Taste and Colour (Taste and Flavour)

Institute of Food Research
Institute of Food Research, Norwich Research Park, Colney, Norwich NR4 7UA, UK
www.ifr.ac.uk Tel: +44(0) 1603 255000 Fax: +44 (0)1603 507723

Taste and Flavour

Taste and Colour

Learning objectives:

  • Describe unusually coloured foods
  • Give examples of foods and their expected colour
  • Distinguish the taste of a food and the perceived flavour
  • Give examples of poisonous foods that can be identified from their colour
  • Suggest explanations for the appeal or aversion to certain food colours

Key words: Perception, synthaesia, evolution, toxin, poisonous



Our aversion to blue or black coloured foods is thought to be a protective mechanism we have evolved to avoid poisonous or rotten foods. Birds have been shown to avoid reds and yellows. These are colours likely to be displayed by poisonous insects as a warning not to eat them.

Which foods and drinks we buy depends on the colour. Researchers found that the colour of orange juice was more important in perception of taste than branding as premium or budget quality. Pepsi produced clear cola but it’s appeal didn’t last long.

Some people literally see taste as colours. Synthaesthesia causes the senses to interpret stimuli differently. People with synaesthesia have reported chocolate tasting deep purple. In some cases words can stimulate the sense of taste in one case an individual reported that the word blue provokes an ‘inky’ taste.

Would you eat unusually coloured food if it was better for you? Scientists at the John Innes centre have produced purple tomatoes that contain more of the colourful antioxidant – anthocyanin.


Pupils taste 3 jellies, yellow, orange and red describing the flavour. Lemon Jelly coloured with varying amounts of red food dye seem most effective. Pupils will then taste clear and food dye coloured drinks once again describing their flavour before the actual flavour is revealed. Choosing a still clear flavoured drink and adding a variety of food colourings can produce a range of interesting results. Commonly pupils will be strongly influenced by other pupils suggested flavours and a peer effect can be very strong. Black food colouring can also be purchased and added to lemonade or other clear fruit flavoured drinks, while pupils are asked to suggest the brand of cola. The power of branding, advertising and anticipation can also be discussed with this activity.


What you will require

  • Lemon jelly
  • Food dye
  • Clear still flavoured drinks
  • Cups or small bowls
  • Spoons


• Spaghetti
• Food dye
• Bird table


Extension activity

Pupils can carry out their own experiment on food choice and colour by dying spaghetti different colours with food dye and then counting how much of each colour is eat by birds from a feeding table. See the Survival Rivals Webpage (www.survivalrivals.org) for more details.

Further reading
Survival Rivals I’m a worm get me out of here

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