A Dash of Virtual Milk: Altering Product Color in Virtual Reality Influences Flavor Perception of Cold-Brew Coffee

Qian Janice Wang*, Rachel Meyer, Stuart Waters, David Zendle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


It is well known that the appearance of food, particularly its color, can influence flavor perception and identification. However, food studies involving the manipulation of product color face inevitable limitations, from extrinsic flavors introduced by food coloring to the cost in development time and resources in order to produce different product variants. One solution lies in modern virtual reality (VR) technology, which has become increasingly accessible, sophisticated, and widespread over the past years. In the present study, we investigated whether making a coffee look milkier in a VR environment can alter its perceived flavor and liking. Thirty-two United Kingdom (UK) consumers were given four samples of black cold brew coffee at 4 and 8% sucrose concentration. They wore VR headsets throughout the study and viewed the same coffee in a virtual setting. The color of the beverage was manipulated in VR, such that participants saw either a dark brown or light brown liquid as they sipped the coffee. A full factorial design was used so that each participant tasted each sweetness x color combination, Participants reported sweetness, creaminess, and liking for each sample. Results revealed that beverage color as viewed in VR significantly influenced perceived creaminess, with the light brown coffee rated to be creamier than dark brown coffee. However, beverage color did not influence perceived sweetness or liking. The present study supports the role of VR as a means of conducting food perception studies, either to gain a better understanding of multisensory integration, or, from an industry perspective, to enable rapid product testing when it may be time-intensive or costly to produce the same range of products in the real-world. Furthermore, it opens potential future opportunities for VR to promote healthy eating behavior by manipulating the visual appearance of foods.

Original languageEnglish
Article number595788
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • augmented virtuality
  • coffee
  • consumer perception
  • food color
  • mixed reality
  • virtual reality


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