Blue raspberry, a flavor—or perhaps more accurately, a color—found in an innumerable variety of candies, frozen confections, and drinks, dazzles the eye, confounds the taste buds, and baffles the mind. No naturally occurring berries boast that particular shade of blue, least of all raspberries. So where did this odd creation come from?
Red Flavors in General
To discover the answer, we need to travel back to the 1950s. Throughout most of the '50s, red candies and confections came in one of four flavors: cherry, strawberry, watermelon, and raspberry. The first three flavors came to be universally associated with dark red, light red, and light pink colors, respectively.
But manufacturers sought to distinguish raspberry from the other three shades of red by using a darker, wine-colored shade of red derived from a dye called amaranth, or FD&C Red No. 2.
FD&C Red No. 2
Against a backdrop of increasing awareness of the possible health effects of various food additives, which was in turn driven by the increasing consumption of mass-produced foods using artificial flavors and colors, studies of food additives were undertaken.
One such study found that large doses of FD&C No. 2 were associated with cancer in laboratory animals. Critics said that the equivalent massive quantities of Red No. 2 could never be ingested through candy in a human lifetime.
Nevertheless, the government passed legislation, known as the Food Additives Amendment, requiring that manufacturers be able to prove that the additives in their foods were safe. And since there was no way to prove that Red No. 2 was safe, it was in effect banned in 1976, leaving children everywhere clueless as to how to distinguish raspberry candies from cherry or strawberry.
FD&C Blue No. 1
Around this time, FD&C Blue No. 1 was a color in search of a flavor. Also known as Brilliant Blue FCF, it had been in use since the 1930s in cosmetics and soaps, but not in foods—with one notable exception.
The liqueur Curacao, which is the key ingredient in the classic Blue Hawaii cocktail, has been colored blue since at least 1933, using Blue No. 1. In fact, it's still colored that way today.
The Blue Hawaii cocktail was developed during the height of post-World War II beach culture, which peaked during the late 1950s in the period immediately leading up to Hawaiian statehood in 1959. And it was the very next year that the Food Colorants Amendment, requiring food colorings to be safe, was passed, effectively banning the later use of Red No. 2.
The point is, at the precise moment that Red No. 2 was being banned, blue beverages were massively popular, even trendy (albeit among adults, not children).
That was also the year that blue confections, also using Blue No. 1, started appearing at outdoor carnivals and amusement parks, in the form of blue cotton candy and blue snow cones.
The company that promoted and distributed this new blue flavoring, Gold Medal, also manufactured snow cone machines and cotton candy machines. (They're still in business, and they're completely unrelated to the flour company of the same name.)
Enter The ICEE
The year 1958 also saw the founding, in Southern California, of the ICEE company, which proceeded to build a business around its cherry-flavored frozen slushy, which was, of course, bright red. In 1965, the company licensed its product to 7-11, which renamed it the Slurpee.
By 1970, the company was looking to introduce a new product, but to do so, it needed to be utterly different from the bright red cherry Slurpee. Enter the blue raspberry ICEE, which derived its distinctively vivid shade of blue from none other than Blue No. 1.
At around this same time, a frozen treat called Otter Pops began appearing on supermarket shelves, in various flavors including one—Louis-Blue Raspberry, which was likewise colored with Blue No. 1. Since then, the dam has basically broken with everything from Pop-Tarts to Peeps, and even Twinkies, offering a blue raspberry version.
But Does It Taste Like Raspberries?
All of this has nothing to do with flavor. Blue No. 1 is a color only, and its use has no impact whatsoever on the flavor of the thing it's added to. Artificial flavors are produced by combining chemical compounds called esters.
And raspberry is quite a complicated flavor to duplicate, as it features all kinds of notes, from vanilla to celery to jasmine. Rather than go to that level of detail, flavor-makers seeking to approximate the flavor of raspberry tend to simplify, focusing mainly on blends of banana, cherry, and pineapple.
Of course, the main flavoring ingredient in raspberry candies and confections, blue or otherwise, is sugar, which is why, apart from the shade of blue it dyes your tongue, a blue raspberry ICEE tastes no more like raspberries than a cherry one tastes like cherries.
Omaye ST. Food and Nutritional Toxicology. CRC Press; 2004.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Color additives status list. Updated November 8, 2021.