The research, published in Food Quality and Preference, investigated whether the way consumers remember the flavour of products is affected by visual, non-taste stimuli such as imagery on packaging and labels. The team found that not only does imagery on food labels modulate flavour memory, but that any perceived similarity between the images and the flavours plays a vital role in flavour memory.
“An effect of image labels on the memory of fruit juice flavour was demonstrated using an incidental memory paradigm, an experimental paradigm close to that of daily life,” reported the researchers, led by Masako Okamoto from Obihiro University of Agriculture & Veterinary Medicine, Japan.
“Our results suggest possible factors influencing a label effect, such as perceived congruency between labels and flavours, and tasters’ prior experiences,” they explained.
The authors noted that the information that is remembered about food flavour can be as important as the perceived flavour itself.
“For example, when people select and buy foods, they usually cannot taste them, but must rely on recalling memories of the flavour ... Indeed, it has been reported that decision making at the time of food purchasing is influenced by the memory of ‘taste’,” noted Okamoto and his team.
The authors noted that since many commercial food and drink products are sold in packages, which consumers will always see in the marketplace, “there is a growing awareness of the importance of understanding how labels influence flavour memory.”
“Although it has been shown that taste in memory can change, there is still disagreement about its direction, and no consideration as yet of the effect of labelling ... Hence, the current research was conducted in order to find out whether images on packaging are able to influence flavour memory,” explained the research team.
As part of the study, 92 participants first tasted a 1:1 mixture of 100% pure apple juice and 100% pure peach juice, while at the same time viewing images of either apples, peaches, or a control. Later, participants were asked to taste juice mixtures, containing varying ratios of 100% peach to 100% apple juice, and then to rate their similarity to the original 1:1 mixture.
The researchers found that for participants who perceived the label and juice flavour as being highly similar, flavour in memory shifted towards that suggested by the label.
“While memory shifted towards that suggested by the label for participants perceiving the label and original juice flavour as highly congruent, those who perceived the label and flavour as less congruent showed the opposite tendency,” noted the authors.
Okamoto and his colleagues said that such findings suggest that the interaction between flavour and concept was important in the effect observed.
“These results reveal that flavour memory can be biased toward that of the image labels during initial tasting,” noted the researchers.
However they added that such memory bias depends on the perceived congruency between labels and flavours, and tasters’ prior experiences.
Source: Food Quality and Preference
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2011.09.007
“Package images modulate flavors in memory: Incidental learning of fruit juice flavors"
Authors: N. Mizutani, I. Dan, Y. Kyutoku, D. Tsuzuki, L. Clowney, Y. Kusakabe, M. Okamoto, T. Yamanaka