Common Food Additives – Dyes and Colorants

Written by Kajsa IngelssonJanuary 14, 2019

Long gone are the days where food just contained natural ingredients from our planet earth. Many of the foods stocking the supermarkets of today actually contains more chemicals than anything else. Sure, some of these are safe, but others (most of em) not so much.

I previously written about citric acid, the black mold namely disguised after a natural diverient of lemons. Today i’m investigating the not so black and white world of artificial food coloring.

Color me blind?

As the name reveals, artificial food colors are chemical dyes used to color food and drinks. Many types of processed foods, candies, beverages and condiments have artificial coloring in them.

There’s quite a few studies made on these colorants. Some of the results includes;

Artificial food color is suspected of causing increased hyperactivity in children. Also, the dye Yellow No. 5 has been thought to worsen asthma symptoms. In the 1970s, the FDA famously banned Red Dye No. 2 after some studies found that large doses could cause cancer in rats.

Ok, so how can you find them on a label?

The following artificial colors are approved for use in food products and must be listed as ingredients on labels:

  • 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)
  • Orange B (restricted to use in hot dog and sausage casings)

There’s also a few naturally based colorants out there;

  • Annatto (E160b), a reddish-orange dye made from the seed of the achiote
  • Anthocyanins (E163)
  • Betanin (E162)
  • Caramel coloring (E150a-d), made from caramelized sugar
  • Carmine (E120), a red dye derived from the cochineal insect, Dactylopius coccus
  • Carotenoids (E160, E161, E164)
  • Chlorophyllin (E140, E141)
  • Elderberry juice (E163)
  • Lycopene (E160d)
  • Paprika (E160c)
  • Turmeric (E100)

However, for stability and convenience, these can be formulated in suitable carrier materials using hexane, acetone, and other solvents to break down cell walls in the fruit and vegetables and allow for maximum extraction of the coloring. Traces of these may still remain in the finished colorant, but they do not need to be declared on the product label.

Personally im staying clear of colorants. It’s easy to do when you cook your own food or eat food with a few and real ingredients. I’ll leave the coloring to my meditation hour with some pencils and a coloring book…