Great Expectations (1/4): Your eyes eat first!

Great Expectations is a four-part series to discuss and summarize how our senses play a huge role in our interaction and experience with food. 

Part 1: Your eyes eat first (a thought experiment) 


Colours can enhance and stimulate appetite, but when our food is off-colour, it can also result in appetite suppression. They influence taste thresholds, taste perception, food preference, and cultural acceptability. It is so powerful in the food experience that it can even influence our taste buds to experience sweetness without an actual sweetener! Colour also affects our perspective on food based on who we are as individuals. People are trained - through nature, cultural upbringing, and exposure - to associate certain food colours with specific flavour profiles.

A cultural comparison_ these black burgers are not commonly available in North America, but can be easily found in Japan. Why?



In Western culture, black is associated with death, which leads our minds to think - is this food dead or inedible?



In Japanese culture, black food does not have the same association and is frequently used in cooking (ex. black seaweed, fermented black bean-paste-based foods, black walnut powder, squid ink).



What do you think?

  • When you see the colour red, do you expect sweetness?

  • If you see yellow or orange, do you expect sour or hot? 

Pay close attention to these creative food marketing tactics as they use colours to try to develop a craving! 

  • Yellow is associated with energy and excitement

    • McDonald’s golden arches (mmm french fries!)

  • White is associated with being empty and harmless

    • Think about the popcorn you’re consuming during a movie! (Free refills, anyone?)

  • Intensely bright coloured candy and chocolate

    • People will consume more candy if it comes in a variety of colours (multi-coloured packs of Smarties, M&Ms, or gummy bears)

  • Green is associated with bitter flavours but also implies, that it is nutritious, hydrating, and generally good for you  

    • Freshii, Fresh, Panera….?


Changing the hue or intensity/saturation of a colour can be dramatic (maybe even traumatic?) because of our expectations for a dining experience.

Next time you go to a restaurant and there is dim lighting, take notice of how it sets the ambiance and mood for your dining experience.

Brighter lights or switched to a shade of blue? Notice the change of hue and saturation of your food.

Think about it: If you saw your steak with a blue hue, would you still be able to eat it? Would it look cold?

Restaurants will play with lighting and food colour to enhance your other senses and to make you feel satiated (The Art of Gastronomy!). This is probably one of the reasons you want to check out specific restaurants, and why the venue can be just as important as the food.

GARNISHES: Should we eat them? Yes… and No!

Garnishes are not only used for visual appeal - they are used plate fillers, flavour enhancers, digestive aides, and dish identifiers. 

In French cooking, chefs add garnishes as a breath freshener or digestive aid. It’s something you eat to contrast your main meal. These garnishes are very complex, well-planned for each meal, and not just a simple pop of colour.

Interesting fact:Often, they are named after people, places, or events such as “Chicken Marengo Sauté" named after the “Battle of Marengo.”

Today, we see our everyday food topped with garnishes such as chopped chives and parsley, accompanied with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of paprika or a splash of cream. All of these garnishes are edible, and can enhance our perception of how that dish might taste. Garnishes may also add depth of flavour and, most importantly, help us build an appetite.

But, not all garnishes are edible… 

Most garnishes in cocktails, for example, are inedible. They are designed to be a visual, tactile, or aromatic aid to complement the cocktail. The combination of colour, contrast and presentation is all a part of the experience.

Pro-tip: Avoid eating the decorative plastic grass (“baran”) found on sushi dishes. I learned this the hard way!

Next time you see a monochromatic plate of food, think about how it would make you feel if only there was only a bit of colour!

The End of Part 1


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