Spence proved that color can impact our perception of flavor, even though there are a lot of factors at work here and a lot of questions still on the table.
But, Katz said, the fact that our other senses can affect what we taste is a well-known phenomenon to many candy companies, and they use that to their advantage.
“The Skittles people,” Katz said, “being much smarter than most of us, recognized that it is cheaper to make things smell and look different than it is to make them actually taste different. So, Skittles have different fragrances and different colors — but then all taste exactly the same.”
We'll pause while you collect yourself. We know this is big news.
According to Stevens, “Katz says this works because our brains are used to processing certain sensory cues together. For example, our brains associate the color yellow, a lemon smell, and a slightly acidic taste with each other. When you’re offered two of these three sensory cues, your brain will fill in the blanks.”
I hate to be this person, but it kind of makes sense when you think about it.
When you choose a lemon Skittle or a grape Skittle, it’s definitely fragrant and “tastes” like the specific fruit. But once you chew it down to a little sugary nub, it’s just kind of generically sweet.
OK, Skittles are evil betrayers of our brains, but...what about gummy bears?
Katz said that some “higher-end gummy bears” do actually taste different, and Haribo’s VP of marketing Keith Dannoff backed that up. In an email to Stevens, he said, “I can’t speak for all gummy bears products but I can definitely tell you that the HARIBO Gold-Bears gummy bear products in the U.S. contain 5 distinct flavors: Strawberry, Lemon, Orange, Pineapple, and Raspberry.”
We’ll ignore the concerning number of qualifiers in that statement for now and just be relieved that at least one classic candy isn’t lying to our faces and our brains.