Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Food Dyes: Why People Want Them Despite Potential Health Risks

www.huffingtonpost.com - February 26th, 2013
What, exactly, does familiarity breed? Apparently glow-in-the-dark food is one possibility.

That, in essence, is the message in a recent New York Times article by Gardiner Harris summarizing research and perspectives on the topic of artificial colorings and food dyes.

Mr. Harris points out that in the absence of FD&C Yellow No. 6, Cheetos would display the pallor, and apparently the appeal, of insect larvae. Studies have shown that foods lacking the expected color are rated lower on taste, even though taste is actually unchanged!

Pickles are bright green courtesy of food dyes; they would otherwise be grey. Jell-O, we're told, would be tan.

All of this sounds unappealing, and research confirms that's just how people respond. But then again, cauliflower is pale and it's not a problem. Steel cut oats are both pale, and somewhat grey, and taste just fine. Wheat toast (or for that matter, any toast) is tan, and no one objects.

The issue, then, seems not to be preference for a given color -- but preference for the expected color. Green pickles are good, but not because green is good -- but because it's expected. Green eggs, with or without ham, are not so good -- or at least take some getting used to! We prefer the familiar color.

We all know, of course, what the idiom tells us: familiarity breeds contempt. If we reflect on some things (or people) we should cherish every day, but tend to take somewhat for granted, we may be inclined to agree. But even the wisest and most time-honored of aphorisms are not unfailingly true.

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