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Food coloring

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A food coloring is any substance that is added to food to change its color. It is sometimes used in cooking.


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 to wine. [1] 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 that Heinz 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.[2] 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.
  • Decorating 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, FD&C (generally indicates that the FDA has approved the colorant for use in Foods, Drugs and Cosmetics) 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 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 food dyes

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

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. [3]

Current seven

In the USA, the following seven artificial colorings are permitted in food (the most common in bold) as of 2007:


  • FD&C Red No. 2 - Amaranth (dye)
  • FD&C Red No. 4 [5]
  • FD&C Red No. 32‎ was used to color Florida oranges. [3] [5]
  • FD&C Orange No. 1, was one of the first water soluble dyes to be commercialized, and one of seven original food dyes allowed under the Pure Food and Drug Act of June 30, 1906.[3] [5]
  • FD&C Orange No. 2‎ was used to color Florida oranges. [3]
  • FD&C Yellows No. 1, 2, 3, and 4 [5]
  • FD&C Violet No. 1 [5]


  • 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 is a coal-tar derivative, and causes hives in less than 0.01% of those exposed to it [2].
  • Erythrosine is linked to thyroid tumors in rats.[6]

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.

Other uses

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 bodypainting. Food coloring can serve as a means of dyeing fabric, however it is not washfast when used on cotton, hemp and other plant fibres, although it can be fixed on Nylon and animal fibres.


  1. ^ Jeannine Delwiche (2004). "The impact of perceptual interactions on perceived flavor". Food Quality and Preference 15: 137–146.
  2. ^ a b FDA/CFSAN Food Color Facts. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved on 2006-09-07.
  3. ^ a b c d "News of Food; U. S. May Outlaw Dyes Used to Tint Oranges and Other Foods", New York Times, January 19, 1954, Tuesday. Retrieved on 2007-08-21. "The use of artificial colors to make foods more attractive to the eye may be sharply curtailed by action of the United States Food and Drug Administration. Three of the most extensively used coal tar dyes are being considered for removal from the Government's list of colors certified as safe for internal and external use and consumption." 
  4. ^ Red No. 3 and Other Colorful Controversies. FDA. Retrieved on 2007-08-26. “FDA terminated the provisional listings for FD&C Red No. 3 on January 29, 1990, at the conclusion of its review of the 200 straight colors on the 1960 provisional list. Commonly called erythrosine, FD&C Red No. 3 is a tint that imparts a watermelon-red color and was one of the original seven colors on Hesse's list.”
  5. ^ a b c d e "Food coloring", Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved on 2007-08-21. "Among the colours that have been “delisted,” or disallowed, in the United States are FD&C Orange No. 1; FD&C Red No. 32; FD&C Yellows No. 1, 2, 3, and 4; FD&C Violet No. 1; and FD&C Reds No. 2 and 4. Many countries with similar food colouring controls (including Canada and Great Britain) also ban the use of Red No. 40, and Yellow No. 5 is also undergoing testing." 
  6. ^ Jpn J Cancer Res. 1988 Mar;79(3):314-9

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Food_coloring". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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