occasion, and color adds to the enjoyment of food." Dr. Fergus M. Clydesdale, University of Massacusettes, Amerst


Color strongly affects taste perception. Whether through dyes, artificial coloring, or natural colors, food companies strive to make their products desirable through color. Research and experimentation proves that color does in fact affect the taste of different foods. One learns early during childhood development to be aware of the objects they consume. Off color meats, moldy bread, and dull veggies are definite no-no's when it comes to food. Color is the prime candidate for deciding what is eaten. When preparing neutral colored foods (battered or fried), condiments, dips, and sauces are a must for presentation. Adding color to a neutral colored dish goes a long way. Color enhancement in foods for older generations is currently being researched. After age 40 studies show a decline in the sense of taste therefore making appearace a must when advertising to the older population. My hypothesis is that color will affect the way one tastes. Through a psychological test using flavorless gelatine and flavored jello I tested this prediction.


When measuring the shelf life of food, companies depend on color measurement. Measurement can be taken in two forms, either by a spectrophotometer or a tristimulus colorimeter. The spectrophotometer measures reflected light one wavelength at a time over the whole visible spectrum covering almost three hundred wavelengths or data points. The tristimulus colorimeter has a wider spectal band and concentrates on red, green, and blue. When the correct technology is available companies can use the tristimulus colorimeter to better understand why humans choose which foods. When using dyes or paints these instruments usually will work better. An example can be found in a jelly bean. The curvature of the outside may present shadows to the equipment and throw the measurement off. Also, if a pourous cake is measured, the measurement will read darker than it actually is because the spectrophotometer or the colorimeter will read the cake as being more dense. "A 16-or 31-data point wavelength spectrophtometer or tristimulus colorimeter are more realistic tools for acurately measuring the color of foods," says Brian Teunis, product manager for X-Rite Incorporated. A color-tolerancing scale has been modified from the original CIE scale for food measurment. CIE scales L*a*b* and L*C*H* (L = lightness, C = higher chroma, H = hue) were introduced first to measure color, but currently the CMC (Colour Measurement Committee of the Society of Dyes and Colourists) is being ustilised more frequently. The CMC is when the L*a*b* and x, y, z values are found on a tristimulus scale. Sometimes the L*C*H* values are misleading when taken from the L*a*b* scale. So, the CMC was created especially for food shelf life measurement. "CMC is not a new color space, but rather a tolerancing system. CMC tolerancing -- a modification of CIE -- provides better agreement between visual assessment and instrumentally measured color differences. Briefly, the CMC calculation mathematically defines an ellipsoid around the standard color with the same semi-axis corresponding to hue, chroma, and lightness. The ellipsoid represents the volume of acceptance and automatically varies in size depending on the position of the color in the color space," explains Teunis.


For testing my hypothesis I used two experiments. I tested ten college students with different flavored jello. The first experiment performed on each student was with colored gelatine without flavor. The second experiment performed on each student was with flavored jello, however, they could not see what color it was dyed.

Steps to make flavorless jello:

1. mix 3 cups of hot water with 3 cups of cold water and 6 packets of Knox Gelatine

2. stir until all gelatine dissolves

3. add 6 packets of Sweet Thing sweetener to mixture

4. separate evenly into 3 bowls

5. add yellow food coloring to one bowl, green food coloring to second bowl, and red food coloring to third bowl

6. stir until gelatine is evenly colored

7. pour red gelatine into 10 mini-solo cups, pour green gelatine into 10 more mini-solo cups, and pour yellow gelatine into 10 more mini-solo cups (there should be thirty cups with three different sets of color)

8. put in refridgerator overnight

Steps for flavored jello:

1. mix 3 cups of hot water with 3 cups of cold water

2. separate into 3 bowls

3. add strawberry flavored jello to one bowl, lime flavored jello to second bowl, and lemon flavored jello to third bowl

4. stir each until jello is dissolved

5. pour strawberry flavored jello into 10 mini-solo cups, pour lime flavored jello into 10 more mini-solo cups, and pour lemon flavored jello into 10 more mini-solo cups

6. put in refridgerator overnight

Steps for actual experiment:

1. ask person being experimented if they like jello (in case of rare allergies or bad previous experiences)

2. give them the yellow unflavored gelatine asking them to eat and tell me what flavor is tasted, record answer

3. give them the green unflavored gelatine asking them to eat and tell me what flavor is tasted, record answer

4. give them the red unflavored gelatine asking them to eat and tell me what flavor is tasted, record answer

5. blindfold patient and ask them to taste the lemon flavored jello and ask what flavor is tasted, record answer

6. again, blindfolded, ask them to taste the lime flavored jello and describe the taste, record answer

7. ask blindfolded person to taste the strawberry flavored jello and describe the taste, record answer

8. take the blindfold away and allow the patient to see what colors the jello was and if they had been able to see the color do they think it would have made the flavor descision easier




Observations and Data

Person Green Gelatine Yellow Gelatine Red Gelatine Lime Jello Lemon Jello Strawberry Jello
1 chocolate orange rasberry lime lemon


2 plain cherry blueberry lime strawberry cherry
3 apple lemonade cherry lime lime fruit cocktail
4 no flavor no flavor no flavor lime lemon-lime stawberry
5 no flavor pineapple no flavor watermelon lemon


6 gelatin gelatin gelatin cherry passionfruit strawberry
7 stale water watermelon lime lemon cherry
8 no flavor no flavor lime lemon lemon


9 no flavor lime lime lime banana watermelon
10 no flavor no flavor no flavor lime lemon cherry




When asked what flavor the flavorless gelatine was, a variety of answers were given. Color did not seem to play a role with the green gelatine. However, with the yellow gelatine lemonade, pineapple and lime were given which indicates perhaps color was a deciding factor. With the red gelatine rasberry, cherry, and watermelon were given as answers proving the color too may have been thought of when deciding on the flavor. Almost every participant got the flavored jello correct or at least in the general area.



Corso, John F. The Experimental Psychology of Sensory Behavior. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc, 1967.

Geldard, Frank A. The Human Senses, Second Edition. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc, 1972.


Thanks to the following for helping with my experiment:

Sarah Simmons

Melissa Early

Seth Parkhurst

Andrew Crone

Todd Crawford

Cliff Hortenstein

Thomas Poe

Megan Painter

Jonathan Cole

Dane Cooper

Dr. Bordley and Science of Color class!