And You Thought Hot Chocolate Couldn’t Taste Any Better…

Hot Chocolate with MarshmallowsSo, I’m sitting at my desk right now. It’s cold outside. We’re in the late February doldrums of winter here in Wisconsin. As I look out the window at the snow blanketing the prairie around our office building and the blah gray sky, a cup of hot chocolate sounds pretty darn good. Late winter seems to bring out that particular craving for me. Maybe for you, too? I can just imagine how it’d taste: warm, frothy, velvety, creamy, rich, chocolaty, delicious. Can you taste it, too? Mmmm, hot chocolate. Hot chocolate is a good, good thing. This is not news. We know this.

But did you know the color of the cup you select from which to drink your hot chocolate directly affects how good it tastes? Yeah, me neither. But apparently it does.

Researchers from the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the University of Oxford have found that hot chocolate actually tastes better when served in an orange or cream-colored cup, versus a red or white cup. It’s the latest study to add to existing research that has shown that we perceive and experience food differently depending on the container from which it’s served. Their study included 57 participants, asked to evaluate samples of hot chocolate as served from four differently colored, but otherwise identical, plastic cups. The colors sampled were white, cream, red and orange. All the cups were white on the inside. After tasting each drink, the participants were asked to give it a score between 1 and 10 for different qualities such as enjoyment, sweetness, flavor and chocolate aroma.

Though the sample size was fairly small, the results were crystal clear: all the participants thought the hot chocolate in the orange and cream-colored cups was better than the others, even though it was the exact same beverage. Some even went so far as to label the hot chocolate served from the cream-colored cups as “sweeter” and “more aromatic” than any of the others. The white plastic cups scored the worst. Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, one of the study’s authors, concludes that “The color of the container where food and drink are served can enhance some attributes like taste and aroma,” information that is doubtless of some significant interest to anyone involved in selling food, or hosting a very well-received dinner party.

This team’s research adds to existing evidence that the taste of food and drink is at least somewhat dependent upon the visual characteristics of its container, although the reason why is not yet known. Other studies exploring this effect, and cited by the researchers of this study, have had similar findings:

  • Using a yellow container increases lemony flavor
  • Using blue or other “cold” colors for packaging increases the “thirst-quenching” characteristics of a cold beverage
  • Liquid served from pink containers tastes sweeter
  • The flavor of strawberry mousse is sweeter and more intense when served on a white plate rather than a black plate
  • Coffee served in brown packaging is stronger and more aromatic; coffee served in red packaging is less strong; coffee served in yellow or blue packaging is “smoother”

The ramifications for food packaging and presentation seem fairly significant. I would imagine this research already has the attention of the food packaging industry, and perhaps a few savvy restaurant owners. Piqueras-Fiszman says, “…it is a case of experimenting to understand how the container itself affects the perceptions that the consumers have on the product.”

And now, you’ll please excuse me while I go shopping for a nice big orange cup. It still just looks so cold outside, and I have a feeling I’m going to succumb to that hot chocolate craving sooner rather than later. I might as well make it as delicious and memorable an experience as possible.

References

  1. Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, Charles Spence. The Influence of the Color of the Cup on Consumers’ Perception of a Hot BeverageJournal of Sensory Studies, 2012; 27 (5): 324 DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-459X.2012.00397.x
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Caroline Sober

Senior Software Developer at Promega Corporation
Caroline is a senior software developer at Promega. She’s not a scientist, so if you hear her talking about DNA purification or pipetting or current issues in bioprivacy, she’s totally faking it and you should tell her to hush. She is, however, passionate about building useful software, the interactions between people and technology in general, and how social media is changing the conversation between companies and customers. She lives in Madison with her husband, daughter, and 110-pound dog.

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