What Is Food Coloring Made?

Food coloring is made from either petroleum-based chemicals that are United States Food and Drug Administration approved, or from extracts that come from natural food sources. The FDA requires that all labels on food and beverages include all the artificial coloring that a product contains. Synthetic or man-made food coloring are assigned Federal Food and Drug Cosmetic numbers (FD&C) that are regulated by the FDA.

People use food coloring for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons include compensating the color that is lost due to exposure to the elements and storage conditions; to correct the natural variations in color; to enhance naturally occurring colors; and to give color to otherwise colorless fun foods.

The following are the artificial coloring approved by the FDA:

  • FD&C Blues Nos. 1 and 2
  • FD&C Green No. 3
  • FD&C Nos. 3 and 40
  • FD&C Yellow Nos. 5 and 6
  • Orange B
  • Citrus Red No. 2

The artificial food colors Orange B and Citrus Red No. 2 are only allowed for certain types of food. Citrus Red No. 2 is allowed only to be used on orange peels, while Orange B is allowed only for sausage casings and hot dogs.

Food coloring that is extracted from natural sources does not require FDA regulation. These naturally occurring food coloring sources include annatto extract, beta-carotene extract or carmine, paprika oleoresin, caramel color, fruit and vegetable juices and saffron.