Can You Taste The Color?

How does hue alter flavor? Experimental psychologist Charles Spence gives us a tour of our tastebuds.

The following is an excerpt from Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating, by Charles Spence.

What we taste is profoundly influenced by what we see. Similarly, our perception of aroma and flavor are also affected by both the hue (i.e., red, yellow, green, etc.) and the intensity, or saturation, of the color of the food and drink we consume. Change the color of wine, for instance, and people’s expectations—and hence their tasting experience—can be radically altered. Sometimes even experts can be fooled into thinking that they can smell the red wine aromas when given a glass of what is actually white wine that has just been colored artificially to give it a dark red appearance!

At various points in history, scientists (some of them really rather eminent, like one of the godfathers of psychology, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz— anyone with a name that long should probably not be messed with!) have confidently asserted that there is absolutely no association between color and taste. At the other extreme, there are some artists out there today who are inviting the public to “taste the color.” I have to say that I don’t think either side has got it quite right. Colors are very definitely linked with tastes, and yet I do not believe that you can create a taste out of nowhere, simply by showing the appropriate color.

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