Does brighter lighting mean better tasting food?

Dim lighting may be considered more romantic, but if your amorous occasion happens to be a meal, you could be sacrificing the taste of your food in the name of love. Over the years, we’ve seen studies about how things like hearing certain music or the feel of different silverware can affect how food tastes. Now, research suggests the better you can see your food, the better it can taste. Eat with your eyes, indeed!

A recent study conducted at the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics in The Netherlands evaluated the “influence of brightness on overall taste intensity perception” and found that more intense light led to more intense flavor.

table service ready for dinner
Credit: miguelangelortega/Getty Images

In the study, customers were served identical dishes at a fine dining restaurant—only the lighting was changed. Then, under the guise of looking for feedback on new menu items, the diners were asked to rate their food, as well as the lighting. Despite diners describing the lighting as equally enjoyable in both scenarios, the researchers reportedly explained, “Guests in the bright ambient light condition rated the overall taste as more intense as opposed to guests in the dim ambient light condition.”

Interestingly, beyond making a meal more enjoyable, the paper—which was published in the journal Food Quality and Preference—suggests that lighting could provide health benefits, too. “This finding is not only theoretically relevant for research on multisensory integration, but it also provides tools for taste modulation, and—as such—for strategies to decrease salt and sugar consumption among diners,” the authors wrote.

However, one British restauranteur pointed out that lighting isn’t just about taste. “[Dim lighting] definitely makes people inclined to linger longer, to relax, and is better for a romantic dinner too,” Ben Tish, culinary director at Norma and The Stafford in London, told the Telegraph. And let’s be honest: Plenty of times when you eat out, you’re more concerned with the company than whether the chicken you ordered tastes as intense as it could.