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I stopped by a farm stand last weekend, and found the strawberries were rather pale looking. I commented on this, and the farmer assured me that this was no worry, and that furthermore I should be wary of bright red strawberries. His claim was that bright red strawberries at the supermarket are in fact dyed that color.

Is it common practice to dye berries? Is it even legal? Is this something one would normally expect to find at a grocery store, or is a technique used elsewhere (say, commercially, or in restaurants?) Or is this guy just trying to convince me to buy his product?

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I don't know if they are dyed or not, but I can assure you that it is perfectly possible to grow strawberries the same color as in the supermarket. My grandparents grew different sorts of strawberries and each of them had its own color, many of them bright red. –  rumtscho May 17 '12 at 15:50
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Indeed, I've grown bright red strawberries as well... but then I'm not industrial berry grower. I think the claim was not that all red berries are dyed, but rather that you can't assume that red berries are naturally so. My apologies if I was unclear or misrepresented his assertions. –  Ray May 17 '12 at 16:15
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This sounds like a question for Skeptics to investigate. –  Flimzy May 17 '12 at 17:02
    
I suppose it could be posted there as well but it's not exactly off topic for SA –  Ray May 17 '12 at 17:05
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Oh, I'm not so concerned about a prize.. just looking to participate in the group effort with the community here :) –  Ray May 17 '12 at 17:26
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Strawberries turn a natural red color in their ripening process. This is usually a very strong, ruby-red color. Rest assured, strawberries in the US are not dyed. FDA clearly lists all adulteration done to fruits (oranges can be dyed), but strawberries only has a regulation of when the product is considered moldy, etc. Note that even though dyed strawberries may not be sold in US, they may be exported in countries that permit it ( fruit intended for export is exempt).

Rest of the world is a different story. It wouldn't be uncommon for you to find strawberries that are picked too early in the process, or are just grown in poor conditions that are dyed red to give it the luscious red appearance. There have been anecdotal reports of this in China - this color comes right off when washed, showing a white strawberry. Strawberries do leech a red fluid when washed, but that shouldn't result in a white strawberry.

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I wonder why strawberries from California are so tasteless. Perhaps lack of alteration? –  Doug May 19 '12 at 6:38
    
You obviously haven't had good strawberries from California :) There are many different varieties. For example, I find the Ontario variety to be extra-juicy (its literally dripping) and extra-sweet. They are also much much smaller than other varieties! –  Swati May 19 '12 at 11:58
    
Strawberries are notoriously perishable. Around here, the ones from CA must be a variety tough enough to survive a multi-day trip over the mountains. Shipability and flavor are negatively related for many fruits abd veggies. –  Wayfaring Stranger Jan 14 at 15:01
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I found a patent titled “Method for dyeing strawberry.” That such patents exist doesn't mean it's legal to apply the techniques they describe in food sold for consumption though. It's easy enough to find out that the FDA has regulations for dyed oranges. But I haven't found any page on their site about regulations for dyes applied to strawberries. I'm going to assume that unless someone can dig up such a page, the FDA hasn't approved any strawberry dyeing practices. So to (tentatively) answer your question, oranges might be dyed with “Citrus Red No. 2”, but strawberries aren't dyed (at least in the US).

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I think it's safe to say that most strawberries sold commercially in the US are not dyed, and that this would be an uncommon practice. The label on most boxes just says "strawberries", doesn't it?

I can't comment on the legality of dying fruit to produce a more attractive color.

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The lack of dye in an ingredients list does not mean it wasn't dyed. Meat is commonly dyed at super markets (at least according to my supermarket-butcher friend) and majority of fruits are coated in fruit wax, but I can't recall ever seeing either on the packaging. –  Wulfhart May 17 '12 at 23:39
    
I have heard that oranges and grapefruits are regularly dyed as well, but I don't have a source for this. –  user5561 May 18 '12 at 4:34
    
@Wulfhart: do you have non-anecdotal evidence for meat being dyed? Also, I am not sure about the legislation where you live, but in Europe if you put a dye in foodstuff you need by law to write it in the ingredient list (Directive 2003/89/EC). –  nico May 18 '12 at 19:33
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@nico I can't find non anecdotal evidence for actual dye. There is the chance I misunderstood my friend or it was just his supermarket. On a similiar note, they do use carbon monoxide to keep meat from oxidizing. Not exactly dye, but still changes the color of meat. washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/19/… –  Wulfhart May 18 '12 at 21:13
    
@Wulfhart: interesting, I didn't know about CO –  nico May 19 '12 at 7:53
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