Food coloring

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Food coloring spreading on a thin water film.

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 cooking at home.

Purpose of food coloring[change | edit source]

People associate certain colors with certain flavors.[1] The color of the food can therefore influence its perceived flavor in anything from candy to wine.[2][1] For this reason, food manufacturers add dyes to their products. One of the reasons this is done is to simulate the colour the customer expects as natural. An example would be to add red coloring to glacé cherries. Without coloring, the cherries would be beige. Food coloring can also be done for effect, such as a green ketchup instead of an expected red. Most people are aware that food with bright or unnatural colors, such as the green ketchup mentioned, contains food coloring. Far fewer people know that "natural" foods such as oranges and salmon may also be dyed to hide natural variations in color. The color of foods varies through the seasons. Processing food and storing it may change its color. For these reasons, it may give a commercial advantage to add colors to food, so that it has the color expected or preferred by the customers. Some of the main reasons are:

  • Compensate for color lost due to light, air, extremes of temperature, moisture, and storage conditions.
  • Hide natural variations in color
  • Make the naturally occurring colors stronger
  • Give identity to food, so it can be associated with the color
  • Protect flavors and vitamins from damage by light.
  • Decorative or artistic purposes such as cake icing

Regulation[change | edit source]

Food colorings need to be tested before they can be used. These tests are done to make sure the coloring is not poisonous, and has no unwanted side-effects. Sometimes, different testing-bodies have different opinions on the safety of a certain coloring. 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. 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.[3]

Natural food dyes[change | edit source]

A growing number of natural food dyes are being commercially produced, partly due to consumer concerns surrounding synthetic dyes. Some examples include:

To make it easy to get the exact color, these color components are often available in very pure form. They can also be used with suitable carrier materials.

Dyes and lakes[change | edit source]

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 drinks, dry mixes, baked goods, confections, dairy products, pet foods and many 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[change | edit source]

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 wash-fast when used on cotton, hemp and other plant fibres. Some food dyes can be fixed on Nylon and animal fibers.

Criticism and health implications[change | edit source]

In the past, research has not shown any link between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and food dyes.[4][5] Newer studies show that synthetic preservatives and artificial coloring agents can make the symptoms of ADD and ADHD worse.[6][7] The older studies were inclonclusive on this point, perhaps because the clinical methods of measuring this behavior were inappropriate. Parents' reports of food additives proved to be better indicators whether additives were present than clinical tests.[8] Several major studies show academic performance increased and disciplinary problems decreased in large non-ADD student populations when artificial ingredients and artificial coloring were eliminated from school food programs.[9][10]

  • 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.[11]

References[change | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Larence L. Garber, Jr, Eva M. Hyatt and Richard G. Starr journal=Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice (2000). "The effects of food color on perceived flavor" (pdf). pp. 59-72. http://facstaff.elon.edu/lgarber/misc/garber-food-color-perceived-flavor.pdf.
  2. Jeannine Delwiche (2004). "The impact of perceptual interactions on perceived flavor". Food Quality and Preference 15: 137–146. doi:10.1016/S0950-3293(03)00041-7.
  3. This is done in subpart A of the Code of Federal Regulations - Title 21 Part 73. This list also contains substances which may have synthetic origins.
  4. Wilens TE, Biederman J, Spencer TJ. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder across the lifespan. Annual Review of Medicine, 2002:53:113-131
  5. The MTA Cooperative Group. A 14-month randomized clinical trial of treatment strategies for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Archives of General Psychiatry, 1999;56:1073-1086
  6. Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial”, Lancet, Sept 2007
  7. 1997 Graduate Student Research Project conducted at the University of South Florida. Author- Richard W. Pressinger M.Ed.
  8. "Food Additives May Affect Kids' Hyperactivity", WebMD Medical News, May 24, 2004
  9. A different kind of school lunch", PURE FACTS October 2002
  10. The Impact of a Low Food Additive and Sucrose Diet on Academic Performance in 803 New York City Public Schools, Schoenthaler SJ, Doraz WE, Wakefield JA, Int J Biosocial Res., 1986, 8(2); 185-195
  11. Jpn J Cancer Res. 1988 Mar;79(3):314-9

Other websites[change | edit source]