I Often Wonder Why There’s No Blue Food

“I often wonder why there’s no blue food. Every other color is well represented in the food kingdom. And don’t bother me with blueberries; they’re purple. The same is true with blue corn and blue potatoes. They’re purple. Blue cheese? Nice try. It’s actually white cheese with blue mold. Occasionally, you might run across some blue Jell-o in a cafeteria. Don’t eat it. It wasn’t supposed to be blue. Something went wrong.” George Carlin

You can quibble with Carlin about his definition of blue food—what about some grapes, plums, sloes, and elderberries? And then there are blue crabs, blue lobsters, and several species of blue fish, not to mention some blue flowers and insects that are, arguably, edible. Some mushrooms can be blue, but they also can be psychedelic or poisonous, and the same goes for several species of frogs. All birds are edible, including peacocks, blue jays, and bluebirds, and purple cabbage turns blue if it’s been cooked, but that’s fudging the fact that people tend to avoid blue food in its raw form.

“Color and the appeal of various foods are also closely related. Just the sight of food fires neurons in the hypothalamus. Subjects presented food to eat in the dark reported a critically missing element for enjoying any cuisine: the appearance of food. For the sighted, the eyes are the first place that must be convinced before a food is even tried. This means that some food products fail in the marketplace, not because of bad taste, texture, or smell, but because the consumer never got that far. Colors are significant, and, almost universally, it is difficult to get a consumer to try a blue-colored food — though more are being marketed for children these days. Greens, browns, reds, and several other colors are more generally acceptable, though they can vary by culture. The Japanese are renowned for their elaborate use of food colorings, some that would have difficulty getting approval by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States” (Gary Blumenthal, International Food Strategies).

Perhaps another reason for our aversion to blue food is the fact that there are no ‘really blue’ mammals that are ‘really real’ for us to eat (forget The Smurfs and The Cookie Monster – you wouldn’t eat them even if they were real, would you?), though some mammals have patches of bright blue skin. “Although all mammals are endothermic, this is not a defining feature of mammals, since this trait is shared with birds. However, the presence of hair is a unique mammalian characteristic. This filamentous outgrowth of the skin projects from the epidermis, though it grows from follicles deep in the dermis. In non-human species, hair is commonly referred to as fur. The presence of hair has helped mammals to maintain a stable core body temperature. Hair and endothermy has aided mammals in inhabiting a wide diversity of environments, from deserts to polar environments, and be active daytime and nighttime. No mammals have hair that is naturally blue or green in color. Some cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), along with the mandrills, appear to have shades of blue skin. Many mammals are indicated as having blue hair or fur, but in all cases it will be found to be a shade of gray” (source).

Of course, lots of people like their steaks “blue” (“bleu,” in French). The term refers to a steak that is seared on the outside but has a raw center. “Beef, unlike certain other meats, does not need to be cooked through. Food-borne human illnesses are not normally found within a beef steak, though surfaces can potentially be contaminated from handling, and thus, very rare steak (seared on the outside and raw within) is generally accepted [as] safe (source). One possible origin of the term is that ‘bleu’ meant pale (particularly regarding complexion) in old French. That’s also where the phrase ‘blue blood’ (or sang bleu) came from. Actually, the term originated in Spain, where nobles were keen to attest to having no Moorish or Jewish blood, so they proudly displayed their pale (relatively speaking) skin, through which the blue veins were clearly visible. The phrase then spread into France; hence pale=bleu (phlegmatist).

Article by Bill Norrington

Image 1 for article titled "I Often Wonder Why There’s No Blue Food"
A blue whale calf with its mother. Long and slender, the blue whale’s body can be various shades of bluish-grey dorsally and somewhat lighter underneath (Wikipedia: Blue whale)

Image 2 for article titled "I Often Wonder Why There’s No Blue Food"
An artist’s rendering of a Maltese tiger, with the grey hue characteristic of other “blue” felines. The Maltese tiger, or blue tiger, is a reported but unproven coloration morph of a tiger, reported mostly in the Fujian Province of China. It is said to have bluish fur with dark grey stripes. The term “Maltese” comes from domestic cat terminology for blue fur, and refers to the slate grey coloration. Many cats with such coloration are present in Malta, which may have given rise to the use of the adjective in this context (Wikipedia: Maltese tiger)

Image 3 for article titled "I Often Wonder Why There’s No Blue Food"
The Smurfs may be the most famous blue “mammals” (Wikipedia: The Smurfs)

Image 4 for article titled "I Often Wonder Why There’s No Blue Food"
The Cookie Monster from “Sesame Street” has fluffy blue fur (Wikipedia: Cookie Monster)

Image 5 for article titled "I Often Wonder Why There’s No Blue Food"
Blue is one of the most popular colors, but it is one of the least appetizing. Some weight loss plans even recommend eating your food off of a blue plate. Blue rarely occurs naturally in food, aside from blueberries and some plums. Also, humans are geared to avoid foods that are poisonous, and blue coloring in food is often a sign of spoilage or poison (http://psychology.about.com/od/sensationandperception/a/color_blue.htm)