A food coloring is any substance that is added to food or drink to change its color. Food coloring is used both in commercial food production and in domestic cooking. Due to its safety and general availability, food coloring is also used in a variety of non-food applications, for example in home craft projects and educational settings.
Purpose of food coloring
People associate certain colors
with certain flavors
, and the color of food
can influence the perceived
flavor, in anything from candy
For this reason, food manufacturers add dyes to their products. Sometimes the aim is to simulate a color that is perceived by the consumer as natural, such as adding red coloring to glacé cherries
(which would otherwise be beige), but sometimes it is for effect, like the green ketchup
launched in 2000.
While most consumers are aware that foods with bright or unnatural colors (such as the green ketchup mentioned above or children's cereals such as Froot Loops) likely contain food coloring, far fewer people know that seemingly "natural" foods such as oranges and salmon are sometimes also dyed to mask natural variations in color. Color variation in foods throughout the seasons and the effects of processing and storage often make color addition commercially advantageous to maintain the color expected or preferred by the consumer. Some of the primary reasons include:
- Offsetting color loss due to light, air, extremes of temperature, moisture, and storage conditions.
- Masking natural variations in color.
- Enhancing naturally occurring colors.
- Providing identity to foods.
- Protecting flavors and vitamins from damage by light.
- Decorative or artistic purposes such as cake icing
Food colorings are tested for safety by various bodies around the world and sometimes different bodies have different views on food color safety. In the United States
(generally indicates that the FDA has approved the colorant for use in Foods, Drugs
) numbers are given to approved synthetic food dyes that do not exist in nature, while in the European Union
, E numbers
are used for all additives, both synthetic and natural, that are approved in food applications.
Most other countries have their own regulations and list of food colors which can be used in various applications, including maximum daily intake limits.
Natural colors are not required to be tested by a number of regulatory bodies throughout the world, including the United States FDA. The FDA lists "color additives exempt from certification" for food in subpart A of the Code of Federal Regulations - Title 21 Part 73 However, this list contains substances which may have synthetic origins.
Natural food dyes
A growing number of natural food dyes are being commercially produced, partly due to consumer concerns surrounding synthetic dyes. Some examples include:
To ensure reproducibility, the colored components of these substances are often provided in highly purified form, and for increased stability and convenience, they can be formulated in suitable carrier materials (solid and liquid).
Artifical Coloring in United States
Seven dyes were initially approved under the Pure Food and Drug Act
of 1906, but several have been delisted and replacements have been found.
In the USA, the following seven artificial colorings are permitted in food (the most common in bold) as of 2007
The above are known as "Primary Colors", when they are mixed to produce other colors, those colors are then known as "Secondary Colors".
Dyes and lakes
In the United States
, certifiable color additives are available for use in food as either "dyes" or "lakes".
Dyes dissolve in water, but are not soluble in oil. Dyes are manufactured as powders, granules, liquids or other special purpose forms. They can be used in beverages, dry mixes, baked goods, confections, dairy products, pet foods and a variety of other products. Dyes also have side effects which lakes do not, including the fact that large amounts of dyes ingested can color stools.
Lakes are the combination of dyes and insoluble material. Lakes tint by dispersion. Lakes are not oil soluble, but are oil dispersible. Lakes are more stable than dyes and are ideal for coloring products containing fats and oils or items lacking sufficient moisture to dissolve dyes. Typical uses include coated tablets, cake and donut mixes, hard candies and chewing gums, lipsticks, soaps, shampoos, talc etc.
Because food dyes are generally safer to use than normal artistic dyes and pigments, some artists have used food coloring as a means of making pictures, especially in forms such as body-painting.
Food colorings can be used to dye fabric
, but are usually not washfast when used on cotton, hemp and other plant fibres. Some food dyes can be fixed on Nylon and animal fibers.
Criticism and health implications
Though past research showed no correlation between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
and food dyes, new studies now point to synthetic preservatives and artificial coloring agents as aggravating ADD & ADHD symptoms, both in those affected by these disorders and in the general population; Older studies were inconclusive quite possibly due to inadequate clinical methods of measuring offending behavior. Parental reports were more accurate indicators of the presence of additives than clinical tests. Several major studies show academic performance increased and disciplinary problems decreased in large non-ADD student populations when artificial ingredients, including artificial colors were eliminated from school food programs.
- Norway banned all products containing coal tar and coal tar derivatives in 1978. New legislation lifted this ban in 2001 after EU regulations. As such, many FD&C approved colorings have been banned.
- Tartrazine causes hives in less than 0.01% of those exposed to it .
- Erythrosine is linked to thyroid tumors in rats.