Does a food’s color affect what we think of its flavor? Find out (and trick your friends in the process) in this TOP SECRET experiment.
Today, YOU are the scientist! Your research question: Does a food’s color affect what we think of its flavor? You’ll answer this question by having unsuspecting “subjects” (your friends and family) taste two samples of juice—one plain and one dyed with food coloring, which doesn’t have any flavor. Will they realize that both juices are the same? Or will the color make them think that they’re drinking something else?
Figure out how many subjects you will have for your experiment. You can tell them that you’re looking for their input on some samples of juice—but do not tell them anything else at this point! You don’t want to sway their opinions.
Make a prediction: Do you think your subjects will be able to tell that both glasses of juice are the same? Or will they think they have different flavors because they are different colors?
In another room (or somewhere your subjects can’t see you), use masking tape and marker to label 1 glass per taster “A” and second glass per taster “B.” Use liquid measuring cup to add ¼ cup juice to each glass.
Prepare a station for each taster with 1 glass of sample “A,” 1 glass of sample “B,” 1 piece of paper, and 1 pencil.
Assign each subject to a tasting station. Explain that they should take a few sips from each glass. They should think about the flavor of each sample: Does it taste sweet? Sour? Bitter? Does the flavor remind them of anything? Tasters can write their thoughts on the paper in front of them, but they should not say anything out loud until the experiment is over.
Observe your results: Give subjects 2 to 3 minutes to taste and record their thoughts. Once subjects have finished ask them to share what they thought of each sample’s flavor. Ask subjects to vote for which sample they preferred, “A” or “B,” by a show of hands.
Time for the big reveal! Tell subjects you played a small trick on them. Samples A and B were both apple juice—sample A was just dyed red with food coloring.
Don’t read until you’ve finished the experiment!
When we tried this experiment in the Young Chefs’ Club lab, NONE of our subjects realized both glasses contained apple juice. They described the two juices’ flavors as completely different. Some thought the red juice might be cranberry juice or fruit punch.
Why was it so easy to trick your subjects? As we grow up and taste lots of different foods, our brains start to associate tasting certain flavors with seeing certain colors: yellow with lemon, red with cherry, and so on. And those connections are really strong. When we see a drink that’s yellow, our brain immediately thinks, “that’s probably lemonade” before we even take a sip. When we taste a food that’s the “wrong” color, such as apple juice that’s been dyed red or french fries dyed green, our brains have a hard time ignoring what we see and using just taste and smell to identify flavor.
Want to do some more research around color and flavor? Try serving vanilla pudding alongside vanilla pudding that you dyed brown (use gel food coloring here)—do your subjects think the brown pudding is chocolate-flavored? Or try dying lemon-lime soda with orange food coloring—do your subjects think it’s orange soda? What other foods can you think of to try this with?