Food coloring

From New World Encyclopedia
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. It is sometimes used in cooking.

Some food colorings are extracted from natural sources, others are artificially synthesized. They are used for various purposes, such as to enhance or mask natural food colors, to provide identity to foods, and to decorate cakes and desserts. They offset the loss of natural colors when foods are exposed to light, air, temperature extremes, and moisture. Some are thought to protect flavors and vitamins present in foods from damage by light. Recent studies indicate that certain artificial coloring agents (and synthetic food preservatives) aggravate symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Several countries have therefore banned the use of some colorants.

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). At other times, it is for effect, such as a variety of children's cereals or the green ketchup that Heinz launched in 2000.

Although most consumers are aware that foods with bright or unnatural colors 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 for adding food coloring 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, 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 (Foods, Drugs and Cosmetics) numbers are given to synthetic food dyes that do not exist in nature. 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 colors are not required to be tested by FDA in the United States and many other countries.

Natural food dyes

Several food dyes are derived from natural sources. Prominent examples are given below.

  • 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 is derived from algae.
  • Cochineal is a red dye derived from cochineal insects.
  • Beet juice, turmeric, saffron, and paprika are also used as colorants.

Artificial Coloring in United States

Seven dyes were initially approved under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, but several of those 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 Blue No. 1 - Brilliant Blue FCF, E133 (Blue shade)
  • FD&C Blue No. 2 - Indigotine, E132 (Dark Blue shade)
  • FD&C Green No. 3 - Fast Green FCF, E143 (Bluish green shade)
  • FD&C Red No. 40 - Allura Red AC, E129 (Red shade)
  • FD&C Red No. 3 - Erythrosine, E127 (Pink shade)[4]
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5 - Tartrazine, E102 (Yellow shade)
  • FD&C Yellow No. 6 - Sunset Yellow FCF, E110 (Orange shade)


  • FD&C Red No. 2 - Amaranth (dye)
  • FD&C Red No. 4
  • FD&C Red No. 32‎ was used to color Florida oranges.[3]
  • 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]
  • FD&C Orange No. 2‎ was used to color Florida oranges.[3]
  • FD&C Yellows No. 1, 2, 3, and 4
  • FD&C Violet No. 1


Although earlier research showed no correlation between ADHD and food dyes,[5][6] new studies indicate that synthetic preservatives and artificial coloring agents aggravate symptoms in both those affected by this disorder and in the general population.[7][8] Older studies were inconclusive quite possibly due to inadequate clinical methods of measuring offending behavior. Parental reports were more accurate indicators of the presence of additives than clinical tests.[9] Several major studies show that academic performance increased and disciplinary problems decreased in large, non-ADHD student populations when artificial ingredients, including artificial colors, were eliminated from school food programs.[10][11]

  • Norway banned all products containing coal tar and coal-tar derivatives in 1978. New legislation lifted this ban in 2001 after EU regulations came into force. As such, many FD&C-approved colorings have been banned.
  • Tartrazine is a coal-tar derivative, and causes hives in less than 0.01 percent of those exposed to it.[2]
  • Erythrosine is linked to thyroid tumors in rats.[12]
  • Bright food coloring ban unlikely for Australia.[13]

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 they are not soluble in oil. They 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. They are not oil soluble, but they 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, and talc.

Other uses

Because food dyes are generally safer to use than normal artistic dyes and pigments, some artists have been using food coloring for painting pictures, especially in forms such as bodypainting. Also, food coloring can serve as a means of dyeing fabric. It can be fixed on nylon and animal fibers, but it is not wash-fast when used on cotton, hemp, and other plant fibers.

See also


  1. Jeannine Delwiche (2004). The impact of perceptual interactions on perceived flavor. Food Quality and Preference 15: 137–146.
  2. 2.0 2.1 FDA/CFSAN Food Color Facts. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved April 25, 2008..
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "News of Food; U. S. May Outlaw Dyes Used to Tint Oranges and Other Foods", New York Times, January 19, 1954, Tuesday. Retrieved August 21, 2007.
  4. Red No. 3 and Other Colorful Controversies. FDA. Retrieved April 25, 2008.
  5. T.E. Wilens, J. Biederman, and T.J. Spencer, 2002, "Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder across the lifespan," Annual Review of Medicine 53:113-131
  6. The MTA Cooperative Group, 1999, "A 14-month randomized clinical trial of treatment strategies for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)," Archives of General Psychiatry 56:1073-1086
  7. "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.
  8. Richard W. Pressinger (ed), 1997, Graduate Student Research Project conducted at the University of South Florida.
  9. "Food Additives May Affect Kids' Hyperactivity," WebMD Medical News May 24, 2004.
  10. A different kind of school lunch," PURE FACTS October 2002.
  11. S.J. Schoenthaler, W.E. Doraz, and J.A. Wakefield, 1986, "The Impact of a Low Food Additive and Sucrose Diet on Academic Performance in 803 New York City Public Schools," Int. J. Biosocial Res. 8(2): 185-195.
  12. Jpn J Cancer Res., 1988, Mar. 79(3):314-9
  13. Bright food colouring ban unlikely for Australia Retrieved April 25, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (U.S.). Everything Added to Food in the United States. Boca Raton, Fla: C.K. Smoley, 1993. ISBN 084938723X
  • Delgado-Vargas, Francisco, and Octavio Paredes-Lopez. Natural Colorants for Food and Nutraceutical Uses. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2002. ISBN 1587160765
  • Marmion, Daniel M. Handbook of U.S. Colorants: Foods, Drugs, Cosmetics, and Medical Devices. New York: Wiley, 1991. ISBN 0471500742
  • Otterstätter, Gisbert. Coloring of Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. CRC Press, 1999. ISBN 0824702158

External links

All links retrieved April 1, 2024.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.