Plate Color

Blue PlateThis week, the journal Flavour published a study showing the color of dessert plates affects diners’ perceptions of dessert in a restaurant setting (ie not a lab).

The question of plate color is not new. Researchers concerned with portion size, for example, have looked at plates’ visual cues for a while. Brian Wansink at Cornell University, for example, has done a variety of studies on the color of plates and how much food you’ll eat. In summary: less color contrast leads to eating more (which you could loosely interpret as “buy kale-colored plates”). Blue plates influence us to eat less.

The question of the role sight plays in flavor also isn’t new. The equation of taste + smell = flavor has been challenged for some time now, with all the other senses claiming their piece of the food experience. Just this spring, the American Chemical Society endorsed the idea that visual cues influence our perception of food. The announcement included what will undoubtedly go down as a classic press release quote:

“While the appearance of foods probably is important, other factors can override it. Acree pointed out that hashes, chilies, stews and cooked sausages have an unpleasant look, like vomit or feces. However, people savor these dishes. . .”

The American Chemical Society discovery has an air of “well, duh” about it. Food Porn  – those delectable photo spreads of enticing dishes that fill cooking magazines, food advertisements, and Pinterest boards everywhere – exists for a reason. But, scientific studies like the Flavour article remind us that we can’t always go with what seems obvious. There are plenty of subconscious influences afoot behind the very complex question of how we perceive our food. What we “know” to be true today, won’t necessarily hold water tomorrow.


Assessing Color Impact of the Plate on a Complex Food in a Restaurant SettingFlavour

What’s With the Color of Your Plate?” Cornell University and more generally Cornell Food & Brand Lab

Seeing the Flavor of Food” American Chemical Society

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