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AIC 2010 Color and Food, Mar del Plata, Argentina 12-15 October 2010

The COLOUR of FOOD and its relationship to

APPETITE APPEAL Robyn Peacock-Smith Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Australia

We ‘eat with our eyes’ before placing food in our mouth to taste it

Important when selection involves choice between options

How important is the visual appeal of food we prepare for ourselves? Does it matter if home cooking has appetite appeal or not?

Health is good = insignificant consequence • food tastes good, satisfies hunger

Health not good = important consequence

• food nourishes body, benefits state of mind

Assumption: • food industry professionals — aware of the importance of colour to appetite appeal • cookery books — don’t promote colour composition of presented food • majority of people preparing a meal for themselves or family — don’t fully realise significance of colour to appetite appeal

Hypotheses: • The most visually appetising meals would approximate complementary or triadic colour schemes,

• The least appetising meals would relate to monotone or analogous colour schemes.

Role of colour theory: • Foods represent all colours of the colour wheel — some colours are more common than others • Complementary colours add vibrancy — “look visually appealing on the plate” — red and green more prevalent than blue and orange, or yellow and purple • Analogous colour unifies the various foods — lacks visual vibrancy • Mono-colour meals may taste good — unappealing, no visual variation

A range of colours breaks the meal up: • Exciting or eye-catching colour combination — successful in design — may not evoke same response on a dinner plate (triadic combination egg yolks, spinach, purple potatoes)

Foods need to meet preconceptions of what is normal: • Preconception of taste affects the taste buds

Although colour students knew these cupcakes were always the same vanilla cake and vanilla icing mix, many were still apprehensive to try. Perhaps the class time of 9.00 am influenced this — too early in the day for so much colour?

Gold Coast student Natasha Chapman’s ‘weekly focus’ cupcakes enhanced with food colouring.

Students undertook investigations: • Describe their meal • Photograph it prior to eating • Scale of one to five — one represented ‘not very’ hungry, appealing or tasty — five represented ‘extremely’ hungry, appealing or tasty • Degree of hunger felt • Appetite appeal (based on the colour/s of their meal) • Actual taste (when finished eating)

Student investigations • BENJAMIN DALRYMPLE (Australian) — produced a series of personal accounts — over the course of two weeks • Recorded: — food and ingredients — time of day — degree of hunger — visual appeal — actual taste — colour observations

Benjamin observed: • Dishes with complementary colour combinations — high visual appeal • Pork, sundried tomato and olive sauce, white rice, broccoli — 7.30 pm — degree of hunger = 4 — visual appeal = 4 — actual taste = 4 — looked fresh, healthy and vibrant

Benjamin also noted: • Analogous coloured meals — had fairly good visual appeal — less than complementary colours — were unified but lacked visual vibrancy — sat comfortably together on the plate — but “nothing jumped out or demanded attention”

Benjamin found: • monotone coloured meals — least appealing • Seafood pasta marinara with broccoli — 7.00 pm — degree of hunger = 3 — visual appeal = 2 — actual taste = 3 — “visually boring and unattractive” — no contrast — nothing to catch “the eye”

Benjamin concluded: • A meal containing complementary and analogous colours — most visually appealing • Chicken, red green yellow capsicum, leeks, chick peas, rice — 7.10 pm — degree of hunger = 4 — visual appeal = 5 — actual taste = 4 — “fantastic visual appeal”

Student investigations • ANDRES GARCIA LOPEZ (Mexican) — photographed all meals — over the course of one week • Recorded: — food and ingredients — time of day — degree of hunger — visual appeal — actual taste


Andres recorded: • Scrambled eggs with cauliflower, Mexican salsa and cheese

— 9.45 am — degree of hunger = 4 — visual appeal = 2 — actual taste = 4 — analogous colours white, yellow, red

Andres noted: • Fried eggs with onion and tomato sauce — 9.00 am — degree of hunger = 4 — visual appeal = 5 — actual taste = 4 — analogous colours white, yellow, red


Andres recorded: • Ham, pepperoni and cheese rolls — 3.35 pm — degree of hunger = 5 — visual appeal = 2 — actual taste = 3 — analogous and complementary colours beige, pale yellow, pink, green

Andres recorded: • Fettuccini with tomato, raisins and turkey mince, green beans and cauliflower — 4.25 pm — degree of hunger = 4 — visual appeal = 5 — actual taste = 5 — analogous and complementary colours white, pale yellow, brown, green, red


Andres recorded: • Japanese curry (chicken, carrots, onion and garlic) with lotus roots and rice — 6.35 pm — degree of hunger = 5 — visual appeal = 1 — actual taste = 4 — neutral colours white, brown

Andres recorded: • Homemade hamburgers — 8.30 pm — degree of hunger = 4 — visual appeal = 5 — actual taste = 5 — analogous and complementary colours yellow, red, brown, green

Andres’ survey: • At the end of his week of recording meals — surveyed thirty people — choose between photographed meals — based only on colour appeal • Noticed Asian and Latino responses similar — preference for bright food colours like red and green • Europeans/Australians — mostly preferred pale colours, beiges and browns

Andres’ second survey: • Adjusted methodology — surveyed ten Asians, ten Latinos and ten Europeans — all three nationalities indentified • Greatest preference — meals that contained three colours • Least preference — meals with only minor colour variation • Also observed — food colour preference is related to personal history

• Example of food colour preference related to personal history and culture

Mexican breakfast — cheese sandwich and habanero (chilli) sauce

Australian breakfast — Vegemite on buttered toast

Students’ investigations results: • Confirmed importance of colour in appetite appeal • Defined specifics of colour in relation to culture and personal history

Our expectations vary: • Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner • Taste could not be completely determined by visual appeal • Expectations are higher with a visually appealing meal

Follow up study • Ten colour photographs for each mealtime group — breakfasts, lunches, dinners • Thirty participants — rank each meal within the group — most visually appetising to least • Findings — preference for stronger-coloured meals as day progresses — relatively colourless dishes unappealing at any time of day


Most preferred — warm analogous and tonally varied colour

Least preferred — monotone single colour scheme


Most preferred — greater tonal range of warm and cool colours (neutral, analogous and complementary)

Least preferred — warm neutral colour scheme


Most preferred — complementary warm and cool colours, broad tonal range

Least preferred — neutral colours, limited tonal range

Findings support suppositions • The sight of food fires the neurons in the hypothalamus • The eyes are first sense that must be convinced • Visual appeal of food is determined by preconceptions of what is considered (culturally) ‘normal’ • Regardless of final taste, consumer has formed an opinion about the meal before it even reaches their taste buds

• Which meal would you choose?

Sydney International Airport, departures

Black sesame icecream: appetite appeal = 1, taste = 5

Conclusions: • Generally whether we are eating out or at home, visual appeal of food is important — confirmed by results from both student investigations and surveys • We appear to prefer and enjoy more colour in our meals as the day progresses — linked to a physiological need? • Most visually appealing meals contain — analogous coloured foods, plus at least one complementary or contrasting coloured food … • Too much colour as unappetising as too little colour

Conclusions: (cont) This directly supports Colour class activity to discover the most appealing colour trios — always two related colours plus one contrasting

Conclusions: (cont) It appears that our visual appreciation of colour is constant — regardless of the context

Further research required: • To identify importance of visual appearance of food to healthy and unwell people — not well, colourful meals could encourage us to eat • In hospitals and old people’s homes — nourishing the body difficult task — the unwell often don’t feel like eating • Dietician at Canberra Public Hospital — meals for all patients, including special needs — creates coloured gravies from vegetables — adds pureed vegetables to colour mashed potato

Ultimately: If a meal meets the preconceptions of colours for each food type, then a dish containing both complementary colours and analogous colours is most visually appealing … — wherever they are eaten — from whichever kitchen they are produced. combinations.htm


Robyn Peacock-Smith (Australia): The colour of food and its relationship to appetite appeal

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