I never liked the blue M&M.
In 1995, people were able to call a 1-800 number and vote for a new M&M color. The candidates included a blue, a pink, and a purple M&M. Winning the highest vote against the other two, blue was added to the mix. But it wasn’t just an addition. It was a replacement—for the tan M&M.
Prior to this change the M&M palette included the following colors: red, orange, yellow, green, dark brown and tan. When I realized that the tan M&M was gone and blue was here to stay, I was visibly upset for one reason: it didn’t make sense.
The previous colors followed an analogous scheme plus two neutrals (the browns). They were also hues that appealed to human perception. Some of us may recall the fun colored ketchups that Heinz introduced a few years ago. We don’t see them around anymore because they didn’t fare too well. Tomatoes are red and our brains know that. Colored ketchup pointed more towards decay and something unnatural than something one would want to eat. Tomatoes just don’t occur blue and purple in nature. But then, does chocolate occur red, orange and green in nature? Actually yes.
The cocoa bean from the cacao tree that chocolate is derived from is dark brown in color, but the tree itself and its fruit pods at various stages of ripening do in fact reflect the colors of the earlier M&M palette.
Many years ago, when my aunt gave me my first lesson in color theory, we had been talking about clothing and prints. She explained that color schemes and combinations are derived from the schemes and combinations that already exist in our natural surroundings.
A blue M&M, is not natural.
On that note, as awareness increases concerning food dyes, more and more companies are now turning to natural food dyes as a better alternatives. Artificial colors are on their way out, but they seem to be taking their vibrancy with them.
For several years now I’ve been reading the name Spirulina in the ingredient list for Nestle Smarties. I noticed long ago that that the brilliant colors that existed in Smarties when I was younger had started to literally fade over time. And for some time, blue was not even present anymore. When it did return, it was washed out like it had been run under a faucet.
It was recently that I learned that Spirulina, a green-blue algae, is one of the only sources of a natural blue, period. A satisfactory blue can take many iterations to achieve and results are not always consistent.
Apparently nature itself doesn’t lend itself to blue candies either.
The New York Times posted an intriguing article the other day that gave elaborate insight into the painstaking process that exists behind making a natural blue, which is what I want to share in this post. It’s quite the read: