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While there has long been public concern over the use of artificial/synthetic food colors, it should be remembered that food and drink products (e.g., red wine) have been purposefully colored for millennia. This narrative historical review highlights a number of reasons that food and drink have been colored, including to capture the shopper's visual attention through to signaling the likely taste/flavor. Over the course of the last century, there has, on occasion, also been interest in the playful, or sometimes even deliberately discombobulating, use of food coloring by modernist chefs and others. The coloring (or absence of color) of food and drink can, though, sometimes also take on more of a symbolic meaning, and, in a few cases, specific food colors may acquire a signature, or branded (i.e., semantic) association. That said, with food color being associated with so many different potential "meanings," it is an open question as to which meaning the consumer will associate with any given instance of color in food, and what role context may play in their decision. Laboratory-based sensory science research may not necessarily successfully capture the full range of meanings that may be associated with food color in the mind of the consumer. Nevertheless, it seems likely that food color will continue to play an important role in dictating consumer behavior in the years to come, even though the visual appearance of food is increasingly being mediated via technological means, including virtual and augmented reality.

Original publication




Journal article


J Food Sci

Publication Date



color meaning, color-in-context, crossmodal correspondence, food color, history of food coloring