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Brain to tummy: blue food is bad news

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Dear Sara,

I can't get too in-depth about the answer. In Germany, only natural colorings are used for the Gold-Bears. According to the German Web site, blue isn't a color found in nature. Therefore, there are no blue Gold-Bears.

There are, however, blue gummies such as Smurfs. I hope this helps you on your paper.

Regards,

Haribo of America, Inc.

In my college German course, we read and translated an article about the production of that popular snack of German origin, Gummibärchen. If our inexpert translation was correct, those chewy ursa minors don't come in blue. According to our class instructor, it is not culturally OK in Germany to color food blue; no blue cake frosting, no blue soft drinks and blue gummies are unnatural, thus they are yucky.

Though I haven't been able to substantiate the culinary taste of an entire country (thanks for nothing, Haribo), we in the United States, apparently, tend to agree.

It doesn't take much to see that psychologically, the color of food is as important as its taste. Much research has been done in the United States in the field of developing and marketing new food products. Marketers are always trying to determine the best way to get us to trade our money for their product. And when it comes to the things that we eat--even the places where we eat--the consensus is that blue is taboo.

Before you even get to the color of the food, researchers of the weight-loss variety suggest that most people don't even want to eat their food off of blue tableware or in blue rooms, although the color is quite popular otherwise. Observe that most chain restaurants go with this thinking in their packaging and decor considerations. Along this line, some weight loss advisers suggest buying blue plates and painting the dining room blue to suppress the appetite.

When you examine the color of the food itself, the effect is even greater. Studies about the connection between food's appearance and appeal show that when food is dyed blue, participants simply lose their appetites.

But why is blue food psychologically unappealing? Research suggests that there are several significant reasons. First, blue is not a natural color for food, so before it even touches the tongue, blue food just looks wrong. We are repelled by food that isn't immediately recognizable as edible. Even blueberries--a favorite rebuttal in this debate--aren't truly blue. Much of what we eat tends to reside at the red end of the color spectrum. A second reason we don't like blue food is that blue is not only not a food color, it could indicate that something is potentially lethal. Rotten meat, mold and other spoilage that will make us sick are often blue or bluish in color. So while of course, our rational minds tell us that milk dyed blue is perfectly fine, a primal part of our brains rejects it immediately.

Last year, Danish company Chr Hansen developed a new blue food color--distinctive as a natural coloring rather than one that is synthetic--and it was approved for use in Europe, the United States and Australia. Even given our apparent natural aversion to blue food, researchers soldier on in blue food innovation.

The reason isn't complicated. What the color lacks in plate appeal may be matched in terms of an eye-catching product for the market, which helps with an initial push in selling, if not in product longevity. It's probably no surprise that for the most part, blue food is marketed at children via novelty food and candy, where blue taboo reigns with candy worms, "mud and bugs" breakfast cereal and eyeball-shaped chocolates.

In the mid-'90s, Mars, Inc., introduced blue M&Ms, after taking the case to the public and letting it vote on a new color. Whether the blue candies will stay in the lineup, they're still there, nearly 10 years later. On the other hand, Heinz introduced blue ketchup, EZ Squeeze Stellar Blue, in 2003 and it died rather quickly after a 500,000 limited edition run. It hasn't been back. Other blue food novelties have included blue Spongebob Squarepants macaroni and cheese and Cap'n Crunch's Crunchberries, which was marketed with the slogan, "Watch Shapes Turn Blue!"

In the early '80s, Post introduced Smurfberry Crunch, which was subsequently pulled from store shelves. Turned out that the cereal, with its weird red and blue corn puff clusters and purply-blue milk, had to be discontinued after people complained that it turned their kids' poo funny colors.

That wasn't the end of Smurf-related food, however, any more than it was the end of blue food. Haribo still produces Smurf-shaped gummies, which, of course, can't be any color but blue. Ironically, the only way to get these little blue treats is to import them from Germany. Just don't expect any blue bears.

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