The Art Of Pairing The Right Plate Color With The Food You're Serving

You've done it; the meal you've spent hours preparing is finally finished — and it looks just as good as it tastes. You've mastered the cooking techniques and used the best ingredients you could get your hands on; now, the moment has come to share your hard work with others, even if it is just by posting photo on your Instagram story. And, if you've spent any time binge-watching the Food Network series "Chopped" on your couch, you'll know that presentation can either make or break your dish.

The Culinary Pro compares a well-presented plate to a painting, one that draws in all of the diner's senses through a balance of taste, textures, and colors. The successful execution of that balance, however, is rarely realized on the first attempt. To make the task less daunting, plate presentation is broken down into four elements: the main food item, the side elements, the sauces, and the garnishes. However, there's another component to plate presentation that is almost so obvious it gets forgotten: the plate itself.

Whether it's a bowl, cup, plate, or tray, the vessels we use to serve our food come in many different styles, materials, sizes, and shapes. These are all essential characteristics to consider in their own right. However, when it comes to the art of presenting your food, the simple choice between a colorful plate and an earth-toned one can make all the difference you need — in how your food looks and tastes.

Black, white, earth-toned, and colorful plates

The science behind how color impacts taste is purely psychological, affecting only the perception of how food tastes and not the food itself (via Science Friday). Nevertheless, the difference between color-induced flavor and actual flavor is indistinguishable to the human tongue — or mind, for that matter. According to The Culinary Pro, foods whose color contrasts highly with the plate are perceived as more flavorful; for this reason, white plates tend to be favored for their ability to make the colors of food appear more vibrant. 

But, there are many instances where a black, earth-toned, or even colored plate might be preferred for a dish instead of a white one. These plates are often used in the same way, but the color contrast is reversed —light-colored foods on black, rather than darker foods on white. The research suggests that black plates evoke savory elements, while white plates suggest sweeter notes, which is why desserts are invariably served on white. 

Plates that have earth tones such as brown, tan, warm gray, and green also work well with colorful foods but, as Chef Phillips told Food Management, are particularly impactful when paired with dishes that feature seasonal ingredients. However, colorful plates can clash with the colors of your food and, therefore, should be used mindfully. When used for serving, some colors are thought to be unappetizing, as in the case of red and blue (via The Culinary Pro).