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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Popular foods taking on new hues without artificial dyes


Mozzarella cheese at Panera restaurants won't be as glaringly white. Banana peppers in Subway sandwiches won't be the same exact shade of yellow. Trix cereal will have two fewer colors.
Food makers are purging their products of artificial dyes as people increasingly eschew anything in their food they don't feel is natural. But replicating the vivid colors Americans expect with ingredients like beets and carrots isn't always easy.

In fact, General Mills couldn't find good alternatives for the blue and green pieces in Trix, so the company is getting rid of those colors when the cereal is reformulated later this year. The red pieces - which will be colored with radishes and strawberries - will also look different.

"We haven't been able to get that same vibrant color," said Kate Gallager, General Mills' cereal developer.

The shift away from artificial dyes represents the latest chapter for food coloring in the U.S., which has had a rocky history. As recently as 1950, the Food and Drug Administration said children became sick after eating an orange Halloween candy that contained a dye. The agency eventually whittled down its list of approved color additives after finding several had caused "serious adverse effects."
Now, more companies say they are replacing artificial dyes with colors made from fruits, vegetables and spices, which are widely considered "natural," although the FDA doesn't classify them that way. But these present more challenges than artificial dyes.

In addition to costing more, colors from fruits and vegetables can be sensitive to heat and acidity. And since they're used in higher doses to achieve boldness, tweaks to other parts of recipes may be needed. Such adjustments can be tricky for companies that manufacture on massive scales.

Still, companies want to court people like Heather Thalwitzer, a 31-year-old homemaker in Melbourne, Florida. Thalwitzer avoids artificial colors because she wants her 6-year-old son to eat quality food and she said red dye has been linked to "mania."

She has tried alternatives like naturally colored sprinkles from Whole Foods, which her husband thinks taste like fish. But she can get along without such products. One year, she made cupcakes topped with a single blueberry for her son's birthday.

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