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Colourless food? Enough to make you blanch

Without the artificial colouring FD&C Yellow No 6, Cheetos Crunchy Cheese Flavored Snacks would look like the shrivelled 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 flavour, even though the Cheetos tasted just as they did with food colouring.

“People ranked the taste as bland and said that they weren’t much fun to eat,” said Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University and director of the university’s Food and Brand Lab.

Naked Cheetos would not seem to have much commercial future. Nor might some brands of pickles. The pickling process turns them an unappetizing gray. Dye is responsible for their robust green. Gummi worms without artificial colouring would look, like, well, muddily translucent worms. Jell-O would emerge out of the refrigerator a watery tan.

No doubt the world would be a considerably duller place without artificial food colouring. But might it also be a safer place? The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, asked the government last week to ban artificial colouring because the dyes that are used in some foods might worsen hyperactivity in some children.

“These dyes have no purpose whatsoever other than to sell junk food,” Marion Nestle, 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 colours are present.

“Colour is such a crucial part of the eating experience that banning dyes would take much of the pleasure out of life,” said Kantha Shelke, a food chemist and spokeswoman for the Institute of Food Technologists. “Would we really want to ban everything when only a small percentage of us are sensitive?”….

New York Times: Read more

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