A food coloring is any substance that is added to food to change its color.
Purpose of food coloring
People learn to associate certain colors with certain flavors, and this causes the color of food to influence the perceived flavor, in anything from fruit gums to wine. For this reason, food manufacturers add dyes to their products. Sometimes the aim is to simulate a natural color as perceived by the consumer, 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.
The American food industry uses 3000 tons of food color per year.
While most consumers are aware that foods with bright, unnatural colors, like Froot Loops, are artificially colored, few people know that apparently "natural" foods such as oranges are sometimes also dyed to mask natural variations in color. Most trust the regulation of their governments to keep any unsafe additives off the market, but there is a vigorous public debate about the safety of many food colorings - a notable example being tartrazine. A growing minority believes that the effects of colorings have not been well enough researched and consider their use an unnecessary risk.
Color variation in foods throughout season and the effects of processing and storing often make color addition a commercial advantage 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 the storage conditions.
- Masking natural variations in color.
- Enhancing naturally occurring colors.
- Providing identity to foods.
- Protecting flavors and vitamins from damage by light.
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.
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 .
Although regulatory authorities like the FDA in the United States have banned many products from use in food due to safety concerns, debate still rages over the safety of those artificial colorings that are still permitted. In the USA, for example, the following artificial colorings are permitted in food:
- FD&C Blue No.1 - Brilliant Blue FCF
- FD&C Blue No.2 - Indigotine
- FD&C Green No.3 - Fast Green FCF
- FD&C Red No.40 - Allura Red AC
- FD&C Red No.3 - Erythrosine
- FD&C Yellow No.5 - Tartrazine
- FD&C Yellow No.6 - Sunset Yellow
Tartrazine is a coal-tar derivative, and causes hives in one of each ten thousand people exposed to it. 2% to 20% of asthmatics are sensitive to aspirin, and of these, less than 2.4% are also sensitive to tartrazine. Erythrosine is linked to thyroid tumors in rats.
Many of the artificial food colorings are suspected to cause reactions ranging from hyperactivity to depression to asthma-like symptoms in sensitive individuals. 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. However, controlled trials show that, even children whose parents claim that they are sensitive to these substances, and who claim that their behaviour has been improved by the Feingold diet, do not actually show any effect on their behaviour (as observed by parents, teachers and psychiatrists) when additives are returned to the diet in pill form (to eliminate psychosomatic effects), even in large concentrations .
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 products containing coal tar and coal tar derivatives. As such, many FD&C approved colorings 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.
Because they are generally safer to use than normal artistic dyes and pigments, some artists have used food coloring as a means of making pictures, often using them to paint the human body. Food coloring can also serve as a temporary fabric dye.