We’ve all seen them—summer children with mouths so blue it looks like they’ve devoured an alien race. But the blame cannot be put on anything extraterrestrial. Rather, the strikingly electric blue color is from raspberry flavored frozen treats.
If in your summer musings you’ve ever asked yourself— “why is a red berry represented as blue in the freezer and drink aisles?”—then you are in the right place. In this post, we’ll explain why raspberry-flavored items are blue.
If you’re into summery foods, you might also enjoy this post on America’s Best Regional Hot Dog Styles.
Raspberries Are Red, Safe Chemicals are Blue
The earliest recorded reference to the flavor blue raspberry was in 1958. It appeared amidst a panic over the dangers of Red No. 2, or amaranth, a food dye similar to the shade of red wine, originally used for raspberry products. There were some research studies done to ease the public’s nerves about the scarlet food coloring, but rather suspiciously, all of the research was funded by the chemical industry that was responsible for producing food dyes.
Later, studies would conclude that the dye was linked to certain health risks, and there was significant evidence that it caused tumors in lab rats. The FDA reversed its claim that Red No. 2 was safe and banned it outright in 1976, validating consumers’ original concerns.
According to Jerry Bowman, the executive director of the Flavor and Extract Manufacturer’s Association of the United States, the flavor “raspberry” that is found in drinks and frozen treats consists of a flavor profile that is a mixture of cherry, banana, and pineapple. So perhaps the huge kerfuffle over getting the color right was arguably insignificant in the first place.
The emergence of blue-raspberry also coincided with the 1958 Food Additives Amendment. The amendment dictated the food manufacturers’ duty to prove that the additives they put in their food were safe to consume. Going forward, the FDA wouldn’t approve the distribution of an additive that was proven to cause cancer in humans or animals.
And voilà, blue-raspberry was suddenly a flavor. An article in a periodical published that year promotes “a new blue-raspberry flavor for snow cones.” To this day, blue raspberry is still a best seller with the population still slurping down a staggering 132 million 16-ounce blue-raspberry flavored ICEEs annually.
Blue Raspberry’s Rise to Fame
In the early 1970s, the blue-raspberry ICEE became a signature flavor alongside the much loved “red cherry,” arguably cementing the color/flavor partnership into the annals of snack history. The panic over the semi-lethal dye Red No. 2 had faded into the past, yet, raspberry flavored items were still being dyed blue.
The Vice President of Marketing of the ICEE company, Susan Woods, explains that they chose the flavor blue-raspberry because the color was distinctly different from their most popular flavor, cherry.
However, ICEE did not pave the road for blue-raspberry on their own. Around the same time, the popular brand Otter Pops also released a frozen treat that was blue-raspberry flavored. Together, these brands were responsible for helping distribute the blue-raspberry flavor across the nation.
Why Raspberry-Flavored Items Are Blue – Alternate Theories
The color red is no longer poisonous, and raspberries haven’t suddenly turned blue on the vine, so why are blue-raspberry flavored products still a thing? The answer could actually be quite commonsensical.
There’s no shortage of red in the natural world. Thus, the “red” flavor category is a crowded one, housing flavors like watermelon, cranberry, strawberry, cherry, and cinnamon.
Blue is not only a stark contrast to red, but there are also very few food items that are naturally colored blue. So, the simple reason behind the long reign of blue-raspberry is that it was a way to make drink and food choices more distinct from one another, and less likely to confuse consumers.
The answer to the popularity of blue-raspberry may have been discovered long before the flavor’s inception by the famous American chemist Melvin De Groote. De Groote took a trip to the circus in 1922 and noticed that the artificially colored pink lemonade sold out much faster than the almost colorless natural lemonade. He speculated that children are innately drawn to vibrant colors.
And aren’t we all children at heart, reaching for the things that shine the brightest?
Are you still a fan of red foods? Try this quiz to see if you can name the red food depicted in each image.