There's A Scientific Reason Behind The Internet's Rainbow Food Obsession

It has been evident for some time now: The rainbow has made a comeback in the food community.

It all started in Brooklyn with the now ubiquitous rainbow-bagel; later, Hong Kong gave us its best psychedelic grilled cheese; next, a barista in Las Vegas introduced his multi-hued morning brews to Instagram — clearly, the demand for colorful consumables is at an all-time high.

But why?

As explained by the Washington Post, the rainbow phenomenon is all the more perplexing because today’s shoppers claim to be more invested than ever in seeking out whole, natural foods.

A 2015 study by Consumer Reports shows that approximately 62 percent of shoppers seek out foods labeled “natural.” Additionally, 48 percent marked that they thought it was “very important” to avoid artificial ingredients — that’s 17-percentage points higher than the 2014 folks. These statistics seem to suggest that for many shoppers, natural foods are in, and artificially flavored and colored products are on their way out. So why does every new polychromatic food item end up going viral on the web?

Science Says: It all has to do with how our brains relate to color.

According to a 2015 study in the journal Flavour, people are apt to associate particular colors with different tastes. For example, a significant amount of the people surveyed associated reds, pinks and oranges with sweet tastes, but documented greens and yellows as having more sour tastes. 

Therefore, it’s possible that people are gravitating toward rainbow cuisine for the same reason people choose the everything bagel — for the potential flavor-bomb.

“More often than not, we taste what we see,” Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford, told Gizmodo over e-mail.

Another theory has to do with good ol’ enchantment. As Eater reports, a 2014 scientific review in Appetite demonstrated that colorful foods stave off boredom — the more color you see on your plate, the more you are encouraged to continue chowing down. This suggests that for some people, consuming colorful foods provides a dose of entertainment, much like watching a good episode of television: it’s just more fun to slurp down a multicolored shot of caffeine in the morning than a typical cup of brown.

In any case, enjoy the mass availability of rainbow edibles while you still can. In the end, it is just another food fad — albeit a very pretty one.