How your cup's color changes the taste of your drink

That tasty hot chocolate would be even tastier if you were sipping it out of an orange mug

Hot chocolate
(Image credit: Thinkstock)

In the mood for a cup of hot chocolate? Do yourself a favor: Drink it from an orange cup.

New research from the Journal of Sensory Studies says different colored cups can affect the perceived flavor of beverages. "The color of the container where food and drink are served can enhance some attributes like taste and aroma," said study co-author Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, a researcher at the Universitat Politècnica de València in Spain and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Piqueras-Fiszman and her colleagues asked 57 people to sip four samples of the same hot chocolate from different colored cups: White, cream, orange, and red. At the end of the experiment, all 57 participants said the hot chocolate in the orange and cream cups tasted better, with some reporting it was sweeter or smelled more aromatic.

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What causes this perceived flavor enhancement? It's all in our heads. Presumably, orange and cream bring to mind warm, creamy flavors in a way that white and red do not. In the past, similar studies have shown that factors unrelated to taste, such as price and verbal descriptions of food, can affect how flavor is perceived. As Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo notes, soda is considered more refreshing when served in a blue can (perceived as colder than a warm red can), and coffee tastes stronger when in a brown package, tips manufacturers already use to their advantage. "The discovery demonstrates once again that our taste buds are definitely influenced by the colors our eyes perceive," Diaz says.

The findings shed light on new techniques restaurants could use to enhance patrons' dining experience. "More attention should be paid to the color of the container as it has more potential than one could imagine," says Piqueras-Fiszman. So next time you're out to dinner and order a hot chocolate, be sure to ask for it in an orange mug.

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