Roses are red, violets are blue, oranges are orange, and carrots are too. When it comes to food, there are certain colors we expect to see. But, as accustomed as we are, did you know that some of these emblematic shades are actually… fake? Whether it’s to make them more appetizing or camouflage some imperfections, here are 10 Foods The U.S. Government Decided The Color Of!
When you open up your jar of pickles, you expect to see bright, yellow, greenish pickles floating around in a bitter yet tasty dill marinade. Sure, the shades of green can differ, but overall, there shouldn’t be any surprises there. While pickles are naturally green, that over-the-top, borderline scary-looking green hue is not the result of a natural process. Many pickle brands feel the need to “enhance” the color of their prized vegetables by adding a bunch of unnecessary and not-so-healthy extras to them. You would think something that’s naturally green would be safe from this kind of treatment, and yet, they still receive an unfortunate “dye bath.” Most pickles have artificial dyes like Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 added to them to keep the color from fading while on the shelves. Even though these dyes have been approved by the FDA, it still makes some shoppers a little iffy about buying pickles – especially parents. Artificial food colors are believed to have a connection to ADHD in children. Another downside of really bright pickles? A lot of those jars are also filled with sodium benzoate, a substance shown to damage mitochondria, which can lead to potential organ damage. Not exactly the kind of thing you want to have on your burger. On the bright side, there are organic, uncolored pickles; they just look much, much less appetizing.
Everybody knows that margarine is ten times cheaper than butter. Okay, maybe not that much today, but back in the day, the price difference was monumental. You see, this processed spread was originally invented in the 19th century as a response to the expensive price of butter. Since no one had proper refrigeration, butter would spoil quickly and sell for ridiculously high prices. Margarine, the cheaper alternative, would come to save the day. Made by churning beef tallow – beef fat – with salt, margarine had a pretty similar taste to butter but took way longer to spoil and came at a much lower cost. The only problem? The color was not as appetizing. Instead of being a pastel yellow like butter, margarine was white – basically, the color of lard. Not the best selling point. Understandably, people didn’t want to spread something resembling fat on their toast. To solve the situation, manufacturers began adding yellow dye in order to appeal more to the customer’s visual palette. This caused the sales of margarine to increase like crazy while butter became almost obsolete. A few years later, new laws and regulations prohibited the use of the dye, so companies resulted in using vegetable oil to give it the yellowish tint instead.
Whether you think salmon is more orange than pink or vice versa, it doesn’t really matter. Nornmally, the salmon you buy at the grocery store is a wonderful festive color. However, instead of the bright, pinkish colors you’re used to seeing, farm-raised salmon are actually grey. Wild salmon, on the other hand, obtain that beautiful color all on their own. Well, mostly because their diet consists of naturally pigmenting compounds like shrimp, krill, and underwater plants. Farm-raised salmon don’t have the same luck. They are fed food pellets that contain astaxanthin, a type of dye used to turn them pink. Even though most research done on astaxanthin’s harmful effects has been inconclusive, its use is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA. Since there are no real results, there is no telling if long-term use is safe or not, and yet, it is still frequently found in the salmon we consume. This dye is used because consumers usually prefer darker shades of pink and are ready to pay up to $1 more per pound for a rich, reddish hue rather than a discolored, translucid color tint. Be honest; would you prefer buying a nice, pink salmon that looks like it just came straight from the stream or a gloomy, ghastly-looking grey-colored salmon? It’s all about selling the prettiest salmon of all, even if it means feeding it with potentially dangerous stuff.
Speaking of keeping appearances, let’s talk about oranges for a minute. Obviously, oranges are orange. That’s as easy as it gets. Still, whether the color or the fruit came first, oranges – the fruit – are not always orange. What a lot of people may not know is that sometimes, depending on the climate, oranges are green! In the warmer parts of the world, especially around the equator, when an orange is ripe, it doesn’t turn orange but rather stays a bright green color. That’s because, in cooler climates, the green pigmentation will die off and reveal its orange color. But, the craziest part is, people living in those warm countries have rarely ever seen an orange colored orange in food stands! All they know is the green variety. Meanwhile here, a green orange is associated with unripe fruit. This means in order to make them sellable in the U.S. and European markets, farmers in warmer climates need to artificially dye the oranges. The most common way to do this is to expose the green fruits to ethylene gas, which breaks down the color, or simply to use an orange dye. The oranges are usually dipped in wax after the coloring process to hold in the moisture and extend their shelf life. So, if you ever visit a warmer country, don’t be surprised if you see a bunch of green blobs on the shelves!
6. Vanilla Ice Cream
Ah, vanilla. America’s favorite flavor of ice cream! And how could it not be? It’s a classic thanks to its simplicity and ability to go with everything. Or so people thought. You see, vanilla ice cream isn’t as natural and “simple” as it likes to advertise itself. You might think it’s all just a bunch of natural ingredients – except for all the sugar, of course – but people often ignore the fact that vanilla ice cream is not supposed to be as bright as it is. A lot of popular brands, such as Edy’s and Breyer’s, use many food dyes, sometimes harmful ones, to enhance the color of the ice cream and make it look closer to the color of vanilla beans. One of these food dyes is annatto, derived from the seeds of the achiote tree. Annatto might seem harmless at first and it has been deemed safe to eat by the FDA, but more research is needed in order to confirm the actual effects annatto may have on the body. Several cases of allergic reactions and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have been reported, especially in people more sensitive to the dye. There are some chemicals in annatto that could change the way the body processes sugar. Annatto is also present in almost every other light-colored ice cream, such as butter pecan, vanilla swirl, and chocolate chip. In other words, be wary of the innocent-looking ice cream.
5. Processed Bread
When you want to make yourself a nice sandwich, going for the wheat bread is a good way to feel a little healthier. After all, it’s got all the extra grains and nutrients that white bread simply doesn’t have. White bread has little to no fiber, which you need for good digestive health and warding off heart disease. However, don’t be blinded just by the color of your bread. Just because a loaf of bread seems brown and full of good things, it doesn’t mean that it actually is. Many people wrongfully assume that brown bread will not be subjected to the same level of processing as its white counterpart, and yet, more often than not, it has. Bread needs to be picked very carefully to avoid being tricked. Some company will simply transform their white bread into something it’s not by adding caramel color to the loaves. Yes, that’s right, instead of adding a bunch of grains to make the bread healthier, they will just end up adding burnt sugar to the mix to give it that brownish, healthy coloring. Caramel color has been approved and safely used in drinks and foods for decades, so it’s not so much about the health hazard, but more about the false advertising of the bread you’re eating. To avoid caramel color in bread, check the ingredients and look for “whole wheat” or “whole grain” as the first or second ingredient on the list. You can also look for the Whole Grain Council’s stamp on the packaging.
4. Flavored Applesauce
If you’ve ever gone apple picking, you know the joy of getting home with your haul and making tons of recipes with your newly handpicked apples. Apple pies, crumbles, and of course, some applesauce. Making applesauce yourself allows you to control how much and what you put in it, which is something you can’t quite do when you buy it from the store. Maybe it’s time to start making your own, or at least stick to the original applesauce, especially if you want to avoid some undesirable food dyes. Many companies now offer flavored applesauce to give their customers more options. Sometimes, it might be best to shelve the creativity and not stray too far from the beaten path. Not only do store-bought applesauces contain a large amount of sugar, but they also contain harmful dyes. Flavored applesauce, even the more “natural blends,” contain a bunch of food coloring instead of relying on whole fruits and extract. Flavors like peach and strawberry applesauce usually relies on Red 40, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Blue 2, and Blue 1 to give it that vibrant hue. With vibrant colors comes the association of vibrant taste, which is why many companies turn to food coloring. The best advice? Get the original applesauce and leave the 0ther flavors for other products. And, why would you want applesauce that tastes like some other fruit, anyways?
It might be an understatement to say that America loves its cheese. Cheese goes great on, in, and with everything. From burgers to pasta to a plain piece of bread, cheese is a part of our culinary culture through and through. While in recent years, many food companies are slowly trying to get rid of their bad food coloring habits, cheese is not included in the makeover. Take the beloved mozzarella cheese. It’s not uncommon for this pizza mainstay to receive some cosmetic help to look more appetizing. The director of food policy at Panera Bread, revealed that mozzarella cheese often gets its bright white color from titanium dioxide, a common ingredient derived from natural sources. Without it, mozzarella would have a beige, yellowish shade, which, to be fair, isn’t exactly the most attractive color of all. In the US, this off-white color is mostly due to the cow’s milk the cheese is made from, which can have yellow hues. In Italy, however, it’s traditionally made with water buffalo milk, which is naturally whiter because the animal can’t digest beta carotene. So, if you want some authentic, genuine mozzarella, you can leave the beige cheese behind and take a little trip to Italy for the real deal!
2. Banana Peppers
It’s not only food companies that are starting to get in line with the recent “let’s get rid of artificial dyes” movement. Certain fast-food joints have also jumped on the bandwagon and decided to offer better quality ingredients to their customers – like Subway, for instance. The chain was known for its out-of-this-world, bright, fluorescent banana peppers – I mean, they could be seen from a mile away. If you go with logic, you can’t expect something this bright to be all-natural. Obviously, something had to be added to the mix to make them so shiny. Subway recently claimed that the banana peppers would lose their signature glow-in-the-dark yellow sheen and be replaced by a more “normal” shade. Instead of using Yellow No. 5, Subway now uses turmeric, a yellow spice, to make sure they don’t look too dull and still somewhat appetizing. They wanted to go for a more “natural look” and natural taste. Yellow 5 is linked to contaminants that are known carcinogenic substances, while turmeric is, well, a spice, so there shouldn’t be any issues there. That same year, Subway also got rid of some other artificial ingredients in its recipes. Like no longer caramel coloring in its nine-grain bread and roast beef, and they started using good old-fashioned vinegar to prevent its meat from spoiling. It looks like Subway took “eat fresh” to a whole new level.
There are a lot of foods out there that you would expect to have fake coloring in them. If you take Jell-O or anything-rainbow related, for example, you probably wouldn’t be surprised. There’s no way these foods were “naturally” colored that way. But when it comes to something as simple as canned peas, natural coloring is the least you can expect. You might think these vegetables are safe from the deception, but as it turns out, the peas in that can might have undergone the same coloring process as any other sugary food. Today, some manufacturers add green dye to their peas! Because who wouldn’t want to eat bright green peas instead of dull looking khaki colored ones? Since the dye in the peas is classified as a process rather than an added ingredient, you will most likely never see green coloring on the ingredient list. Sneaky tactics at its finest, really. It’s always about the way the food looks. The brighter, the better right? So, next time you want to fill up on “healthy” and “pure,” maybe think twice about going for the can of peas.