The Colors of Our World

This piece from Consumer Reports (which contains an article as well as a video) regarding caramel coloring has been making the rounds lately. I’ve seen it on two different health-related newsletters, as well as mentioned in social media. At first glance I didn’t give it much thought. But as it’s continued to pop up in different places, it’s been on my mind more.

In one of the places I read it, a reader had commented on a site that “This is not news. Everyone already knew this.” However, I’d beg to differ. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that I saw the phrase “caramel color” on a package of some item and thought, “Hmm, is that just a color derived from caramel?”, not realizing that some variations of this ingredient contain something called 4-MeI. I hadn’t noticed that it was in sodas, because I don’t drink sodas, but I can say for certain that it’s in other things as well. I can’t be the only person who didn’t realize what caramel color really was.

One comment in the article that stood out to me was the one made by Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., toxicologist and executive director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety & Sustainability Center. : “There’s no reason why consumers should be exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food brown…”.

I’d like to go one step further here and ask, why is it, exactly, that we need to color things at all? There are many products that have color in them that I just don’t understand. Jars of pickles. Those purple and green ketchups that came out in the late 1990s. Mint chocolate-chip ice creams (this one really kills me. Who decided that mint was green? Why not yellow? Or sometimes turquoise?). The list goes on and on.

Lately, there has been more of a movement for some food companies to replace the artificial dyes with some more natural options, which is great. But what if we as people decided that we didn’t care what foods looked like? That taste, and more importantly, how a food makes us feel, would be more important? Sure, it would take a shift, but is it such a crazy idea? I don’t think so.

How affected are you by the color of what you are eating? If your favorite foods looked less exciting, would it stop you from eating them? Interesting ideas to ponder.


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