The way food looks affects the way food tastes. At school, I used to put green food colouring in my common-room-fridge milk, and although it meant I drank blue hot chocolate for a year, it also meant it was usually someone else’s milk that got stolen. On a World War II ship, the cook once found he’d run out of cherry-flavoured jelly; to still the complaints of the crew, he put red food colouring into the lemon jelly, and everyone was happy. If you give someone chocolate yoghurt in the dark and tell them it’s strawberry, experiments show they’ll believe you.
Where this gets really interesting is when the appearance of food begins to completely overwhelm the taste. Mediaeval cooks would sew half a pig to half a chicken and call it a cockatrice; their Victorian followers would make carefully-coloured ice-cream in asparagus moulds (”to produce this fancy ice you will require at least eighteen asparagus moulds made in pewter, and procurable at most ironmongers”, the instructions read).
Wedding cakes come at the modern peak of food-for-show. They’re rarely cheap, often massively expensive, and they usually taste, well, pretty nasty. This is where the cake rental companies that have been in the news lately come in. They provide a fake wedding cake with a tiny portion of real cake in a drawer, and a slit you can put a knife through for the ceremonial slicing. The bride and groom pretend to cut the cake together; they pull the little real slice out; and then the cake as a whole is wheeled off to be surreptitiously replaced in the kitchen with “here’s one I prepared earlier”-style slices of another cake entirely.
This seems, on the face of it, a pretty ridiculous idea, but fake cakes aren’t new. The rulesets (pdf) of cake-decorating competitions often allow the use of a styrofoam “cake dummy” instead of a real cake base; and if you’re more concerned with appearance than taste, why not? In fact, I almost want one, just to have lying around the house (”what’s that?” “oh, it’s just my cake dummy”). I’m not, however, convinced by the idea that “a fake cake displayed on a kitchen counter or dining room table is especially appealing when a home is for sale and on display for potential buyers”. The recommended cake in this version is papier-mache and uniced, and I can’t imagine it would stand up to close inspection, or that most people wouldn’t find it quite creepy (though perhaps a papier-mache oak tree and/or third bedroom would add to the resale value).
I lack the patience and skill for cake decorating; the closest I get to food whose appearance overwhelms its content is a two-pepper soup (where “pepper” in this context means “bell pepper” or “capsicum”). At first it just looks pretty, but give everyone a skewer and they’ll happily draw patterns until it’s gone cold. If you can manage to persuade them to stop drawing for a few minutes and eat it, they’ll find it tastes pretty good as well.