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Thanksgiving and Color Perception

Posted November 22, 2019 by X-Rite Color

During this holiday season, let's pause to do more than give thanks. Let's also consider the role color plays on the food choices we make when we fill our Thanksgiving plates.

Traditional holiday foods like turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie always look the same... we know what to expect when we take our first bite. But what if the mashed potatoes were green this year? Would they taste different? Would you even try them?

Green Mashed Potatoes X-Rite Blog

There has been a lot of research about the role color plays in how we perceive and even taste food. These studies show that our judgment of flavor is most affected by the color of the food or drink. According to food expert and chemist Kantha Shelke, we eat with our eyes before we ever smell or taste. The color cues are very important.

Psychologically, we expect red foods to taste sweet, with flavors like strawberry or cherry. Yellow should taste sour, green tart, and except around Halloween, many people won't even try dark colors like black and purple because they make us think of spoiled food.

A few years ago, Shelke put the power of color to the test with the help of Good Morning America.

She made a batch of lemon Jell-O, then added flavorless food coloring to create the impression of three different flavors. They all taste exactly the same, but will people think they are different because of the color?

Turns out Shelke is right. Color can overwhelm reality. The participants tasted different flavors based on the color, and they all preferred the red, which they thought tasted like berry.

An article published by the Journal of Consumer Research reported that our taste perceptions are more heavily influenced by color than price or product quality. If color is the dominating factor in product choice, you can bet color control is at the top of the list for food and beverage manufacturers.

How does the food industry take into account our psychological preference for color when creating their products?

Color Measurement

If food doesn't taste good, you probably won't eat it again. But if it doesn't look good, you may not try it at all. Along with formulation and analytic software, food and beverage manufacturers use color measurement devices called spectrophotometers to maintain brand consistency and ensure that their products leave the warehouse with the color consumers expect.

The Bacardi Bottling Corporation is one of many companies who use X-Rite technology to control the color of their products. Using an X-Rite benchtop spectrophotometer, they measure the color of the raw ingredients, then calculate a recipe that will provide the perfect Mojito color and taste. Once a sample batch is blended, they measure again to make sure it meets color tolerances before they mix the full production batch in order to identify any problems before 10,000 gallons are wasted.

The X-Rite Ci7600 spectrophotometer and Color iQC software are approved by the USDA for color grading orange juice. This solution calculates color scores for frozen, concentrated, pasteurized, and canned orange juice to deliver verified results. To get a USDA grade shield, the official label seal that verifies the quality and integrity of an agricultural product, manufacturers must go through a rigorous review process by highly-skilled graders and auditors from USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service to ensure color and quality standards. 

Ci7600 Measuring OJ

Learn more about this solution for measuring the color of beverages in our Color Control for Food and Beverages blog.

Munsell Standards

Whether you’re harvesting crops or processing food, color provides valuable insights into ripeness and readiness for processing. Since color can impact the value of crops, it also plays a huge role in evaluating food and produce quality. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and numerous private food processors rely on Munsell USDA Color Standards for this job. From tomatoes to french fries, color standards help determine which foods make it to store shelves.

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Munsell also creates standards to evaluate the doneness of cooked foods, like this USDA Frozen French Fried Potato Color Standard.

There's even a Munsell standard for grading canned pumpkin, so you know the one you choose from the store shelf will create the perfect shade of deliciousness that everyone will want to try.

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Check out the Munsell blog to learn how to cook turkey to color perfection. Using their 7.5 YR Soil Color Chart, they documented every stage of the Thanksgiving turkey to show us the Munsell Color System at work.

As you are preparing your holiday feast, why not try a color experiment of your own? Be sure to let us know how it turns out!

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