Tasting is a full sensory experience that begins in the brain when we see colorful food. Both food scientists and chefs will agree that to fully appreciate what you eat, the sight of your food is just as important as taste. Even dietitians will tell you that vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables aren’t just visually appealing; they are also indicators of abundant protective nutrients that offer a rainbow of healthy benefits.
If you’re feeling inspired to add some color to your next meal, check out our colorful recipes!
Our brains respond to light energy, aka color, by stimulating the pituitary and pineal glands. These endocrine glands regulate hormones like serotonin, which is responsible for making us feel happy. Research has shown that different colors also affect blood pressure, pulse, and respiration rates as well as brain activity and sleep/wake cycles. These color triggers set the mood for us to feel more energetic, happy, and relaxed and are strong enough to even have an effect on people who are blind!
We are also influenced by the visual cue of color when it comes to our perception of how something will taste. Colorful food can influence our brain to create an expectation that specific colors will taste a certain way. For example, the more vibrantly colored a food is, the more intense we expect its flavor to be.
Can you guess what your favorite color tastes like?
Foods that are red are also found to stimulate appetite. Research has found that when eating a red food item, we believe that it will taste sweet. Historically, the association between the color red and food comes from the experience of tasting sweetness in fruits, which tend to turn red when they are fully ripe
Orange and yellow are the feel-good colors of the rainbow eliciting feelings of happiness, optimism, and hope. They are most often associated with sunny days and blooming flowers. Research has shown that both of these colors are perceived as being in foods that will taste mildly sweet. This may be why these colored veggies often make their way into semi-sweet desserts (think carrot cake, sweet potato pie, or cornbread).
Orange/Yellow Inspiration: Butternut squash, oranges, carrots, mangoes, papaya, sweet potato, cantaloupe, pineapple, corn, lemons
Green is a color that people associate with nature and health; it brings forth feelings of positive anticipation, freshness, growth, and calming energy. When asked to evaluate how healthy a meal is, many will look for how much of this emerald color hue is included. Research has found that when eating a green food item, we believe that it will taste sour or tart. Historically, this association comes from the experience of tasting tartness in underripe produce. In fact, we often refer to not-quite-ripe foods as being “green.”
Green Inspiration: Collard greens, kale, Brussels sprouts, spinach, lettuces, broccoli, green bell peppers, peas, herbs, limes
White is a color that is often associated with peacefulness, simplicity, and cleanliness. It represents a blank slate or background upon which you add something. In fact, restaurants serve their meals on white plates so the colorful food itself shines. In general, white doesn’t seem to greatly stimulate the senses. Research has found that when eating a white food item, it is most often associated with tasting salty. This flavor association may be built around our experiences with white foods like popcorn, chips, and bread — which have a reputation of being processed and high in sodium.
White Inspiration: Cauliflower, jicama, onions, garlic, ginger, turnips, parsnips, mushrooms