When the spring issue of Edible Jersey arrived, Clio greeted the cupcake cover with a giddy grin. “Pink,” she proclaimed lovingly, bringing the magazine close to her nose as if to smell it, as if it were a bowl of soup or a cup of morning honey water.
The truth is, Clio’s eating is informed strongly by color. According to a fascinating Week in Review piece by Gardiner Harris, without added color, even strongly flavored foods like Cheetos are perceived as “bland” in taste tests. “When tasteless yellow coloring is added to vanilla pudding, consumers say it tastes like banana or lemon pudding,” Harris writes. “And when mango or lemon flavoring is added to white pudding, most consumers say that it tastes like vanilla pudding. Color creates a psychological expectation for a certain flavor that is often impossible to dislodge.”
For Clio, the pink thing extends well beyond food to include her preferred clothing color, bedding color, toy color and more. A pink car, a stranger in a pink shirt, a pink-hued leaf in the fall, have all inspired smiles and shouts of glee from Clio.
So, in the case of food, being pink sure helps Clio clean her plate, like in the case of these foods that she has eaten with sometimes irrational enthusiasm:
– Watermelon radish, which was a big hit, raw or cooked, peeled or unpeeled, seasoned or unseasoned.
– Umeboshi plum vinegar, which scores double points as a garnish and dipping sauce because it is bright pink (“Ruby red,” according to the manufacturer) and because the Eden Organic brand label bears the head of a bird (which Clio and her younger brother, Cyrus, love to point out).
– Pink-colored ginger at sushi joints.
– Pink-decorated rice balls, sushi or animal-shaped rice cakes made by our friend and neighbor, Sag Harbor artist Jill Musnicki. Per Musnicki’s aesthetic, these are made with natural-food colorings or her own homemade, food-based dyes (using beets, for instance).
– Any dairy product, pastry or confection that is pink. While eating a piece of a Cherry Grarcia ice cream bar, Clio recently offered a two-fold explanation of why she loved it: “It’s yummy. And it’s pink.”
– And, of course, strawberries, which are just around the corner–not really, but I’m ever hopeful.
The importance of being pink falls into a broader category of food preparations (manipulations?) that can appeal to a tepid eater, and encourage a child to finish more of what’s on their plate even after they have lost interest, including:
– The importance of being shaped like a ball, which is effective with ground beef, bread and butter, rice, and oatmeal.
– The importance of being well-seasoned. Our experience has been that kids love flavorful foods, even though many recipes for kids call for minimal salt and other seasoning. When our kids poke unenthusiastically at their food, a sprinkle of sea salt or soy sauce or a squirt of ketchup can revive their appetites.
– The importance of dipping sauce. This is a variation on “being well-seasoned” that includes giving the child a small plate or bowl of dipping sauce (oil and vinegar, soy and sesame oil, etc.) and encouraging them to dip, dip, dip.
– The importance of helping with the growing, harvesting and/or cooking, as in the recent herring roe eating episode.
“Color can actually override the other parts of the eating experience,” a food chemist says in the Harris piece. In our kitchen, we try to put it in context. Hopefully, Clio’s penchant for pink doesn’t steer her away from healthy, excellent food experiences, or attract her to horrible food and drink. She has been known to gaze blissfully at pink Gatorade in grocery stores; ditto for pink-colored kombucha. (Will she fall prey to Lady Gaga’s meat fetish, perhaps with rose-colored veal?)
And, while Clio may always be partial to wearing pink, that particular color’s hold might be softening in her food world. After consistently demanding strawberry ice cream at both LT Burger and Bay Burger in Sag Harbor–our two local ice cream joints–she recently broke from the norm and ordered a chocolate and vanilla combo, which she saw an older girl order just before her. The girl, it’s worth noting, was dressed all in pink.