Will green ketchup lead us to more colors in cuisine?

Monday, July 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

If green ketchup is coming, can purple mustard or red and blue nacho cheese sauces be far behind?

The announcement this week by the H.J. Heinz Co. that it will begin making green ketchup struck some people as pretty zany. But Chris Wolf of Food Channel, a national firm that tracks food trends, says manufacturers have been breaking the color rules for the past 10 years.

"It started with packaging," Mr. Wolf says. "Used to be, you never used green, because green was moldy or bad. You didn't use black, because that was death."

Makers of microwave foods led the way to packaging changes, he says, then manufacturers starting toying with the actual foods.

Once, food was never blue "except for blueberries," he says, but "crazy blue" happened several years ago in candy and went on to beverages. Now you find a rainbow of hues in apple sauces, fruit leathers, cookies and other products targeted primarily at children. And certain grocery stores already sell purple potatoes and maroon carrots.

"Kids don't have preconceived ideas about what color something should be," Mr. Wolf says. "Psychologically, they like something that's made just for them - and if it's also something the parents don't want, that makes it all the more interesting."

"Yuck" is what some adults are saying to green ketchup and the idea of ballpark hotdogs and nachos eventually being coordinated to home team colors. Green and yellow for the Dallas Stars, anyone?

At Club Schmitz off Harry Hines, a popular noon hangout for beer and burgers, owner Larry Schmitz says green Heinz won't be on the menu. "I'm very nonconditioned to change," he says, "To me, ketchup is red and red and red."

Kevin Murphy, general manager for the Ball's Hamburgers restaurants, which cater to youngsters, is more amenable. "I kind of laughed when I first saw . . . [the green ketchup]," he says. "But if it tastes good and it's something kids would like, why not?"

Jon Clope, who approves all food products for The Ballpark in Arlington, says he personally has no interest in the new ketchup. However, whether it will be available at The Ballpark depends on whether Heinz makes it available in the small individual packets the stadium uses.

Tinted queso would be even harder to swallow, Mr. Clope says. "I'm not much interested in having blue cheese on my nachos."

At the Green Room, sous chef Garreth Dickey says the Heinz product would be nixed because it contains food dye, a no-no at the trendy Deep Ellum spot.

Like Mr. Dickey, Jim Severson, chef-owner of Sevy's on Preston Road, expressed surprise that Heinz won't make the ketchup with actual green tomatoes or tomatillos.

But Mr. Severson says he will probably use the product "if it passes the taste test with my 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter." He wonders about Heinz's reasoning, though. "I'm trying to figure out why they did it," he says. "Heinz ketchup is an institution."

Restaurant creator Phil Romano will offer green ketchup at We Oui bistro and Nick & Sam's steakhouse "because kids who come in with their parents will expect it."

He also is open to color changes in mustards and other hot dog accoutrements. At Wild About Harry's, the frankfurter-custard spots, which Mr. Romano is helping expand, the relish is "remarkably different, almost aqua," Mr. Romano says. "People seem to like it."

However, he notes, "Food dyes could become an issue. Maybe some people are going to think they're bad."

Some children may be resistant to food changes. At Le Petit Gourmet, Martha Kean says the 10- to 14-year-olds in her advanced cooking classes are "aghast" at the idea of green ketchup.

"They think it's a terrible idea," Ms. Kean says. "It has no appeal for them, and they can't see it appealing to younger children, either."

She says that most of her students have more sophisticated tastes than the average child, "but they still want a pizza that looks like pizza and hamburger and fries that look like hamburger and fries."

Trend guru Faith Popcorn of Brain Reserve notes, however, that Heinz "involved parents and kids in developing the whole thing."

That's smart, she says, "because when companies involve consumers, they feel they have an ownership or special interest" and are more likely to buy the product.

Ms. Popcorn, who is known for coining terms ("couch potato," for one), calls the colorization of foods "fantasy adventure." She says she first mentioned the trend in a 1991 book, "when blue and red corn chips were coming in."

Now, she's thinking, some food companies may be "almost going too far.

"The colorization of foods is the norm now," she says, "so there's almost nothing special about it."

Waltrina Stovall is a Dallas free-lance writer.