It has always been said that you also eat with your eyes. Looking at attractive food can trigger an irresistible urge to eat, and more. We often value food so much because of its colour that we reject it if it does not look the way we think it should. Of course, colour may indicate spoilage or adulteration of food. It is also the most important factor we take into account when buying meat. But sometimes the guidelines we apply are not justified, although they are widely used, and this is the reason why food manufacturers modify the colour of their products to make them better or simply to make them more acceptable. For example, would you buy strawberry yoghurt that was not pink? The truth is that if colouring were not added, it would be completely white.
Food colour may have other consequences, such as in the case of cattle fraudulently fattened with clenbuterol. One of its side effects is meat that is much lighter than normal, exactly what many people who are uninformed consider ideal.
Many buyers consider the colour of egg yolks to be very important, because they associate it to qualities such as “freshness” or “natural”. But the colour of egg yolks has very little to do with the quality of the eggs and is easy for the producer to manipulate by adding more or less carotenoid pigments to chicken feed. The same thing happens with the colour of the eggshells. Many people think, mistakenly, that brown eggs are better or that they are not produced industrially. They even used to be more expensive than white eggs.
Another example is the flesh from farm-raised salmon, which is also fed a carotenoid pigment known as canthaxanthin that gives it an orange hue. Would you buy a salmon filet that is not that colour? This food additive is used for purely aesthetic reasons and has no effect on the taste or the quality of the product. However, in 2003 the European Commission approved a reduction of the allowed amounts of canthaxanthin, based on scientific studies that showed that a high absorption rate might form deposits in the retina and affect a person’s eyesight.
In conclusion, we should maybe refine our criteria and make a distinction between colours that are important and colours that only provide an imaginary quality. But to do this we need to make an effort to improve our food education.
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