Food Colouring and the Colour Psychology in Desserts
Colour psychology has dominated the relationship between colours, tastes, textures, and flavours for years. More often, food creators and pastry chefs use food colouring to meet or exceed their customers’ expectations. If you ask why colour comes before other factors, it’s probably because it’s the first and the most important sensory cue that influences our anticipation of taste and flavour. Thus, changing the hue or intensity, or even having a mismatch between the colour and the actual taste, can lead to a negative or mixed experience.
In this blog post, we’re going to delve into the world of colours and take a look at some colourful desserts from around the world. Then we briefly explore the concept of colour psychology in desserts and get familiar with different types of food colourants. Welcome to the world of colours!
Colourful Desserts From Around the Globe
A vast array of colourful and yummy desserts can be found worldwide. From France to the Philippines, various cultures and countries have created their own version of the perfect blend of colours, flavours, textures, and celebrations.
Here are 6 examples of colourful desserts we think everyone should try:
Colourful French macarons (Le French Fix Pâtisserie)
1. Macarons (France & Italy)
Macarons are delicate sandwich cookies composed of two crispy outer layers with a soft filling in between. This sweet treat was brought to France by the Italian chef of Queen Catherine de Medici during the Renaissance. Made from egg whites, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond meal, and food colouring, the meringue-based macarons have a unique, chewy texture and easily melt in the mouth. Macarons come in a wide range of flavours and colours.
Authentic Daifuku Mochi (Sasaki Fine Pastry)
2. Mochi (Japan)
Mochi is a Japanese confectionery composed of a small round glutinous rice cake, filled with a sweet filling, typically made of sweetened red bean paste. This treat is commonly enjoyed in Japan and often paired with green tea.
Rice cakes are available in various forms. Some versions contain mixtures of fruit and anko (i.e., mashed boiled beans with sugar), or crushed melon paste. Some are covered with confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, or cocoa powder.
Mexican Sweet Bread (Panaderia Latina bakery)
3. Conchas (Mexico)
Conchas are a type of sweet and tender Mexican bread (Pan Dulce) featuring a topping resembling a seashell, hence the name “concha” (shell in Spanish). The origins can be traced back to Mexico’s pre-colonial period when French, Spanish, and Italian bakers brought their bread recipes.
Conchas are composed of two parts: a sweet, enriched bread roll and a crumbly cookie dough topping. The dough for the topping is made from a combination of wheat flour, water or milk, sugar, butter, yeast, sometimes eggs, and salt. The traditional topping colour is white, but it can also be found in pink, yellow, or brown hues, which often indicate chocolate flavour – all in vibrant colours (probably some colour psychology would also be nice).
Pig Skin Cake or Steamed Tapioca Layer Cake (Hanoi Times)
4. Steamed Tapioca Layered Cake (Vietnam)
Steamed Tapioca Layered Cake (also known as Steamed Layered Cake or Pig Skin Cake) is a soft and chewy Vietnamese dessert, originating from the southern provinces of Vietnam. It typically consists of tapioca starch, rice flour, mashed mung beans, taro or durian, mixed with coconut milk, water and sugar. The gelatinous soft texture is achieved by alternating thin coloured layers with layers of mung bean, durian, or taro filling. Traditional recipes use natural ingredients for the colours, but modern versions may incorporate artificial food colouring instead.
Filipino Halo-Halo (Bon Appétit)
5. Halo-halo (Philippines)
Halo-halo, (also spelled haluhalo), is a cold Filipino dessert with lots of contrasting textures, from chewy to crunchy, creamy or sticky. The components of Halo-halo can vary widely, but most of the time, jellies, flan, macapuno (a cultivated coconut), palm seeds, sweetened red beans, shaved ice, ube ice cream, fresh fruit, toasted coconut flakes, evaporated milk, or coconut milk are among the ones you’ll find.
The fruit, beans, and other sweets are placed at the bottom, followed by shaved ice, topped with either a combination of leche flan, ube halaya (mashed purple yam), or ice cream. Evaporated milk or coconut milk is poured into the mixture upon serving.
Vivid and colourful gelato ice cream
6. Gelato (Italy)
Gelato is the common Italian word for all ice cream types. In English, it specifically refers to a frozen dessert of Italian origin. Italian Gelato generally contains lower butterfat than other styles of frozen desserts. It typically contains much less air in comparison to the American style, and more flavouring, giving it a density and richness that distinguishes it from other types of ice-cream.
Traditional Gelato flavours include cream, vanilla, chocolate, hazelnut, almond, and pistachio. However, modern flavours include raspberry, strawberry, apple, lemon, pineapple, and blackberry, which all come in beautiful vibrant colours accordingly.
Does Colour Psychology Apply to Desserts?
Yes. Expectations enter a whole new level when it comes to desserts. Desserts are designed to impress and served to please. People often choose them for special occasions, thus plan them to be the highlight of the meal. That’s why pastry chefs are selective with the use of food colouring and they use it carefully and preferably in line with the psychology of colours. For example, a mismatch between the natural taste perception of colours and the artificially-made colours in a dessert could cause a lack of harmony. If a blueberry-flavoured dessert is artificially coloured as orange, it may not taste as good as we expect it to, and our brain may perceive the overall experience as unpleasant.
The use of specific colours can trigger certain psychological responses, influencing people’s emotions, behaviours, and perception of taste, and this includes desserts as well. Moreover, the colours you see on a dessert plate can evoke specific cultural or seasonal associations. Let’s explore the implications of common colours based on colour psychology:
Colour Psychology for Restaurant Interior Design (Fohlio)
- Red: Red is believed to be the most common colour used in the food industry. It’s eye-catching and triggers appetite, probably because it indicates ripeness or sweetness in natural foods like berries.
- Blue: Blue is typically the last remaining candy in the M&M bowl, probably because edible blue foods are rare in nature. It’s not clear why natural blue foods are hard to find, but some research suggests that blue colour typically acts as an appetite suppressant.
- Yellow: Subtle tones of yellow, like beige, can relate to the natural side of the yellow spectrum which gives off an earthly and natural feel. Yellow tends to evoke optimism, though in some cases the artificial bright yellow may be hard to trust.
- Green: Chlorophyll or the green pigment found in the leaves of plants, gives vegetable foods their green hue. The colour is almost synonymous with health, vegetarianism, and freshness. Still, when it comes to desserts, green is relatively unusual.
- Orange: In Western countries, this colour is normally tied to autumn fruits, evoking a vibrant and stimulant feeling. With orange and carrot juice being the first things that come to mind, the colour is heavily linked to vitality year-round.
Different Types of Food Colouring and How to Achieve the Right Tones
Food colourants come in many forms, and are used to make foods, drinks or treats more attractive, appealing, and appetising. For example, It would seem reasonable to assume that more intensely coloured foods are likely to be more intensely flavoured. Particular tastes or ingredient expectations can also be conveyed through colours.
Artificial Food Colourants
Synthetic colour additives are available in multiple forms with different qualities:
Liquid food colourants (Chefmaster)
- Liquid colourings: They are typically water-based synthetic and come in a range of basic colours (yellow, red, green,blue) and livelier neon shades (pink, lime green, purple, light blue). Liquid colourings are lighter and look more pastel like. They are usually easy-to-find in any grocery store and inexpensive.
- Liquid-gel colourings: Most gel-type colourants are synthetic and contain water, sugar, glycerine and vegetable gums. They come in a wide range of colours, including brown and black, and are much more concentrated than liquids. Gel colourings mix easily and can be used to create different shades of a colour, simply by adjusting the quantity. They are a little harder to find.
- Gel-paste Dye: These synthetic colourings come in little pots or jars and typically contain water, glycerine and/or corn syrup. Gel-paste dye is a much more concentrated and effective version of gel colouring that can be used to produce dark, saturated colours. They should generally be used in very small amounts. You can find gel paste dye at cooking stores or online.
- Markers: marker food colourings are basically felt-tip markers filled with edible ink. They can be used to decorate or even write on almost anything with hues ranging from vivid to neon and pastel.
- Powdered Dye: Powdered dyes are completely dry synthetic colourings that can last way longer than other forms of colourants. They come in jars and can be added directly into a dry mixture or onto desserts as a finish. Dry powdered colourings are especially handy when you don’t want to add any liquid to your creation. They can be used to create dark shades of colours but might be difficult to find.
- Sprays: As it would be expected, spray colourings can be found in cans. The amount of control you have with the nuzzle is obviously not as good as an airbrush, but they are easy to use and fun to work with. You can use spray colourings even on whipped cream or ice cream to create an appealing look.
Natural Food Colourants
As consumers become more health-conscious, there is an increased demand for natural food colourants in products. Natural colourings are derived from natural sources such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, insects, or minerals, with no glycerine and corn syrup. They are minimally processed and don’t contain synthetic chemicals. The colours are more muted and not as brilliant as synthetic dyes, and have relatively lower heat and light resistance. They work best for allergy-free baking and low or no-heat desserts or toppings. Natural food colour additives are commonly found in powder or liquid form.
Some examples of natural food colourants include:
- Pink: strawberries, raspberries
- Red: beets, tomato
- Orange: carrots, paprika, sweet potato
- Yellow: saffron, turmeric
- Green: matcha, spinach
- Blue: red cabbage + baking soda
- Purple: blueberries, purple sweet potato
- Brown: coffee, tea, cocoa
- Black: activated charcoal, squid Ink
Natural vs Artificial: Which One Is Better?
Natural and artificial dyes have their own pros and cons, and the choice between them depends on various factors, including health concerns, applicability, availability, cost, and consumer demand.
|Health||Healthy||Less healthy (some associated with health risks such as hyperactivity in children, allergic reactions, and potential cancer risks)|
|Cost||More expensive||Less expensive|
|Availability||Less available||Widely available|
|Colour intensity & consistency||Poor (pale and muted)||High (vibrant and intense)|
Colour is the first sensory cue that affects our perception of taste and flavour. The idea of using food colouring to enhance the look or taste of food dates back to at least 1500 B.C. and has developed into food colour psychology in modern times. Nowadays, artificial colour additives have taken the game to a whole new level.
Colour has an even bigger impact on the overall experience of food, when it comes to desserts. To produce delicious and visually stunning desserts, chefs incorporate the chemistry and psychology of colours into their creations and use hues strategically. Many popular colourful desserts have been developed around the globe with the same principles, and many more are waiting to be created.