Opinion: Why I Think Food Coloring is a Waste of Your MoneyFebruary 21, 2017
Food coloring is a weird thing. Besides the fact that it is basically a socially acceptable way to eat dye, food coloring is oft used to disguise food into appearing as it is not—a fact that sparks distrust in the artificial additive, and has instigated a food trend towards natural coloring.
Numerous health concerns helped spark this trend, including studies that have linked food coloring to carcinogens, and ADHD in children. For those with the earth’s best interests, food coloring is an unnecessary use of energy, and may result in consumption of petroleum (which is commonly found in food dyes, and may contain carcinogens). From a foodie’s standpoint, the use of food coloring is simply deceptive.
I’m not talking about our bag of Nips or our rainbow-colored birthday cakes. We know what we are getting when you eat these sweet treats, and that is a mouthful of artificial food dyes. Our local baker or candy maker are not trying to trick us into thinking that we are actually tasting the rainbow. With the health and environment concerns surrounding food dyes, we may want to think twice before indulging in an unnaturally blue lollipop, but I think it’s safe to say that these sweets are exempt from being deceptive, as they use food coloring for a clearly aesthetic purpose.
What I am talking about is the innocently labeled “caramel color” in your soy sauce or soda that has nothing to do with caramel and may “contain a potentially carcinogenic chemical called 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI)“, or the infamous Red 40 which is linked to potential human carcinogen p-Cresidine, and can be found in a number of none-red food like marshmallows and salad dressings. Even the creepy red hotdogs that allowed us to grow up believing that shade of red was a perfectly acceptable color for meat at the time. It makes me wonder, what are you hiding?
Studies show that color affects perceived taste more than actual flavor. Which means that food coloring can be (and is) used to manipulate consumers into tasting what they want us to taste—imagine the deck of playing cards painting the roses red in Alice in Wonderland. Except change those roses into hotdogs, and make their original color grey. And instead of them being beautiful ornamentations for your garden, they are “food” for your to eat. (You get the idea.)
Let’s pretend that making a quality meatloaf using real meat cuts and no fillers would cost you 5 bucks a slice to produce, which you then sell for 10. Or you could opt to use fillers, cut costs down to 3, add half a buck for artificial colors and flavoring, and still charge 10. Your consumer is paying the same amount for what they perceive to be the same quality, but you are making more off of them by selling an inferior product that has less nutritional value, for which they’ll have to spend more money elsewhere to get. It’s a tale as old as capitalism, and while the profits feel nice in your significantly heavier pocket, it’s not so nice when the roles are switched and you’re the sucker who is poorer both in wealth and health.
Thankfully big brands like Fruit Loops are shifting towards natural colors, following an artificial food dye ban in the UK that reflected the unhealthy effects of food dyes. And I foresee many more brands following suit as food trends continue in favor of going natural. Until then, I’m going to continue to religiously analyze the ingredients lists on the backs of food packets, and stay away from hotdogs… or at least keep my consumption to a minimum (because family birthdays are just not the same without them, amirite?).