Colours create instant impressions in the mind, so reactive and instinctual that we don’t even recognize them happening. This could go back to our far removed ancestors, who depended on at a glance, telling a toxic berry from a tasty one, a potential snack from a venomous bite.
Somewhere along the way, this deeply ingrained colour coding lost its necessity. However, the mental impressions colours give still affect our preferences, decisions and possibly even how we taste food once it’s in our mouths! In the catering industry, professionals try to harness this connection between colour and flavour to create a higher food and beverage experience.
Red, spicy, sweet. White, salty, cool, fresh.Green, crisp, crunchy. Brown, deep, savoury. There are certain expectations created by foods of certain colours. Now, these are by no means hard rules, but when you look at food, your brain makes a snap judgement on what it might taste like. These expectations could then actually affect how you choose and eventually taste the food. Subverting these expectations can cause a tremendous reaction and help your dishes stand out. One great example was an experiment in which people intricately described the subtle flavours of a red wine… which turned out to be white wine with food colouring.
When presenting food, the contrast between dishes or even on the same dish can be used to highlight certain parts of the dish or heighten the visual and mental impact of each colour on the plate. Against a full green salad, for example, the opposing red of a tomato or pepper will push the brain into seeing more ‘greenness’, creating a feeling of clean, fresher food. A similar effect is achieved with a small piece of red-toned garnish on a plate of lush green vegetables and deep brown meat, like a juicy steak.
The red tone creates contrast, making the whole dish more exciting to the mind. This could work between courses, using different colours in each course to really separate them and keep the palette invested and hungry for each subsequent dish. Or on a buffet spread to keep the viewer looking around the whole table, making each and every dish interesting and inviting. So, the next time you are cooking for guests, working in food service, or putting out a buffet spread, keep in mind that you may be able to manipulate the guests’ taste buds in your favour by beginning the tasting process right at the beginning; when their eyes see the colours of your lovely foods.