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.