The power of colour in what we eat may not be something you have given much thought to before, but when you stop and think about it, colour is one of, if not the most important influence on how we perceive the world. Our relationship with hue and tone is not just about beautiful landscapes or decorations – for our ancestors, colour was an enormously important survival tool, allowing us to discern toxic foods from tasty ones and avoid animals and insects that appeared venomous (it’s why wasps have those stripes).
Today, colour may no longer decide life or death, but it’s still integral to our enjoyment of food. Colour is often the first aspect of a dish we notice, and embedded in that is an expectation. For example, if we see a yellow pudding, we may assume it to be lemon or banana. If we pick up a red sweet, we’re expecting a berry. And in fresh foods we use this perception to distinguish freshness or ripeness. We know a green banana and a yellow banana are going to taste very different.
The food industry has clocked onto this and made it as strict as the fashion and beauty world in having ‘uniform’ food products. Tomatoes are red, carrots are orange and potatoes are white. Growers and producers also able to boost their selling power by (VERY CAREFULLY) playing with these expectations with quirky produce like red carrots, purple potatoes and green tomatoes. However, it’s not a free-for all and they’re always careful not to push us too far – a blue apple, whilst interesting, would be so alien to us it would taste less pleasant than a green or red one.
This attention to colour is not just for show. For all the talk of the tongue and palate, our eyes are arguably the most important gustatory organ. More than half of our cortical real estate is dedicated to processing vision—just a percent or two is given over to taste faculties (making us rather unique among mammals). The result is not just that colour flavours our expectations – it actually changes how we taste food. If you remove sight from the tasting experience, it is amazing what you can trick your mind into believing. Experts in sensory perception have even proven that the world’s best sommeliers can’t distinguish between white and red wine if they’re all dyed red!
It’s not an overstatement to say that colour shapes the way we see and interact with our world, and the fashion world has expertly tapped into this. They carefully utilise colour to create clothes and products that appeal to us on our most basic level. Most makeup wearers will have a lipstick in their drawer labelled up as berry red or strawberry kisses. Spring fashions are olive green and lemon yellow. Our autumn wardrobes even match the hues of the foods we most like to eat at that time of year.
Colours are filled with associations born out of the culinary world – juicy, plump, luxurious, light, playful, warm and cool. So treat your outfit like you would your culinary exploits – fill them with colours and emotions that pair perfectly, bring out the best in one another and create a look that is completely irresistible.