For those of you who aren't horticulturalists, there is no such thing as a blue raspberry in nature — sort of. There are only red raspberries and black raspberries. Black raspberries could, perhaps, be described as purple but certainly not blue. If nothing like a blue raspberry exists, why is it so prevalent in sports drinks, candy, and ice pops?
Too much red
Prior to the 1950s, many of the artificial flavors we know and love were colored red after their natural inspirations. Unfortunately, that led to a lot of confusion due to the abundance of red fruit. Cherries are red, watermelons are red, strawberries are red and, yes, raspberries are red.
With so many red-colored foods, the companies making treats had to create different shades for each product. Watermelon became almost pink, strawberry was a lighter red, cherry was deep red, and raspberry was given a dark red wine color. Most of the colors still represent their respective flavors today. Raspberry, however, had to change because of the dye used to make the dark red coloring: Red No. 2.
Red No. 2
For years, Red No. 2, otherwise known as amaranth, was a popular dye used in foods, drinks, and cosmetics, and was the primary ingredient in the food coloring used for raspberry flavored treats. In 1971, Soviet scientists declared that Red No. 2 was a cancer-causing agent. Public outcry in the United States was so bad that it scared companies away from producing anything red. Mars candy stopped making red M&Ms even though the company didn’t use Red No. 2 as an ingredient.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially banned Red No. 2 in 1976. In the studies, the FDA found that the chemical did cause cancer in lab rats in high doses, but it has never been shown to cause any harm to humans especially in the small doses that come in food coloring. Despite the lack of evidence supporting either case, Red No. 2 remains illegal in the United States.
Jump to blue
With the new research and ban on Red No. 2, food companies had to come up with a new color for their raspberry-flavored products. Without another red color to fall back on, a company called Gold Medal, which still makes commercial snow cone machines, decided to go in a completely different direction. While there are tons of natural fruits that are red, there are hardly any that are blue. They decided to make their raspberry products blue and call them “blue raspberry.” The first official mention of blue-raspberry snow cones is in a periodical from 1958 called “The Billboard: Outdoor Amusement Directory.”
Gold Medal might have been the first, but it wasn’t the only company looking for an alternate color for raspberry. In the early 1970s, about the same time that Gold Medal was making their blue-raspberry snow cones, Fla-Vor-Ice started making their very own blue-raspberry popsicles in their signature plastic tubes.
Everyone’s favorite slushie company, ICEE, started producing blue-raspberry flavored beverages in the 1970s as well. Blue was already a part of the ICEE brand color scheme, and the company wanted something that would contrast with their already popular red cherry flavor. Blue-raspberry quickly rivaled their flagship cherry flavor in popularity and spread across the United States.
As time went on, blue raspberry grew in popularity until it was the universally recognized flavor that it is today.
Is there any truth behind the flavor?
Ultimately, no. The artificial raspberry flavor doesn’t contain any raspberry.
There is however a wild relative of the raspberry native to western North America called Rubus leucodermisor whitebark raspberry. In most cases, the berries ripen to a dark purple or black color, but interestingly, they can sometimes turn into a brilliant blue color. While it might be fun to know there is actually a blue raspberry growing wild in the hills of California, their flavor and color combination was never used to make raspberry flavored treats; it’s purely a coincidence.