Surprising Taste Test: Color Determines Best Orange Juice

Credit: USDA (Image credit: USDA)

Color skews people's taste for orange juice more than a price tag, quality, or even its actual taste, a new study reveals.

The color of orange juice influences what people say they taste and also impairs their ability to compare different tastes, according to the recent taste test. Color skews people's taste more than a price tag or the juice's actual quality.

Previous research has focused on people's preference for taste. Instead, University of British Columbia marketing professor JoAndrea Hoegg and colleagues focused on people's ability to distinguish among different juicy tastes.

Blind as a taste bud

When the researchers spooned sweetener into standard, unadulterated orange juice, testers could discern the difference between sweetened and unsweetened juice. But taste testers lost the ability to taste a difference when food coloring was added to darken them.

"Color totally dominated taste," said Hoegg, a specialist in visual effects who coauthored findings published in the March issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

The big surprise came when the researchers did a blind taste test, with no brand labels, and found that the color of orange juice blinded people's taste buds to the point where they could not distinguish pure, fresh squeezed Tropicana from a generic juice made from concentrate.

With the help of a brand label, testers accurately discriminated between the juice qualities, no matter the color.

Visual rules

The findings suggest that, while preference for a brand or a taste may be developed through cues such as what family and friends drink, our ability to discriminate tastes may be dictated more by what we see.

"Discrimination is focusing on whether you can see if there is a difference here or not," Hoegg told LiveScience. "Discrimination appears to be much more sensory than preference, because it is more visual." 

Next, Hoegg plans to move beyond orange juice and test people's ability to discriminate taste variations among other types of food.

Corey Binns lives in Northern California and writes about science, health, parenting, and social change. In addition to writing for Live Science, she's contributed to publications including Popular Science,, Scholastic, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review as well as others. She's also produced stories for NPR’s Science Friday and Sundance Channel. She studied biology at Brown University and earned a Master's degree in science journalism from NYU. The Association of Health Care Journalists named her a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Journalism Fellow in 2009. She has chased tornadoes and lived to tell the tale.