The Origins of Blue Raspberry – The Flavor that Took Over a Nation

Whether it’s a Jolly Rancher hard candy, a convenience store gummy candy, or a Slurpee at 7-Eleven, as a society we have come to accept the flavor “Blue Raspberry”. While I’m not a botanist, I’m fairly certain that raspberries are red.

Strawberry Slurpees and candy are red. Cherry Slurpees and candy are red. Yet for some reason raspberry is now associated with the color blue.

So where did the association of the color blue and the flavor of raspberry begin?

As you may guess, blue raspberry didn’t originate on a farm. It is entirely a laboratory invention.

The first occurrence of blue raspberry as flavor is credited to a Cincinnati company, Gold Medal, that caters to the amusement park industry. Gold Medal was noted for offering a new blue raspberry colored syrup for snow cones in a 1958 issue of The Billboard: Outdoor Amusement Directory.

In the 1950’s food coloring was big business. The unnaturally brilliant colors made food products more appealing to consumers, especially the young. In an article published by Bon Appetit in 2016, University of Pennsylvania food historian Nadia Berenstein stated, “There’s an appeal that really bright colors have, even when they’re unnaturally colored, and especially for young children.” 

According to an article on the North Dakota State University website, the expansion of blue raspberry as a widely accepted flavor can be credited to the makers of Otter Pops.

The makers of Otter Pops had four red flavors: cherry, strawberry, raspberry, and watermelon. Each flavor corresponded to its own shade of red. Raspberry was a purplish red.

However, the dark red dye (FD&C Red No. 2) that was used to for raspberry Otter Pops was later banned by the FDA as a possible carcinogen. The scientists at the company didn’t have another red color in their repertoire, but they had a brilliant blue colored dye on the shelf that wasn’t in use yet (FD&C Blue No. 1). Based on the pitch of the mixologists in the lab and the marketing creatives who said they could make it work, the executives at the company made the decision to go with the available blue dye.

A clever backstory was developed to give blue raspberry a more natural sounding pedigree. The story is that blue raspberry flavor is designed to mimic the taste of Rubus leucodermis, also known as a blackcap raspberry or a whitebark raspberry. It’s a good story because that wild berry (that most people have never seen), can occur in a dark purple with some blue tones. But it is only a story. The true inspiration for blue raspberry flavor is because that is the color that was available in the lab.

Ironically, according to Jerry Bowman, the executive director of the Flavor & Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States, the artificial raspberry flavor used in candies, ICEES, and Otter Pops actually comes from a mix of banana, cherry, and pineapple flavors.

In 1970’s blue raspberry really took off. In 1971 the ICEE Company introduced a blue raspberry flavor of their frozen drink.  The response was huge. According to Susan Woods, vice president of marketing for The ICEE Company, it was the national promotion of the blue raspberry ICEE that paved the way for other raspberry flavored concoctions that now permeate the market.

“Raspberry tasted great as a frozen beverage. However, we wanted something that was a distinctly different color than our flagship flavor, cherry. We came up with blue raspberry,” Woods stated in the 2016 Bon Appetit article.

From its humble beginnings as a snow cone syrup in the 1950s to its present-day domination of the artificial flavor market, blue raspberry has an interesting history.

With the current trend towards organic options and limiting dyes in foods, one may wonder how long blue raspberry will be a thing.

However, as long as psychological studies continue to show that consumers respond to bright artificial colors, I think blue raspberry will be around.

Peace. Love. Trust.

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