Jonathan Wang '10
Certainly one of the most attractive aspects of food technology is the ultimate customizability of a product's image. With a whole bevy of colors, gums, and additives, scientists can alter the look of a food to drastically increase its appeal. People associate certain colors with certain flavors, so the color of the food influences the perceived flavor. Brighter colors look fresher, warm and deep colors seem sweet, and strange colors add appeal. Colors can artifically make a food seem more natural or palatable, often restoring the lost image of a food severely processed or shipped. This is commonly done in cherries; some beige cherries appear less attractive to people accustomed to the classic red cherry, and thus colors come in to restore the appeal. Farmers, likewise, utilize technology to give their fruit a special sheen or extra presence. It is not uncommon for berry growers, for example, to spray on an extra red coloring onto strawberries as they are growing, so that they sell better and look more delicious. An artifical additives are likewise added to grapes to make them grow to many times their original size, giving the image of plentiful bounty.
Scientists often twist the perception of food beyond the realm of color, utilizing a wide variety of gums, chemicals, and hormones, as well as genetic manipulation, that affect many different characteristics of food, ranging from consistency to nutrition. The most common is partially hydrogenated oil, which often gives foods a cake-like, cohesive structure that resembles freshly baked goods and survives for years before degrading. Other common cosmetic additives include guar gum and xanthan gum, both substances that increase the viscosity of a food (giving either a more pleasing or an entirely new sensation) and that are both used, curiously enough, in oil drilling and other industries. Preservatives serve an incredibly important purpose in the food industry's attempt to portray food in an appetizing way; despite the numerous health issues involved with artificial preservatives, they contribute greatly to keeping food fresher for a long time, ensuring the long lasting shelf life that makes certain food systems viable and duplicable. At some point, the additives added to certain becomes a point of pride, an indication of the wave of the future, as certain gum packages proudly display "now with xylitol!" and juices boast a freakishly high vitamin and mineral content. People can hardly ascertain as to what foods truly contain what, since additives become such an integral part of food science. Consumption goes from a comparison what tastes the best or what is most nutritious to what simply looks the most appetizing. Whatever simulates the desired experience wins the purchase; on the contrary, many also abhor these practices, claiming that colors cause cancer (many have been found to be as such) and organic foods is the way to go.