Why Do We Love Rainbow Food?

Why Do We Love Rainbow Food?

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Sarah Rae Smith
Aug 31, 2016

You'd have to be living under a rock to not see some part of the rainbow food movement that's swept the internet and major cities over the last several years. Social media went from being anti-artificial food coloring to spreading the word like wildfire as soon another familiar food was found laced with a hot new hue or two. We covet them from faraway places, drive to larger cities to partake, and then pin DIY versions to our boards as soon as they pop up. We just can't get enough!

Ice cream, cookies, and bagels are transformed into instant rockstars the second they contain a new shade or entire rainbow inside. So what is it about rainbow food that we love?

Rainbows Make Us Happy

I spent the better part of an hour (okay, two), diving deep into the world of rainbow food on Pinterest trying to discover what makes us gravitate towards food that's so gosh darn colorful. We'll get to the theories in a minute, but on the forefront of this experience, I have to note that this adventure has left me with nothing but joy. That might sound silly, but it's undeniable that with all this bright, fun food I am now in a generally better mood than I was when I sat down to write. I wanted to get that out there because that's an important thing! Happy food, happy life.

Color You Can Taste

So what does color taste like, anyway? The magical folks over at Jeni's Ice Cream tackled this exact question over the last year as they've been studying what color tastes like and the way we associate and assign specific colors to foods. Even more, they've been imagining what colors actually taste like.

Take the color green — does that color symbolize something should be mossy, nutty, and sweet? What emotions would a color and flavor combination of that nature convey? The thought experiment from the Jeni's team may seem like a lot of brain power for just a simple scoop of ice cream, but as we all know, the simple stuff usually has the most thought put into it.

Take for instance their Ultra Marine Blue Buttermilk Frozen Yogurt. There aren't many true blue foods out there, so finding a flavor that goes with blue isn't as easy as calling red ice cream strawberry or watermelon. Instead the team has conjured up what emotions and places, feelings and smells inhabit blue. Think large oceans and beaches, blueberries, and the color of the sky before sunset. Basically it sums up the best parts of summer and embodies the bliss that goes along with it. This is the taste of blue to them. Intrigued enough to try it? That's the point.

(Image credit: Burger King)

Market the Rainbow and They Will Come

From a marketing perspective, taking a traditional food that's already beloved and turning it crazy colors is a sure ticket to creating a nice little internet buzz. For example, take the black-bun Whopper from Burger King that made the rounds last year. The idea here is pretty simple: Now this burger has a black bun. It exists, its edible, and more importantly — it's accessible. Call it novelty for the masses and don't worry — we're standing in line right there with you.

If you take a product that is already creating solid profit and then put a rainbow twist on it, or say turn it pitch black in the case of the aforementioned burger, then you've created nothing but extra cash in the bank and happy customers that can't wait to partake in the edible entertainment. If it's clever enough, you get some free advertising from the bemused consumers — even if it turns your teeth black just like this black-as-night ice cream from a while back. Yogurt said it best in the movie Spaceballs: "Merchandising, Merchandising, Merchandising!"

Pulling Back the Curtain on Rainbow Food

If you're anything like me and you spent the better part of your youth glued to the television any time Mr. Rogers was showing videos about how different items are made (crayons and tubas, am I right?), you've probably watched the rainbow bagels being made 100 times over. I'd argue with the rainbow food fad, watching the actual process of how things are made is mesmerizing — even voyeuristic.

Maybe it's because we can see the details, maybe we like the surprise of how it all turns out, or maybe it's just proof that such concoctions aren't from an alien planet and are indeed food after all!

(Image credit: Walmart)

Colorful Food Is Nothing New

If we take a step back from neon colors and the novelty of all these food trends, it becomes clear we've been tricking our brains for years about color having flavor in the first place. Kids grow up thinking fruit punch is red and lemon pudding is bright yellow. The real colors of those items are a paler, less bombastic shade of truth. Deeply colored food makes for great photos and in the packaged food arms race, colorful sells.

Eat the Rainbow They Say

There's a natural inclination to eat colorful foods, as we've all been trained from a young age to "eat the rainbow." This implies that we should eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and more. The more colors, the more balanced the diet. So next time you want to make up an excuse for needing a rainbow fix, remember, you came hardwired that way — and your options extend beyond the rainbow bagel.

What's been your favorite color-fueled food fad over the last few years?

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