It came as a shock.
All my life, I’d believed that cheddar cheese was orange.
It was orange! That’s how you distinguished it from mozzarella.
That was a fact, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Mozzarella cheese came in big white slabs, and cheddar cheese came in big orange ones. Even kids knew that.
Living in other countries teaches you many things—different languages, customs, cuisines—but I never expected the color of cheese to be one of them.
But after years of living overseas, I started to see that the foods I’d taken for granted in America were, in fact, in a class of their own … a class in which artificial colors, preservatives, and a long shelf life crowned the winners.
The color of the foods we eat isn’t something we think about a lot. We know how food should look. Milk is white, bananas are yellow, yams are orange, and so forth. We take color for granted.
But the food industry doesn’t.
It thinks about the color of food ALL the time.
Why do you think Cheetos are so orange? Or Skittle candies so rainbow? Why do you think they never used to make blue M&Ms?
The color of foods plays an important part in how appetizing they are.
Bright colors make food fun. No wonder so many of our snack foods come in eye-popping shades. Warm tones, like orange and red, make food more appetizing than cool hues like blue or purple.
Colors that intense can’t be found in Mother Nature. They’re made in the laboratory. Each shade is tested extensively before being marketed to consumers.
What’s wrong with that?
An article published by the American Chemical Society defends the use of artificial colors, claiming that without them our favorite foods would no longer look appetizing:
About 70% of the diet of the average U.S. resident is from processed foods. Much of what we eat would not look appealing if it was not colored. Think of food coloring as cosmetics for your food.” 
Surely there’s nothing wrong with helping food look its best. Orange cheese, white cheese, what’s the difference?
The issue isn’t the color. It’s how the color is made.
Food colorings can be made in two ways. They can be made naturally from organic sources, or they can be made artificially in the lab.
Artificial colors are cheaper to produce, easier to customize to a specific hue, and have a longer shelf life. No wonder food manufacturers love them!
But there’s a dark side.
Researchers are finding more and more cases of adverse responses to food coloring, particularly in children. 
Few remember it now, but back in 1976 M&M discontinued the red version of their candy for a decade, due to health concerns over the most popular red food coloring at the time, Red No. 2.
In fact, food dyes have become such a source of concern in the European Union that in 2010 the EU banned artificial colorings in foods intended for infants or young children.
The candy jars in the local sweet shops didn’t go gray overnight. European candy is still a rainbow of colors. It’s just that those colors are derived from natural sources, like carotenoids and chlorophyll. Consumers don’t notice the difference.
The EU feels so strongly about the issue that artificially-colored food imported from the US must carry a warning label.
I was browsing the aisles of the local supermarket in Sussex, England when I made a thrilling discovering. There in their foreign foods aisle—sandwiched between the Irish and Jamaican food—was an American section!
It sold such exotic delicacies as Aunt Jemima syrup, Crisco shortening, Lucky Charms, and Butterfinger bars.
I picked up a box of eggnog, interested to see if it was genuinely made in America. A label on the side gave details of the company that imported the product … and this:
May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children?
My beloved American food—this gift my country shared with the world—carried a sticker of shame.
The breakfast cereal boxes were just as bad. Every single one contained a label warning European consumers about a potential adverse effect on children.
These were cereals marketed to children. Why weren’t these labels required in my own country?
I left the supermarket stunned, clutching a box of Reese’s Puffs to my chest.
I loved American breakfast cereal, and yet I’d had no idea. I’d thought the only problem was the high sugar content. How could any parent knowingly feed this stuff to their child again?
Then I started talking to people.
I met American mothers who couldn’t feed those cereals to their children. Not out of some position of moral authority, but because their children’s behavior was adversely affected. Just as the EU label predicted.
If it’s doing that to our children, what is it doing to us?
Like most American mothers, I’m always reaching for the cheddar cheese when it comes to making meals. Cheese makes everything taste better.
But what’s in that cheese?
Cheese is made from milk. Milk is white. Therefore, all cheese is white, unless something has been added to it … like mold in the case of blue cheese, or a food dye (usually annatto, which has also been linked to hyperactivity in children) in the case of cheddar.
European cheddar cheese is as white as milk. It’s gorgeous.
So why can’t our cheddar free itself from orange expectations?
It turns out I didn’t have to worry about confusing cheddar for mozzarella in foreign grocery stores after all. European mozzarella comes in a little ball, surrounded with a water or brine solution.
These days, I do my part. I hunt for the dye-free “white” cheddar. I look for the “no artificial colors” label. Little by little, as customers change, food manufacturers will, too. You don’t need a chemistry lab to make a rainbow.