How light affects our sense of taste and what you can do with this knowledge

Light has the power to alter our sense of taste and smell, as recent research reveals, paving the way for innovative lighting strategies in culinary environments to enhance the perception and enjoyment of food. 

Have you ever noticed how the ambiance of a restaurant can significantly impact your dining experience? While factors like decor, music, and service play a role, there’s another element that often goes unnoticed but has a profound effect on our senses: Light. 

In recent years, researchers have been delving into the fascinating realm of how light influences our perception of taste. One such researcher is Johan Röklander, IALD educator and lecturer at Jönköping University in Sweden. He recently gave a talk on the topic at the 2023 Casambi Summit, citing fascinating results of tests conducted by his team that have shown that light has the power to alter our sense of taste and smell. 

Participants were exposed to different lighting conditions while consuming chocolate. The results revealed that their perceptions of sweetness and saltiness changed significantly based on the lighting settings. They were exposed to different types of artificial light sources with varying spectral distributions (referring to the arrangement or composition of light across wavelengths or frequencies within the electromagnetic spectrum) by means of LED fixtures that could be tuned to emit warm or cold light. The warm light created a cozy, campfire-like ambiance, while the cold light resembled the clinical lighting often found in surgical operating rooms. By manipulating the spectral distribution of the light, Johan and his team deduced that warmer light environments were found to enhance the perception of sweetness in chocolate.

While it may seem obvious that the color of food itself plays a significant role in how we perceive taste, light tones can also alter both the taste and visual appeal of food.  Just as blue-dyed potato mash may feel unfamiliar in our mouths compared to the traditional white or yellowish variety, and just as the color of drinks can affect perceived sweetness or sourness (red drinks are deemed sweeter than purple ones even when the sugar content is the same!), Johan’s tests prove that different light tones can elicit varying taste perceptions. 

Therefore, spectral distribution as well as Color Rendering Index (CRI), and light levels emerge as equally crucial factors in understanding how light affects our senses. It conveys essential information about color and helps shape our perception of the environment. Johan’s findings open up exciting possibilities for implementing lighting strategies in culinary environments. Restaurants, supermarkets, and hospitals, for example, can leverage this knowledge to create experiences that enhance the taste and enjoyment of food.

Small differences in the spectral distribution can dramatically change the way we see things. Did you know that you can harness the power of light to influence taste with Casambi’s smart lighting control tech? It allows lighting designers to create customized lighting scenes, adjust spectral distribution, and enhance the ambiance in culinary environments. 

Atis – London

Light plays a key role in making food more attractive at Atis, a food concept store in Central London. The design incorporates a hierarchy of brightness to guide customers through the store, with the main food display island custom-made in yellow tones to draw attention. The lighting concept focuses on cooler color temperatures to enhance the perception of freshness for the green leaves and salads, which are the flagship food items. The use of Casambi control allows for flexibility in adjusting the lighting scenes and outputs, resulting in the desired outcome. 

Cape Mentelle – Perth

A new lighting design makes wine more attractive at Cape Mentelle, a renowned winery in Perth, Australia. The design aims to enhance the tasting experience by creating a warm and inviting ambiance while highlighting the wines’ clarity and color. Using Casambi controls, the lighting system allows for easy adaptability to different functions too, from casual tastings to corporate events, making Cape Mentelle a fabulous example of how smart lighting design can elevate the overall wine-tasting experience.  

AMI+Wood Ear – Hong Kong

The dining experience at AMI+Wood Ear, a French casual fine dining restaurant in Hong Kong, is achieved in great part by the lighting. The subdued ambient light at the entrance creates a tranquil atmosphere, while the main bar and terrace offer glimpses of the cityscape beyond. With the use of a smart lighting control system, the restaurant can achieve flexibility and unobtrusive lighting creating a warm, cozy dining experience without any visual distractions. The manager can adjust settings, beam angles, dimming levels, and sequences with ease to precision-tune the ambiance making the food and wine all the more attractive. 

Do check out Johan’s keynote recording. For more information and inspiration for your next project, please visit our Specification Area, where we regularly upload downloadable files and project examples. 

Interested in learning more about Casambi? Drop us a note, and we’ll reach out to you: