Food coloring

From Academic Kids

The color of food is considered important in its enjoyment.

Coloring adds interest and appeal: Heinz's recent release of green ketchup is only the tip of the iceberg. While foods like Froot Loops are obviously artificially colored, few people know that oranges can be as well.

Color variation in foods throughout season and the effects of processing and storing often make color addition necessary to maintain the expected color. Some of the primary reasons include:

  • Offsetting color loss due to light, air, extremes of temperature, moisture, and the storage conditions.
  • Masking natural variations in color.
  • Enhancing naturally occurring colors.
  • Providing identity to foods.
  • Protecting flavors and vitamins.

Food colorings are tested for safety by various bodies around the world. In the United States, FD&C (standing for the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) numbers are given to approved dyes, while in the European Union E numbers are used.



  • FD&C Yellow No. 5, also known as Tartrazine, is a coal-tar derivative, and causes hives in one of each ten thousand people exposed to it.
  • FD&C Red No. 3 is linked to thyroid tumors in rats.
  • American industry puts 3000 tons of food color into processed food per year.
  • Chemically, there is no distinction between a compound synthesized within a plant and the same compound synthesized by a laboratory.

Natural food dyes

Caramel coloring is found in Coca-Cola and other cola products. It is made from caramelized sugar. Annatto is a reddish-orange dye made from the seed of a tropical tree. Chlorella is green, and derived from algae. Cochineal is a red dye derived from cochineal insects. Beet juice, turmeric, saffron and paprika are also used as colorants.

Health problems

Many of the artificial food colorings cause reactions in sensitive individuals ranging from hyperactivity to depression to asthma-like symptoms. Dr. Benjamin Feingold pioneered research in the field and founded an organization devoted to helping sensitive individuals stay away from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.

Individuals who have asthmatic symptoms when exposed to Yellow Dye No. 5 can also be allergic to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and salicylic acid, and are cautioned to avoid them.

Norway has banned all coal tar containing products, and coal tar derivitives. As such, many FD&C approved colourings have been banned.

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.

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.

Other uses

Some artists have used food coloring as a means of making pictures, often using them to paint the human body.

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