The butter made from the milk of cows eating rapidly growing Spring grass is yellow, taking on a bright golden hue when at room temperature. Compare this to the white butter made from conventional milk. Eggs made from hens eating green pasture and fresh bugs have deep, orange yolks. Compare this to the pale yellow yolks of conventionally raised hens.
In nature, color = nutrient density. We’re hardwired to respond to color. That’s why artificial colors play such a HUGE role in packaged, processed, industrial foods. I’m not just talking about neon-blue and purple breakfast cereals or the orange of Cheetos. Even seemingly benign foods are full of artificial colors to make them look appetizing. (Yes, I’m talking about the yellow-green of your pickles.)
A recent article in The New York Times reported on the latest news in the world of artificial coloring — how the Center for Science in The Public Interest recently asked the government to ban artificial food dyes.
The piece was full of interesting tidbits about how we respond to color. Tidbits like this one:
“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.
Isn’t that amazing? We are so hardwired to respond to the color of our food that it actually overrides the flavor of our food. Our brains will literally re-interpret the true flavors present in light of the colors present!
Removing artificial colors will even make tasty, flavor-filled junk food tasteless:
Without the artificial coloring FD&C Yellow No. 6, Cheetos Crunchy Cheese Flavored Snacks would look like the shriveled larvae of a large insect. Not surprisingly, in taste tests, people derived little pleasure from eating them. Their fingers did not turn orange. And their brains did not register much cheese flavor, even though the Cheetos tasted just as they did with food coloring.
“People ranked the taste as bland and said that they weren’t much fun to eat,” said Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University and director of the university’s Food and Brand Lab.
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.
So I have a question for you. If the color of food is that important to our experience of taste, then why would we ever want to eat food that needs to be artificially colored in order to be palatable? Wouldn’t that inherently mean that the food was total junk?
My homemade, naturally-fermented pickles are naturally green. Yet store-bought, industrially-jarred, vinegar-brined pickles are naturally gray? Shouldn’t that tell us something? On the one hand, we’ve got a colorful, nutrient-dense, raw, living food. On the other, we’ve got a dead, cooked, nutrient-empty edible food-like substance that needs food dyes to be added to it so that we can stomach it’s vinegary flavors. Which would you prefer?
(photo by austins_irish_pirate)
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