Strawberries and Food Dye
April 1, 2005 7:50 PM   Subscribe

Are most strawberries dyed, or sprayed or color-augmented in any way?

I'm trying to settle a bet with my housemate. I know that most fruit growers add a little color to most of their fruit, but I was unsure about strawberries. My housemate says no, strawberries can't be dyed, I say yes, they can and they do. My google-fu isn't very good, so please help me end this argument!
posted by geryon to Food & Drink (23 answers total)
You're wrong. Ever grown and/or picked your own strawberries? They're RED. Really.
posted by rxrfrx at 7:54 PM on April 1, 2005

They're covered in pesticides and other nasty stuff but I don't think they get any added coloring. At least not those sold here in Oregon.
posted by pwb503 at 7:55 PM on April 1, 2005

cukes, peppers and apples are waxed or oiled.
Oranges are picked green and sprayed orange.

But as far as I know, Strawberries are not photoshopped. (They do have among the highest residual pesticide levels of all produce tho).

BTW, the oils waxes and dies are not subject to any toxicity studies or regs, last I heard.
posted by Fupped Duck at 7:57 PM on April 1, 2005

Like carrots, the containers we get for strawberries are tinted. But once opened the fruit looks the same as the stuff I used to grow, so I'd guess not.
posted by holloway at 8:13 PM on April 1, 2005

My strawberries come in either a crystal-clear plastic box, or a green cardboard box with plastic wrap on top.
posted by rxrfrx at 8:15 PM on April 1, 2005

I don't know about dying and it does not seem that ethylene gassing is particularly effective with strawberries. It seems to me though that hybrids have been created in recent years that produce a bright red berry on the outside that has white flesh and tastes unripe, disappointing.....
posted by flummox at 8:21 PM on April 1, 2005

Go out in the woods sometimes and look for wild strawberries or raspberries. They really are that red - and tasty. The wild versions are tastier (but much smaller) than the ones I find in grocery stores.
posted by substrate at 8:29 PM on April 1, 2005

The wild versions are tastier (but much smaller) than the ones I find in grocery stores.

I find that to be generally true for all fruits. Having grown up near an orange grove, I simply wont eat those plastic spheres they sell at supermarkets.

The strawberries are one of the few items that do look like their homegrown cousins.
posted by vacapinta at 8:33 PM on April 1, 2005

I'll be damned. FDA Food Color Facts
posted by fourstar at 9:29 PM on April 1, 2005

Fupped Duck: errr... no. As a native Floridian on the move, I go out of my way to drive through the orange growing farmlands (mainly north of Orlando) when I travel. I assure you that what you see is what it is...
posted by trinarian at 12:13 AM on April 2, 2005

I live in a tropical country and strawberries grow in only one region, a mountainous area with a slightly cooler climate. Whenever we visit, strawberries are a very prominent feature of the markets in all their tiny, misshapen, but beautifully red glory. I do not doubt that they are hand-picked and locally grown. They are bought by the basket, and the splashes of color make strolling by a nice experience.

The environment is not the most conducive to strawberry-growing, which accounts for their small size, but what they do have in common with the strawberries in pictures and (foreign) movies is the brightness of the red. I don't think they have to be dyed.
posted by Lush at 1:01 AM on April 2, 2005

The strawberries that I've seen growing on eastern Long Island are NOT dyed. L.I. is a huge agricultural center, growing apples, peaches, rasperries, grapes, and lots of other crops. I'm not aware that I've ever seen a dyed strawberry, or orange, or any other fruit or vegetable.
posted by recurve at 7:04 AM on April 2, 2005

I'll tell you what is definitely dyed red-- the sweet "glaze" goo in commercial strawberry pie and grocery-store strawberry shortcake. Somebody left part of a Shoneys strawberry pie here after a covered-dish dinner we had. Just for random curiosity I rinsed the glaze off the strawberries and found that three of them were half white (= unripe) and two were entirely white. But when coated with the red glaze you absolutely couldn't tell what color the fruit actually was.
posted by jfuller at 7:18 AM on April 2, 2005

Coming to a supermarket near you: Multi-colored carrots
posted by growabrain at 7:26 AM on April 2, 2005

jfuller: I'm sure there's some red food coloring added to those glazes, but doubt that the berries were under-ripe. I make the goo myself sometimes, boiling together sugar and (organic) strawberry slices. The strawberries do go pale as they cook, and the final glaze is a pinkish sort of color unless food coloring is added.

Lush: many small strawberries are wild strawberries - could that be what you were getting? It might not be inferior growing conditions, so much as different type and less grow-em-big chemicals/breeding...
posted by whatzit at 8:31 AM on April 2, 2005

Folks, no one's arguing with the proposition that strawberries are naturally red when they're ripe. Organic strawberries that are ripened on a hillside should certainly be red when they come to market.

But as some of these links point out, agricultural centers tend to dye mass-marketed foods to cover up inconsistencies or unripeness. Rather than waiting until all the oranges look perfectly orange, they help them along with a little dye. So if you drove by the trees, you might see some orange color...but farmers may also dye them after they're picked so that all the oranges look even better and are more appetizing to consumers.
posted by equipoise at 8:37 AM on April 2, 2005

I'm sorry...there's really a lot of speculation on this thread and very few sources. Even the FDA link, which was interesting, is mostly about additives to processed foods, and mentions fruit only in the case of one additive used for "Cherries in fruit cocktail and in canned fruits for salads, confections, baked goods, dairy products, snack foods" -- all highly processed.

Any of us who have grown up or live around agriculture know that for the most part, no major deception is being put over on anyone regarding the color of fruit. Is fresh fruit loaded up with pesticide, fungicide, herbicide? Yes. Has fresh fruit been carefully bread and selected to identify the optimum variety for commercial production? Yes. But did somebody paint it? Geez, no. If you have a source saying something different, please post it.

It's true that sometimes fruit is picked unripe and treated with ethylene gas -- a naturally occuring gas which causes fruit to ripen -- before going to market. As with tomatoes, avocados, and bananas, you can even hasten ripening at home by enclosing the fruit in a paper bag so that the nautral ethylene gas is trapped and will act more quickly on the fruit. But that is not equivalent to dying or 'spraying' the fruit. The gas activities the pigments and flavor compounds already inside the fruit.

Yes, food additives are a concern, and highly processed food is usually treated with coloring agents and dyes. But dyes are not the biggest problem with regard to produce. I'd say the biggest factor affecting the quality is the breeding of this produce for durability, rot resistance, and bright color so that it can withstand long transport and sitting in markets for weeks. More traditional plant varieties give produce that is much fuller in flavor, but tends to be 'ugly', rough looking, or pale. Americans mix up looks with taste a lot. So the reason supermarket produce looks so bright and colorful has more to do with selective breeding and plant genetics than with dye. To combat this, 1) eat produce only when it's in season locally; 2) eat organic/heirloom produce, 3) don't discriminate against plant varieties that are less visually appealing - they might taste great.; or 4) grow your own.
posted by Miko at 10:11 AM on April 2, 2005

equipoise is exactly right, no one in this thread is really answering the question. I KNOW that naturally grown strawberries are red, but I can't tell (and no one has been able to prove me to me) that strawberries are sometimes sprayed a certain color to make them appear redder, and increase the likelihood of people buying them. I mean, I know, oranges are picked green and then sprayed orange, so it seems likely that produce growers might do the same to strawberries. Have I stumped Ask Metafilter?
posted by geryon at 1:12 PM on April 2, 2005

You haven't 'stumped' AskMe. And oranges are not 'sprayed orange' . You say "I know that most fruit growers add a little color to their fruit" -- I ask you, how do you "know" this? Was it something you heard from an older person? Because "since the 1955 Food & Drug Administration ban on the synthetic dyes used on oranges, they have been colored by exposure to ethylene gas in storage".

The difficulty you are encountering is that there is no evidence that any fresh produce is currently dyed or painted, as my post above attempted to assert. If anyone could find anything to prove your assertion that strawberries are dyed, it would have showed up. But since nothing of the kind exists, for the simple reason that produce is not dyed, it's safe to conclude that you lose the bet.
posted by Miko at 2:23 PM on April 2, 2005

Wow Miko. The whole spraying green oranges was something that my grandmother used to say. I'm reluctant to let my housemate win this debate, but it appears that there isn't any evidence that that strawberries are colored in any way. I concede defeat. Agh..that bittter taste...
posted by geryon at 5:40 PM on April 2, 2005

Oh, well. Better luck next time; with AskMe at the ready you'll nail 'im on something else. Anyway, now we all know more about oranges than we ever dreamed...
posted by Miko at 6:11 PM on April 2, 2005

It's easy enough to find information that fruits like oranges and cherries are color-enhanced. I'm not saying that lack of it proves that strawberries aren't, but it definitely weakens the "MOST strawberries can and are dyed" argument.

Other respondents are merely asserting that strawberries are already so brightly colored that there seems no NEED to artificially enhance their color. (Strawberry-flavored products, however, are another story.) If anything, strawberries are often used as a natural dye for dyeing other things, and even the 'Net is rife with data about that.
posted by Lush at 9:11 PM on April 2, 2005

The original question: Are most strawberries dyed, or sprayed or color-augmented in any way?

Does displaying them under special lights count as color augmentation?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:56 PM on April 3, 2005

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