Author of Ed Engoron’s Choclatique, Running Press, 2011
I don’t know what’s in the water in Washington D.C. or what drugs the members of Congress take to make them want to stick their noses into areas they know nothing about. It makes no difference—Republican or Democrat—they can’t resist tinkering with our foods. I call these meddling politicians Chefs de Ignorance or Dopes de Cuisine. They have investigated saccharin, Alar, tropical oils, salt, flavors, butter and margarines and now, colors… again. If they all had their way we would be living in a drab, colorless world of foods. Yes, now they want us to eat black and white, colorless foods.
What would the United States look like in a world without food coloring? Cheetos 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 when bright Cheddar orange. What you should know is even natural Cheddar cheese is tinted orange. Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University and director of the university’s Food and Brand Lab, says, “People ranked the taste as bland and unsatisfying and said that they weren’t much fun to eat.”
Naked Cheetos would not seem to have much commercial future. Nor might some brands of pickles. The pickling process turns them an unappetizing gray. A tint 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 jiggly, watery beige.
No doubt the United States would be a considerably colorless place without artificial food coloring. But might it also be a safer place? The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a radical advocacy group, asked the government last month to ban artificial coloring because the colors that are used in some foods “might” worsen hyperactivity in some children. Old news. This is the same bogus research that is being rehashed once again to try to scare people.
“These dyes have no purpose whatsoever other than to sell junk food,” Marion Nestle (she can’t be a part of that famous family, can she?), a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.
A government advisory panel concluded that there was no proof that dyes caused problems in most children, and that whatever problems they might cause in some children did not warrant a ban or a warning label beyond what is already required—a disclosure on the product label that artificial colors are present.
We believe that color is such a crucial part of the eating experience that banning it would take much of the pleasure out of eating. The question is would we really want to ban everything when only a very small percentage of us are sensitive? I don’t think so. 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 certain flavors that is often impossible to dislodge. In fact, color can actually override the other parts of an eating experience.
Even so, some food companies have expanded their product offerings to include foods without colorings. You can now buy Kool-Aid Invisible, for instance, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Organic White Cheddar—both by General Foods. Some grocery chains, including Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, refuse to sell foods with artificial coloring.
As yet, natural colorings have not proven to be a good alternative. They are generally not as bright or stable as artificial colorings, which can remain vibrant for longer periods of time. Natural colorings can fade within days.
Todd Miller, the executive pastry chef for Hello, Cupcake! in Washington, said he was dedicated to simple, natural ingredients. His cakes are made with flour and butter, and his red icing gets its color strictly from natural strawberry purée.
But the sprinkles that top many of his creations have colorings derived artificially. And he has no intention of changing that because the natural stuff just isn’t as, well, colorful. “I could live without sprinkles, but why would I want to?” he asked. “They’re cupcakes. They’re supposed to be fun.”
So are the rest of the foods we like to eat, including some of Choclatique’s most colorful truffles. Our Spring Collection, perfect for Mother’s Day, bursts with the colors and flavors of the season, in addition to being dusted with edible 24-karat gold. Our fanciful Carnival Collection wouldn’t be nearly as whimsical or thrilling without the bright blue of Cotton Candy, the verdant green of County Fair Limeade or the pink and blue swirls of Gubble Bum. Without color, our striking chocolate Gemstones, with the deep crimson of our Pomegranate Crème Caramel Garnet, the royal purple of California Plum Cream Amethyst or the glittery gold of Gold Toffee Crunch would not be nearly as mesmerizing nor beautiful. Color is an essential component of the foods we eat, which adds a necessary element of fun to our lives.