Would you eat beige Jell-O? How about a gray pickle? If your answer is no, you’re not alone—though the familiar green shade of a pickle comes from a flavorless artificial additive, the human brain registers it as tasting better than a pickle would without additional coloring.

Colored Jello

Though recently concerns have been raised over the effect artificial dyes in pre-packaged food have on children with hyperactivity disorders, a government panel concluded that the worries are unfounded.  Artificial coloring has long been added to junk food and convenience foods to make it visually appealing, and it’s worked so well that we now associate certain colors with certain flavors.  According to an article in the New York Times , color dictates how many foods taste to us.  For instance, plain vanilla pudding with yellow food coloring will taste like banana, while pink food coloring will make it taste like strawberry.  Our brains have been trained to correlate yellow colored foods with banana or lemon flavor, regardless of what the actual flavor may be.  It works in the opposite fashion as well—food without coloring will taste less flavorful.

Though food coloring has been deemed reasonably safe, some well-known brands such as Kool-Aid and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese are offering dye-free alternatives to their products, while organic food markets Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods refuse to carry products containing artificial coloring.  Pureed fruits and vegetables are often used as natural food coloring, but to less successful results than artificial.  Are Blue No. 1 and Red No. 40 here to stay? Probably, but once consumers realize that the color of a food’s impact on its taste is simply a trick of the mind, it may mean that marketers will eventually have to find new ways to attract business.

Gena Radcliffe
Medex Supply Blogger

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