Tuesday, June 30, 2009

RIP Blue and Green


I was at a backyard party this weekend and one of the bowl of munchies on the table contained Smarties. This of course carried on into a conversation about which is better- Smarties or M&M's. Personally, I've always favored Smarties over M&M's... partly because of the shape, partly because of the chocolate but mostly because of the colors Red, Orange, Yellow, Pink, Purple, Brown, Blue and Green. (Useless Smartie Fact- I remember as a child that there use to be dark brown and light brown... blue took the place of light brown.)

That has now changed, open up a box today and you will find two things- there are no longer blue Smarties and there are no longer green Smarties *GASP!* Nestle Canada has decided that "natural" dyes are the way to go and as a result they have forgone the blue dye. No blue also means no green either... *pouts*

Studies show that people have become weary of synthetic additives in their food and prefer "natural" especially when their food is considered. Of course natural does not equate to safe any more than synthetic equates to risky. Strychnine is quite natural, but we wouldn't want to eat it. We reserve it for sentencing rats to death. Aspirin is a synthetic compound (Not actually found in the bark of willow as many myths claim.) and many people find it quit a useful substance.

Natural colorants extracted from Lemon for Yellow, Radish for Pink (ew- Radish), Black Carrot for Purple, Hibiscus Fruit for Red, Safflower for Orange and Spirulina for a pretty anemic looking Green. However, Nestles problem came when they tried to create a "natural" blue dye. It was nonexistent and the synthetic dye known as Brilliant Blue (FD&C #1 in the U.S.) just could not be replaced.

That is until 2009 when they found one in an unlikely place. Bacteria. *insert EW here*

Specifically, cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae (Yes, that algae) which is a source of phycocyanin, a blue pigment being used to color Smarties in Europe. This however hasn't been approved in Canada as an appropriate way to color the candy shell. But just you wait! Don’t fret all you blue Smartie lovers out there... if the Blue is a must Mars is still producing their M&M's with the blue candy shells- they haven't jumped on the “Natural is Better” bandwagon just yet and are using a mixture of Brilliant Blue and Indigo (yes, the same stuff used to dye your dark denim jeans.).

So why doesn't Nestle just use this to produce blue Smarties? First, it’s not ideal for candy production and really needs to be mixed with Brilliant Blue to provide the desired color. Another issue is Indigo color isn't really natural. The plant contains no blue compounds and only upon fermentation of the leaves (traditionally in a vat of diluted urine *insert EW here*) is the blue actually produced. There is a way to produce it synthetically (read: sans urine) but then that just wouldn't be natural.

So long story short- for now, here in Canada we are stuck without our blue and green Smarties. If you still happen to have any of last years Halloween candy left over- keep it. If I learnt anything for the book Candy Freak by Steve Almond is covet thy candy and thou shall not share it.

RIP Blue and Green Smarties, you will be missed.

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