Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What would food be like without artificial colors?

Cream soda, cherry, apple? Maybe.
The New York Times thinks it knows:
Naked Cheetos would not seem to have much commercial future. Nor might some brands of pickles. The pickling process turns them an unappetizing gray. Dye is responsible for their robust green. Gummi worms without artificial coloring would look, like, well, muddily translucent worms. Jell-O would emerge out of the refrigerator a watery tan.  
No doubt the world would be a considerably duller place without artificial food coloring. But might it also be a safer place? The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, asked the government last week to ban artificial coloring because the dyes that are used in some foods might worsen hyperactivity in some children.  
“These dyes have no purpose whatsoever other than to sell junk food,” Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.

Well, not just junk food...also fruit, soda, cheese, taco shells, bread, cereals, and who knows what else. Probably any and all processed food, actually, which are the vast majority of foods you'll see at the grocery store, depending on what grocery store you frequent.
“Color is such a crucial part of the eating experience that banning dyes would take much of the pleasure out of life,” said Kantha Shelke, a food chemist and spokeswoman for the Institute of Food Technologists. “Would we really want to ban everything when only a small percentage of us are sensitive?” Indeed, color often defines flavor in taste tests. When tasteless yellow coloring is added to vanilla pudding, consumers say it tastes like banana or lemon pudding. And when mango or lemon flavoring is added to white pudding, most consumers say that it tastes like vanilla pudding. Color creates a psychological expectation for a certain flavor that is often impossible to dislodge, Dr. Shelke said. 
“Color can actually override the other parts of the eating experience,” she said in an interview. 
Even so, some food companies have expanded their processed-product offerings to include foods without artificial colorings. You can now buy Kool-Aid Invisible, for instance, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Organic White Cheddar. Some grocery chains, including Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, refuse to sell foods with artificial coloring.
I wouldn't support a wholesale ban on artificial coloring precisely because of this psychological factor, and because the health risk isn't actually that great at all, would certainly be interesting to see all food products in the country go without artificial coloring for a month. Just so we can all see what we're eating.  And then when the colors come back, we can decide whether we still want to eat it.

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