Tableware color affects food flavor


British hospitals use red trays in a program to combat malnutrition but may have chosen the worst possible color, according to a study Wednesday linking the tinge of tableware to food enjoyment.

Researchers from the University of Oxford contributed data to the growing body of evidence that the color, size, weight and shape of eating utensils, cups and plates influence what people taste. Their findings on cutlery tally with previous research for crockery colors, including that red tends to limit food intake, they said. “Red could . . . be used to serve food to people who need to reduce their food intake, but should certainly not be used for those who are underweight,” the team said.

British hospitals use red trays to make it easier for nurses to identify people who need help eating. “Red appears to be the worst possible tray color . . . for those individuals who are being encouraged to eat more,” the researchers warned.

In a series of experiments, the team used utensils of different colors, shapes and weights to gauge the impact they had on the perceived taste of the same food. Among other things, they found that food eaten from a knife tasted saltier than when eaten with a spoon, fork or toothpick, and “more expensive” when eaten with lightweight plastic spoon. Such outcomes may be explained by the role of advertising and packaging or an individual’s personal associations with certain colors, they said.

“How we experience food is a multisensory experience involving taste, feel of the food in our mouths, aroma and the feasting of our eyes,” the authors said. “Even before we put food into our mouths our brains have made a judgment about it, which affects our overall experience.”