The Food and Drug Administration recently convened an expert panel to decide whether food products containing artificial colorings need warning labels.

Produce enjoys a colorful advantage

Amelia Freidline
Fresh Take

There’s been some debate since the 1970s, it seems, whether artificial food dyes are bad for kids.

According to a report in The New York Times, the panel was called together after FDA scientists decided that eating foods with artificial colorings could heighten the symptoms of children with behavioral problems.

Well, the experts ruled there was no proof dyes caused kids to be hyperactive, so food manufacturers can breathe a sigh of relief on that account, and products like Froot Loops and Skittles can keep their preternaturally bright hues.

What I found most interesting, however, was a follow-up Times piece on the relation between color and taste.

According to writer Gardiner Harris, a Cornell University study found that consumers who ate Cheetos lacking the dye FD&C Yellow No. 6 — which is what gives the snack its Day-Glo orange hue — didn’t enjoy eating them as much and didn’t think they were as cheesy tasting, even though the flavor had not been altered.

Another study in the article said consumers reported banana or lemon flavors for vanilla pudding colored with unflavored yellow dye.

In other words, without the synthetic colorings, a lot of foods would look wan and taste bland.

But there’s no mistaking the shocking flavor of a bright yellow lemon.

This makes me appreciate all the more the astonishing range of colors that occur among fresh produce naturally, without any help from dyes or enhancers.

Yet with artificial food colorings found in everything from breakfast muffins to pickles these days, it’s easy as a consumer to be skeptical and think “oh yeah, that purple cauliflower was dyed just like this purple ketchup was.”

Marketers and retailers, keep up your efforts to educate shoppers about the health benefits of the produce color groups, but also explain that fruits and vegetables can come in some surprising shades.

Skittles already has the tagline “Taste the Rainbow,” it’s true.

Maybe an industry catchphrase could be “Fresh produce: More colorful than you knew.”


Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.