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Colour of plates can improve taste of food for picky eaters, new research suggests

young woman with glasses smiling
3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Shrimp satay with pesto and chili sauces

Eating food from certain coloured plates can influence the taste and desirability of food for picky eaters, according to a recent study carried out at the University of Portsmouth’s Department of Psychology.

Previous studies have shown how the smell and texture of food can impact taste for picky eaters, but little research has gone into how it affects other senses, says the university.

Nearly 50 people, a mixture of picky and non-picky eaters, took part in the study, tasting the same snacks from red, blue, and white bowls, and noting their perceived saltiness and desirability.

The results showed that for the picky eaters in the group, the snacks tasted saltier when eaten out of red and blue bowls in comparison to the white bowl. The snacks were said to be least desirable when eaten out of a red bowl. Non-picky eaters’ tasting experiences however were not affected by the colours of the bowls.

Many salty snacks are sold in blue packaging in the UK, such as Walker’s Cheese & Onion crisps or KP Salted Peanuts, which the researchers say could explain the preference for salty snacks served in blue bowls.

Picky eating is usually defined as having a limited diet, strong dislikes and difficulty accepting new foods into a diet. According to Dr Lorenzo Stafford, Olfactory Researcher at Portsmouth’s Department of Psychology, “it’s important to understand the factors that act to ‘push and pull’ this behaviour.”

Dr Stafford continues: “Having restricted diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies as well as health problems like heart disease, poor bone health and dental issues.

“There is also a social cost because normally enjoyable moments between family members can easily turn into stressful, anxious, and conflict-causing situations when picky eaters feel ashamed or pressured to eat food.”

During their lifetime, picky eaters are estimated to generally consume fewer than 20 different foods, say the researchers.

The study is said to be the first of its kind to highlight how colour and taste perception interact in adult picky and non-picky eaters. It also shows a difference in how colour affects picky eaters’ perception of food.

The next step in the research is to explore whether these same findings show up when using other coloured receptacles which are not white, blue or red, and different flavoured foods.

“This knowledge could be useful for those trying to expand the repertoire of foods”, added Dr Stafford.

“For example, if you wanted to encourage a picky eater to try more vegetables well known to be viewed as bitter, you could attempt to serve them on a plate or bowl that is known to increase sweetness.

“Through further research we could determine ways to help positively affect a person’s diet, and as a result their mental and physical health.”

Much research has been done already on how food and drink receptacles impact our eating and drinking experience. For example, some taste tests show that drinking champagne from a white wine glass gives it a nicer flavour than in a flute, while Chinese food or any Asian cuisine is said to taste better when eaten with chopsticks.

Learn more about the key factors which influence what we taste when eat in this Food Matters Live Podcast episode:

Flavour – is it all in the mind?


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