Fruit fiction: Is it blueberry or blue dye?

Not all products that claim to contain this healthy fruit really do

Consumer Reports magazine: December 2012

Illustration: Christoph Hitz

Eagle-eyed readers are noticing a hot trend in food labeling: Products whose packages boast “blueberry” and even feature images of the antioxidant-rich superfruit but in fact contain no blueberry (and sometimes no fruit at all). “There’s a plethora of fake fruit claims out there,” says Stephen Gardner, director of litigation for the consumer watchdog Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has taken action several times against what Gardner calls Frankenfruit.

A package of Welch’s Blueberry Fruit ‘n Yogurt Snacks, for example, features the claim “made with real fruit” alongside a picture of fresh blueberries. “Imagine my surprise when I realized the main ingredient was grapes!” a reader wrote. (The first ingredient: “fruit puree,” of which blueberry is the third component by weight; the first two are grape and apple.) “We use the name and image of blueberries on the package because blueberry is the characterizing fruit flavor,” said a spokesman for The Promotion In Motion Companies, licensee of these snacks.

Other readers wrote us about Blueberry Craisins, whose package pictures fresh blueberries and cranberries. The label says "blueberry," but that word is followed by a much smaller qualifier: "juice infused." So the product is a version of Craisins’ usual dried cranberries, with no actual blueberries. Blueberry juice concentrate is fourth on the ingredients list.

The ingredients in blueberry bagels sold at Target include “blueberry bits,” which aren’t bits of blueberry but rather blobs of sugar, partially hydrogenated oil, and blue food dye. Natural and artificial blueberry flavoring show up later in the ingredients list; real blueberries, even later. And Betty Crocker’s Blueberry Muffin Mix? Hard-to-read print says, “Imitation blueberries, artificially flavored.”

The trend extends to other popular fruits. A reader in Cummaquid, Mass., who was “really hungry and in a hurry” bought packs of Quaker Multigrain Fiber Crisps Blackberry Pomegranate, showing a cut-open pomegranate bursting with seeds next to two blackberries. Only later did he notice the tiny type stating, “Does not contain fruit.”

Bottom line. Don’t think you can get an out-of-season fruit fix from products that show fruit on the label. Read ingredients lists. The message, says nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix, “is to include more blueberries in your diet, not to look for products that have a hint of blueberry or maybe none at all.”

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