Does How a Food Look Impact it’s Flavor?

In short, the answer is an overwhelming yes!

Indulge me for a moment. If I offered you each of the plates below, nutrition and different photography skills aside, which one would you choose?

1EF1DD587  vs.  1011-oatmeal-berries

Both oatmeal, both delicious and nutritious, but weren’t your eyes drawn to the one with blueberries and raspberries? That pop of color on an otherwise bland background instantly had me hooked. You see it all the time in restaurants, hear it all the time on cooking shows, witness it in those beautiful Instagram pictures: presentation matters. But, did you ever realize that the nicer something looks on the plate, the better it actually does taste?

Eating is a whole sensory experience, and what you see is the very first thing you encounter when you’re about to eat. Your eyes take in all the visual cues and relays them to your brain. Looking at the pictures of the oatmeal, I would choose the one filled with berries (nutrition aside) simply because I’m drawn to color and I always aim to have a rainbow of colors everyday. Plus, I just think a vibrant meal is more satisfying than a dull one.

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But let’s take it one step further. According to this article from Slate.com, everybody goes crazy over red-flavored goodies. Think about it. You open a packet of Starburst – which ones are you likely to hoard for yourself? It’s not the yellow ones now, is it? Granted, I’m in that slim population of people who don’t actually mind the yellow ones (a fact my friends love because that means they can pawn off their yellow ones to me), but the majority of people seem to prefer red and red-like shades when it comes to looking for something sweet.

A little bizarre right? What makes red the go-to sweet color? Why does our brain associate red with the penultimate sweetness? I mean sure, it’s a vibrant color and all, but why? That’s where Slate.com’s writer Ms. Schwedel attributes it to our brains and psychology (ie: conditioning, association, etc.). And she’s 100% correct. The brain has SO much to do with how we perceive flavor and our eating patterns in general. Red is not a flavor, but we attribute an extra sweetness to it because of how our brains associate red with sweeter things. In the article, she ventures to suggest one of the reasons why we might create this pairing is because red typically denotes a fruit at its peak of ripeness. Interesting, am I right?

However, food manufacturing companies have definitely caught onto this. You’ve seen the “FaveReds” packs of Starbursts, the “Red Classics” version of Popsicles – it’s become a huge trend that is and has been sweeping through the nation. It’s become a cultural thing. And food companies will do anything to keep their customers popping red candies all day long, as long as they’re raking in the bucks.

Starburst-FaveReds-1024x724

So. Everybody’s different, but flavor is significantly impacted by how a food looks. The more picturesque it looks, the better it will taste. And apparently something being red makes it taste sweeter. But what should YOU do with this information?

I’ll tell you.

Eat the rainbow, taste the rainbow but not in the Skittles-way. Make your plate colorful at every meal you possibly can – you’ll enjoy it way more and love what you eat! And to clarify, I mean dressing it up with adding a pop of color through fruits and veggies – not Starbursts.

Take a second to make your plate look nice! You’ll be more likely to enjoy the food and feel satisfied if it looks appealing. The brain does some crazy things when you’re eating my friends. The more you figure out what its doing, the easier it becomes to live a healthful lifestyle. Nature comes in all sorts of colors, so we should absolutely aim to replicate that on our plates! 🙂

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Have a wonderful, health-filled week everyone!

Question of the week: what do you do to make your food look appealing?

Image Credit: Image 1 (socialphy.com); Image 2 (womenshealthmag.com); Image 3 (my own); Image 4 (www.talkingretail.com); Image 5 (my own).

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