Finagling My Brain into Eating Capsicum

All these capsicums, and I don’t enjoy a single one. Photo by Nikodem Nijaki

Fun Fact: I really don’t like capsicum

Fun Fact #2: Scientists think they can make capsicum more palatable to me by changing the colour and brightness of light I am eating capsicum under.

… wait what?

What does colour have to do with taste?

Have you ever eaten a red velvet cake and just couldn’t place the flavour? There was a time when I didn’t know what the ingredients were, and so genuinely thought red velvet was an actual flavour. (SPOILERS: it’s actually a chocolate cake coloured red.)

This is something that people have experienced worldwide, consistently. As a matter of fact, Cynthia DuBose conducted an experiment in 1980. She gave a group of people drinks that were appropriately coloured (eg. A cherry drink coloured red), and inappropriately coloured (eg. Lime drink coloured red). Out of 20 people, the percentage of flavour misidentification occurred 14-48% of the time.

For example, if the drink was green, you would say it was lime even if the drink was actually strawberry flavoured 48% of the time!

Professor DuBose did the same thing with cake and found the same results. People tend to have a hard time identifying flavours correctly if they’re not coloured the way we expect them to be.

This cake could be a lemon cake, or it could be blueberry. Who knows. Photo by owlgray

Coloured lighting can influence your appetite.

Unfortunately, capsicum only come in three colours: red, green, and yellow. There’s no way for us to change these colours, so there is no way for us to change the taste of capsicum by changing their colour.

However, Professor Wilson has found another way. According to a study he did in 2007, changing the ambient lighting can affect the intensity of flavours. This mainly happens because people rely on external cues when doing tasks like determining how much lemon juice is in a drink.

This can happen in two ways: 1. Changing the colour of the lighting, and 2. Changing the brightness of the light.

For example, restaurants can influence people to buy more expensive wines if they change the lighting to a shade of red. Restaurants can also influence you to spend more time by changing the lighting to a soft and dim light.

Dim lighting makes environments more comfortable so you want to stay longer. Photo by Alex Castella

So, what does this have to do with eating capsicum?

Aimee Hasenback took what was already known about colour and light and started constructing an experiment. She showed participants pictures of capsicum in different lightings, and then added light intensity afterwards.

She found that people were much more willing to eat green capsicum under yellow and green lights. Overall, yellow and blue lights seemed to be the colour that affected willingness to eat the most. It either caused you to be more willing, or much less willing to eat capsicum.

Professor Hasenback also found that high levels of light in yellow and blue lighting made people more willing to eat capsicum.

Yum, yum. Photo by jeffreyw

I guess that means that if I ever want to enjoy chicken fajitas, I should eat under bright yellow or blue light.

16 Responses to “Finagling My Brain into Eating Capsicum”

  1. Syafiqah Zulkefli says:

    Thank you! Haha, yeah, it’s definitely something to try.

  2. Jaitika says:

    A wonderful post, Syafiqah! Very well-written.
    I don’t like capsicum either, but I’ll give them another try under bright yellow light, I guess.

  3. Syafiqah Zulkefli says:

    Haha, yup. Don’t worry, I feel you. It blew my mind.

  4. Sabrina Idrose says:

    Great post, Syafiqah! It was very well-written! And what??! Red velvet cake isn’t a flavour??! But to me, red velvet cakes taste differently from chocolate cakes… I guess now I know why.

  5. Syafiqah Zulkefli says:

    Haha, yeah, being told that red velvet is just chocolate really messed with my mind. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Syafiqah Zulkefli says:

    Yeah, definitely something to try!

  7. Pooja Venkat says:

    Really interesting. Should try that sometime with the veggies i dont like.

  8. Adrian Marcato says:

    Great blog!! It was fun to read and engaging throughout – I remember when my sister told me red velvet was just coloured chocolate! It was a sensory overload 😛

  9. Syafiqah Zulkefli says:

    Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Our brains are super weird. I love it. I do have to admit adding red colouring to chocolate cake is smart though. Nice way to sell the same thing multiple times and get more money. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one!

  10. Danielle Fong says:

    A fun and easy to read piece! Our brains are so weird when it comes to sensory perception, and you are not alone in having thought that red velvet was a real flavour!

  11. Syafiqah Zulkefli says:

    Yup, haven’t tried it myself, but definitely something to keep in mind. Glad you enjoyed it.

  12. arburgess says:

    What a strange phenomenon! I also don’t like capsicum, so will have to keep this in mind..

  13. Syafiqah Zulkefli says:

    Haha, very true! It could just be that the colour blue is a refreshing colour so they brainwashed you into thinking that blue pepsi was more refreshing. Consumer psychology is so interesting.

  14. Syafiqah Zulkefli says:

    Yup, I was surprised too! Like, I knew a few things about colour and how it affects the mind before, but I never knew that even the brightness of lighting could affect you too. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  15. Ashley Densham says:

    That’s so interesting! Does anyone remember Pepsi Blue? Was so much tastier and refreshing just being blue, now I know why

  16. Georgia Huggett says:

    This is a really interesting read! I knew that people had done experiments with wine where they gave people two glasses of the same wine, but one was coloured red. But I never realised ambient lighting could have such an effect.