What consumers expect when they see a food primes the palate to taste certain flavors. The strong associations between color and flavor are well established in the scientific community. Research on the subject dates back to the 1970s. For example, consumers expect yellow foods to be sour or citrusy.
Branding, packaging and color quality of the product itself play a big part in creating and maintaining expectations. Food brands have long understood this and worked to establish standards. Federal regulations grade the color of orange juice. Businesses offer color-matching services for companies to select the right hue for a particular product. In some cases, color can overpower other senses and convince people they taste flavors that aren’t there.
The Penn State researchers set out to test if they could teach color-taste correlations, and found the linkages could be more flexible than many thought in some cases.