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Why Are Raspberry-Flavored Items Blue?

With some notable exceptions like blueberries, bluefish and blue corn, the color blue is rare among edible plants and animals. Food scientists have always had a hard time finding reliable natural sources for blue food colorings, and for a long time, even dyed blue foods were hard to come by. In the mid-20th century, though, the humble ice pop changed all that and opened the gates for an army of brave blue treats.

Inexpensive ice pops like Otter Pops and Fla-Vor-Ice — made from water, corn syrup, and a little fruit juice and packed in thin plastic tubes — became a staple of working- and middle-class American freezers in the 1960s and 70s. They came in a variety of flavors and the number of red fruits that ice pop makers had to contend with often led to confusion. Cherry, strawberry, raspberry and watermelon all lend themselves to the color red, and if any two of those flavors were in the same pack, they had to be distinguishable by color.

At first, the problem was solved by making cherry and strawberry slightly different shades of red. Watermelon pops were often made a lighter pink-red, and raspberry ones a dark wine-red. Scientists soon found out, though, that the most inexpensive and widely available dye for this deep red, Amaranth (aka E123 and FD&C Red No. 2), provoked severe reactions, and was deemed a possible carcinogen and banned by the FDA.

What Now, Raspberry?

The ice pop barons had access to blue dye, but no flavors that needed it. It was just an extra color sitting around, so they started to marry the flavor of Rubus leucodermis, known as the “Whitebark Raspberry” or “Blue Raspberry,” with the bright blue synthetic food coloring Brilliant Blue (FD&C Blue No. 1). The dye’s color wasn’t anywhere close to the real-life color of the fruit, but it solved the raspberry conundrum and led to blue-tongued kids across the country.

Fake Blue Raspberries Image: Jaroslaw Grudzinski / Shutterstock.com

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Big Questions
Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

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Big Questions
What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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