What Blue Food Says About Us

What Blue Food Says About Us

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Elizabeth Yuko
Aug 8, 2016
(Image credit: etorres/Shutterstock)

As a child, I gravitated towards anything blue. It wasn't necessarily for the flavor, most often labeled as the mysterious "blue raspberry," a fruit which, spoiler alert, doesn't actually exist in the wild. No, my fascination with cobalt Popsicles and blueberry-hued candy was all about the novelty — oh, and the fact that after eating that blue lollipop from the bank teller, the inside of my mouth looked like I licked a Smurf.

This attraction to blue foods seems to hold true for kids today: My nephew is a toddler of few words, but two of them are "bwoo pop" and, when making frosting with my 4-year-old niece recently, she immediately reached for the blue food coloring.

I, however, winced at the thought of eating something blue. "Here's the red," I offered, pushing the small pointy bottle towards her. Blue foods may have been alluring to my kid-self, but my cravings seem to have desisted sometime around puberty.

Why We Don't Like Blue Foods

As adults, blue foods may become less appealing because so few of them exist in nature or because we are evolutionarily inclined to avoid blue foods out of fear of being poisoned or eating spoiled food. Just try picturing blue meat — that reflexive revulsion is nature's way of keeping us from getting sick. In fact, several long-standing dieting tricks involve dying food blue or putting a blue light in the refrigerator to make the contents appear less appetizing.

A notable exception is blue cheese — which adults grow to love and children tend to steer clear of — but it's no secret that the blue color comes from mold, which doesn't do much to make other blue foods appealing to adults.

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The Rise of Blue Foods

Yet, blue foods — beverages in particular — geared towards adults are springing up everywhere these days. Now, joining the American canon of blue drinks — alongside childhood favorites, the Slurpee and Kool-Aid — are new additions, including the Blue Drink at Starbucks.

Then there's Gïk, an electric-blue Spanish wine targeted at millennials looking to trade the Little Hugs blue juice barrels of their youth for a barrel-aged blue alcoholic beverage.

"Drinking Gïk is not just about drinking blue wine; you are drinking innovation," a press release informs potential consumers, reading more like a commercial parody on Saturday Night Live than marketing for an actual product. "You are drinking creation. You are breaking the rules and creating your own ones."

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Why Blue Is Cool Again

So, why blue? Are we moving towards mainstream blue food acceptance, trying to relive our youth, or are we just bored?

It appears Gïk is betting on the fact that millennials who are yearning for simpler days of blue Slush Puppies and Ring Pops will be drawn to a nostalgic product that also gets them drunk. And it's true that millennials — who may have never grown out of their blue foods and drinks phase — have significant buying power and are most likely the driving force behind this blue crush.

But there's more at work here: The recent proliferation of rainbow-colored foods, including bagels, grilled cheese sandwiches, and lattes, suggests that we're getting bored, reaching the end of the rainbow of food fads.

Then there's the health angle. Blue (or at least bluish-purple) foods, when found in nature, are highly nutritious. Food like blueberries, plums, purple cabbage, black currants, eggplant, and purple grapes get their color from anthocyanins, compounds that may reduce risk of high blood pressure and low HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind). Ever better, these naturally occurring foods won't turn your tongue blue.

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