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|l||57 Varieties and counting
As if it wasn't enough that every food product on the grocery shelf now comes in fourteen variations - including low fat, no fat, cholesterol-free, decaf, high fiber, sugar-free, taste-free, chunky, calcium added, unscented, extra strength, and if you're lucky, regular - now you have to decide what color you want.
It started a couple of years ago when Heinz (motto: "57,000 varieties") came out with Blastin' Green ketchup for kids. It's pretty much the same as boring old red ketchup except it looks like it's been sitting out for way too long. It went over so well with parents who will buy their children anything in order to shut them up, that the following year Heinz put out Funky Purple, which tastes just like the other colors except it makes you think you're eating Barney. Come to think of it, that may not be such a bad thing.
Now Ore-Ida, a division of - yes, you guessed it - Heinz, is getting ready to roll out Funky Fries, a line of specially flavored and shaped French fries which include brown and blue versions. That's right, soon you'll be able to buy Kool Blue French fries, which are "sky-blue seasoned," and Cocoa Crispers, which are - hang onto your sweet tooth - chocolate flavored. MMMmmmmmm! So far Heinz hasn't said what sky blue tastes like, but I suspect it's the same as sky-blue Popsicles. Whatever flavor those are.
The idea of brown chocolate French fries covered in purple ketchup is not only disgusting from a taste point of view, but from an aesthetic one too. If this trend keeps up refrigerators will not only have ice makers, water dispensers, Internet hook-ups, and fondue pots built in, but will come with a color wheel attached. Either that, or Heinz will hook up with Garanimals to make it easier to color coordinate dinner.
One product that's always been in the colored-food category is about to add a new hue. As if the hip-but-icky blue M&M's they picked seven years ago to replace boring, staid, oh-so-'80s tan wasn't bad enough, now they're looking to add either purple, pink, or aqua. This being the Democratic Decade, they figure that if we can vote people off an island, vote on what we think the right answer is so someone else can become a millionaire, and vote for whether we think a referee made a good call or not, we should be able to vote for this. That's why you can go to their web site (www.mms.com) between March 6th and May 31st and cast a ballot for the color of your choice. Well, that and the fact that it's a huge free publicity bonanza for them.
Most of these products are being colorized thanks to food dyes that have numbers instead of names, but some are being done naturally. Scientists in New Zealand (motto: "The Other Australia") have developed a kiwi fruit with gold flesh, no hair on the outside, and a sweeter taste. Other than those changes it's the exact same fruit. They're doing this because, well, it's easier than discovering a new one.
The motivation for this mutant kiwi is so they can tap into the Asian market, where foul-smelling durians are so popular that some countries, like Singapore, ban them from buses, subways, and hotels, yet mildly tart kiwis just don't make the grade. For starters, they might consider going back to the fruit's original name, which was Chinese gooseberry. There's nothing like giving the illusion that a product is local to help sales. They changed the name a number of years ago for marketing purposes, figuring that since they grow them in New Zealand and they kind of look like the fluffy kiwi bird, it would sell better. It worked. Now that they've developed the new bald variety they're going to have to change its name from Zespri Gold to Bruce Willis Fruit.
The effect of food color on humans has been the subject of many scientific studies. And some unscientific ones too. One night a long time ago, on a lark, I put food coloring in everything in the refrigerator. I made pink mayonnaise, blue milk, and bright green 7-Up. Being ahead of my time, I even made purple ketchup. Okay, it was more a muddy brown, but it had definite undertones of purple. Needless to say, the next morning my roommates were none too thrilled about pouring blue milk into their coffee, slathering orange cream cheese on their bagel, and putting neon green mustard on the brown ham sandwich they were making for lunch. Being a trendsetter is never easy.
If companies continue to change the color of food we're going to see an interesting phenomenon: colliding trends. Last year several books came out which advocate eating according to a food's color. What Color Is Your Diet? claims we should choose our fruits and vegetables based on their color. The Color Code: A Revolutionary Eating Plan for Optimum Health, takes it one step farther, saying we should only eat foods which match our dining room. Just kidding. Actually it claims that different colors in foods have different properties: blue being good for the brain, orange good for the heart, and green good for the author's bank account, especially if enough people fall for this.
If companies start arbitrarily changing the color of food we won't know what to eat, especially if we start wrapping it in the new food wrap the USDA has developed. They've figured out a way to turn apples, oranges, and carrots into thin sheets which can keep food fresh in the refrigerator. This means one day you may have to figure out when it's best to eat brown Cocoa Crisper chocolaty French fries covered in green ketchup topped with pink M&M's wrapped in red strawberry-flavored wrapping. I have no clue when that time might be, but I sure hope there's enough for seconds.
Please email your culinary heads-ups to Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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