White plates might work with every type of food, but sometimes they are just plain boring! The key to plates is to choose which colors create contrast but still harmonize with the dish. We consulted food stylists Marilinda Hodgdon and Colin Cooke about what color plates will liven a meal up...and which colors will leave you pushing a full serving of food across the table.
Food Type: Green Foods - Salads, Pesto Pastas
Best Color: Yellow. Marilinda says, “they are both warm colors and are next to each other on the color wheel. Green is made by combining yellow and blue, so all of the colors between yellow and green can work as well.” Yellow and green are next to each other in the spectrum, meaning they are analogous and share pigments, so they work very well together.
Worst Color: Red! Green and red are complimentary colors, making their contrast too striking for a plate of food. Marilinda adds that bright red “reflects into the food,” thereby removing the sense of freshness green tends to exude.
Food Type: Beige Foods - Chicken, Alfredo Dishes, Potatoes
Best Color: Black and brown. Neutral foods often look bland, so Marilinda advises that “Contrast can be good, and you also want to harmonize with temperature tone, ie warm or cool. Beige is warm. Brown is warm, and black can go either way.”
Worst Color: Beige. Whatever you do, don’t put beige food on a beige plate! Khakis and tans will make the food look flavorless and boring, but white is okay as long as the dish has colorful accents.
Food Type: Red Foods - Beef, Red Sauces, Tomatoes
Best Color: White. Red is an advancing color that jumps off the plate, meaning it doesn’t need any help to stand out and look appetizing. Also, reds can be especially tricky to pair with colors, because as Marilinda points out, “looking at the color wheel, you can see there is a vast range from orangey reds to bluish reds. Tomatoes are an orange red so you would stick to the warm side, but beets are a bluer red so you would pick from the cooler tones.” I’ll just stick with white!
Worst Color: Green. With a warm red, green will bring out unappealing cool tones, and with a cool red, green will look harshly warm hued.
Food Type: Yellow/Orange Foods - Eggs, Curried Dishes, Corn or Mango Salsa
Best Color: Blue. A warm, bright blue will bring out the warm hues in yellow and orange. “They are far apart on the color wheel, and thereby contrast with each other which adds drama. If their temperatures are off by too much they could clash and create disharmony,” Marilinda points out, so stick with warm tinted blues.
Worst Color: Purple. Any hue will leave the dish looking sickly because purple brings out the cool tones of green in warm colors making the food look uncooked and unappealing; even a muted purple will not harmonize with these foods.
Food Type: Desserts - Anything from carrot cake to lemon squares
Best Color: For desserts, the best advice is to pick colors that match the garnishes. A chocolate cake with a cherry on top will look more luscious on a red plate, while an apple pie swirled with caramel sauce and whipped cream will sing on rich brown dish. Marilinda notes that in general, “pinks and light purples convey sweetness, and yellow and oranges a bit of tartness,” so be sure to keep flavor in mind.
Worst Color: Blue! It clashes with most dessert foods and drains the sense of sweetness away because most desserts have a beige/brown undertone that clashes with the cool hues in blue. Also, desserts are often full of color and shapes, so very patterned plates will usually overpower the food as well.
Want to see these ideas in action? Check out this slideshow...