How Does the way an ice cream flavour is described affect how we feel about it and how much we like it?

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Ice Cream Flavour

In this first post of 2023, I am going to examine whether the way in which food is described or labelled can influence what it tastes like and even how much we like it. I will then argue that by simply changing the name or description of an ice cream flavour, we can change not only what it tastes like, but also how much it is liked. Finally, I will discuss the implications of this research for both commercial ice cream producers and domestic cooks. As always, one of the joys of blogging is the collaborative process of co-creation so do feel free to get in touch with ideas or questions.
Using evocative, descriptive names such as ‘Single-Origin Fine Ecuadorian Chocolate’ versus ‘Chocolate’, and ‘Grade-A Madagascan Vanilla Bean’ versus ‘Vanilla’, when naming ice cream flavours, is likely to significantly increase consumers’ liking of them. Ensure that the actual quality of your ice cream matches its fancy description.
It will likely taste significantly more chocolaty if you call or describe chocolate ice cream ‘dark’ chocolate rather than ‘milk’ chocolate.

How Food Tastes

Interestingly, the way food is described or labelled can influence what it tastes like. In a study by Wansink et al. (2000), researchers found that participants who ate nutrition bars that were falsely described as containing ‘soy protein’ (all of the nutrition bars in the study did not contain any soy protein) reported tasting more grainy, less flavourful, and having a stronger aftertaste compared to identical nutrition bars that did not have ‘soy’ on the package. Shankar et al. (2009)2 found that people rated M&Ms labeled as ‘dark’ as tasting significantly more chocolatey than those labeled as ‘milk’ chocolate, suggesting that just a single-word is needed to modify people’s judgements of taste.

What We Like About It

Many studies have shown that the way food is described or labelled can significantly influence how much we like it. In a study by Wansink et al. (2005),3 participants who ate savoury foods that had been given an evocative, descriptive name, e.g. ‘Succulent Italian Seafood Filet’, actually generated double the number of positive comments about the food and rated it more appealing, tasty, and caloric compared to those who ate regularly-named counterparts, e.g. ‘Seafood Filet’.
In a similar vein, Yeomans et al. (2001)4 found that labeling a tomato soup with a name that implied a higher level of quality (e.g. ‘Gastronome’s Connoisseur’s Choice Cream of Tomato’ versus ‘McTaggart’s Lean and Low Tomato’) resulted in a significantly higher hedonic rating.
In a study by Lee et al. (2006)5 people drinking in a university campus bar were asked to taste two beers: a regular beer and MIT Brew, which was actually regular Budweiser plus a few drops of balsamic vinegar, and then to indicate which beer they preferred. Among drinkers who were provided with no information other than the modified beer’s name, the majority (59%) preferred the modified beer to the regular beer.
(2009)6 found that participants who tasted different solutions aimed at stimulating the basic tastes (sour, bitter, sweet, and salty) liked them significantly more when they were given food names such as “lemon”, “coffee jelly”, “caramel candy”, and “consommé soup”, rather than random numbers, especially when the names and tastes were perceived to be congruent.
Parker and Penfield (2005)7 used four different commercial vanilla ice creams to determine whether labelling the vanilla type affected consumer perception. One ice cream contained natural vanilla, one contained artificial vanilla, and the other two contained a mixture of natural and artificial flavoring. The researchers found that the vanilla ice cream containing natural vanilla was liked more when it was labelled ‘natural’ than when it was not labelled. The researchers also found that the artificially flavoured ice cream was liked less when labelled ‘artificial’ than when it was not labelled.


Shankar et al. (2009) argue that the most likely explanation for the impact that food labelling and description has on hedonic and sensory responses to foods is through the creation of expectations. Whenever we eat or drink, our brain uses past experiences with the food or drink in front of us (known as top-down processing), as well as its visual appearance, smell, sound, touch, description, and label (bottom-up processes) to set up powerful expectations about its taste/flavour (sensory-based expectations) and about how much we are going to like it (hedonic-based expectations). When we then consume the food or drink, our expectations will either be confirmed or disconfirmed.

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