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Illustrations enhance sweetness

29 September 2011

Seeing an illustration of something sweet, while eating food with a sweet taste-aroma combination makes that food taste even sweeter. This result means that by showing illustrations a sweet food product can give a greater sweetness experience, even if it actually contains less sugar. This has been revealed by a study conducted by brain researcher Marije van Beilen of the University Medical Center Groningen, in cooperation with TI Food and Nutrition. The study is the first to examine the effects of 3 senses – taste, smell and sight – simultaneously on taste experiences. According to Van Beilen, the results of this research show that using illustrations with our food could contribute to a healthier lifestyle and the prevention of obesity and diabetes. She will publish an article on her research 29 September 2011 in the scientific magazine PLoS One.

It has long been known that adding an aroma to drinks or food, for example yoghurt, can influence the taste. Yoghurt with a strawberry aroma, for example, is experienced as sweeter than yoghurt without a strawberry aroma. Van Beilen shows that adding an illustration to these taste-aroma combinations, for example a picture of a strawberry, can make food taste even sweeter. 


Van Beilen used a gustometer developed in Wageningen for her research. A gustometer is a computer-controlled instrument that is able to administer very precisely timed doses of liquids and aromas. Participants in the research were offered a taste-aroma combination via the gustometer: slightly sweetened sugar solutions with a strawberry aroma, a caramel aroma or a savoury aroma.In some cases they were also shown a picture. There were two types of pictures: figurative pictures that showed a sweet object, for example a strawberry, and non-figurative pictures, which, were digitally manipulated so that although they showed the colour and the texture of a strawberry, they were otherwise unrecognizable as a strawberry. 


Van Beilen’s research reveals that showing a figurative image in combination with food can influence the taste experience for a long period of time. This could, for example, mean that seeing a picture of a strawberry on the packaging could make the sweets taste sweeter for a longer period of time. Adding a non-figurative illustration can influence taste temporarily. This means that non-figurative illustrations should be offered at the moment something is eaten or drunk. Thus by using the right colour for yoghurt and/or its packaging, it would be possible to offer a product that tastes just as sweet but has less sugar. 

Importance of the research

Less sugar in our food is important for preventing obesity and diabetes. The results of this research could be used by the food industry in the development and marketing of healthier products with less sugar that taste just as sweet.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.30 p.m.
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