Hold up. Have we been lied to all these years? Is our favorite winter citrus fruit dyed to be that bright, beautiful shade? Well, it isn’t so cut and dry.
Here’s your answer, straight from the FDA: “Historically it has been the policy of the Food and Drug Administration to allow the artificial coloring of the skins of mature oranges. It is a common practice to color the skins of oranges in certain orange growing areas of the country because of climatic or cultural conditions which cause the oranges to mature while still green in color.”
Why would orange growers do such a thing?
Before nights turn cool during the orange harvesting season of January through April, orange skins might not be quite “orange enough” to be visually appealing in the produce aisle. Shoppers are more likely to purchase brightly colored fruits and veggies because the color is typically equated with dense nutrients and juice concentration. They may even be green, so some growers will spray their citrus with Citrus Red #2. (Here’s another way they entice us with not-so-bright fruit.)
Since you don’t consume the orange peel, the artificial dye shouldn’t affect the taste or texture of your citrus. However, when purchasing your oranges, you also likely won’t know whether or not they’ve been dyed, because there are no current regulations that force retailers to tell you.
Oranges aren’t the only items in the produce section that are artificially colored. There are a few other fruits and veggies that have been known to be treated with artificial dyes. They include:
- Red Delicious apples
- Maraschino cherries
- Red potatoes
Some studies have looked into dyes like Citrus Red #2 to find out if they’re harmful for human consumption. The findings aren’t very encouraging.
Can you avoid dyed oranges?
If you’re interested in eating artificially colored fruit, there are a few ways to avoid the dye:
- Buy oranges at the farmers market or food co-op instead of grocery stores.
- Shop organic to avoid pesticides and any other artificial additives.
- Look for citrus grown in California and Arizona, two states that ban Citrus Red #2.
So there you have it: Some oranges are dyed to catch your eye. Next time you’re at the grocery store, remember that the bright hues may not be so natural.