Food coloring, or color additive, is any dye, pigment or substance that imparts color when it is added to food or drink. They come in many forms consisting of liquids, powders, gels and pastes. Food coloring is used both in commercial food production and in domestic cooking. Due to its safety and general availability, food coloring is also used in a variety of non-food applications including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, home craft projects and medical devices.
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. 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 1999. Color additives are used in foods for many reasons including:
- offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions
- correct natural variations in color
- enhance colors that occur naturally
- provide color to colorless and “fun” foods
Color additives are recognized as an important part of many foods we eat
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 numbers (which indicate that the FDA has approved the colorant for use in foods, drugs and cosmetics) 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, both synthetic and natural, that are approved in food applications. The food colors are known by E numbers that begin with a 1, such as E100 (turmeric) or E161b (lutein).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 certified by a number of regulatory bodies throughout the world, including the United States FDA. The FDA lists “color additives exempt from certification” for food in subpart A of the Code of Federal Regulations – Title 21 Part 73. However, this list contains substances which may have synthetic origins. FDA’s permitted colors are classified as subject to certification or exempt from certification, both of which are subject to rigorous safety standards prior to their approval and listing for use in foods.
- Certified colors are synthetically produced and are used widely because they impart an intense, uniform color, are less expensive, and blend more easily to create a variety of hues. There are nine certified color additives approved for use in the United States. Certified food colors generally do not add undesirable flavors to foods.
- Colors that are exempt from certification include pigments derived from natural sources such as vegetables, minerals or animals. Nature derived color additives are typically more expensive than certified colors and may add unintended flavors to foods. Examples of exempt colors include annatto, beet extract, caramel, beta-carotene and grape skin extract.
Dyes and lakes:
Color additives are available for use in food as either “dyes” or lake pigments (commonly known as “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 made by combining dyes with salts to make insoluble compounds. 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 doughnut mixes, hard candies and chewing gums, lipsticks, soaps, shampoos, talc, etc
Because food dyes are generally safer to use than normal artists’ dyes and pigments, some artists have used food coloring as a means of making pictures, especially in forms such as body-painting. Red food dye is often used in theatrical blood.
Most artificial food colorings are a type of acid dye, and can be used to dye protein fibers and nylon with the addition of an acid. They are all washfast and most are also lightfast. They will not permanently bond to plant fibers and other synthetics.
Criticism and health implications:
Information concerning the negative effects of synthetic food colorants on human health, particularly children’s health, continues to be a major concern with respect to food chemistry. Though past research showed no correlation between attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and food dyes, new studies now point to synthetic preservatives and artificial coloring agents as aggravating ADD and ADHD symptoms, both in those affected by these disorders and in the general population. 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.Several major studies show academic performance increased and disciplinary problems decreased in large non-ADD student populations when artificial ingredients, including artificial colors, were eliminated from school food programs.
- Norway banned all products containing coal tar and coal tar derivatives in 1978. New legislation lifted this ban in 2001 after EU regulations.
- Tartrazine causes hives in less than 0.01% of those exposed to it.
- Erythrosine is linked to thyroid tumors in rats.
- Cochineal, also known as carmine, is derived from insects and therefore is not vegetarian or kosher.
This criticism originated during the 1950s. As a result, many foods that used dye (such as red velvet cake) became less popular.
Brilliant Blue (BBG) food coloring was cited in a recent study in which rats that had suffered a spinal injury were given an injection of the dye immediately after the injury, and were able to regain or retain motor control. BBG helps protect spine from ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which the body sends to the area after a spinal injury, which further damages the spine by killing motor neurons at the site of the injury.
Researchers at King Feisal University state that the use of synthetic color in various foods has adverse effects on some of biochemical analysis, specifically at high concentration and when administered for long periods of time. Changes in liver and kidney histopathological structure and increases in white blood cell count indicated that inflammation is specific to certain colorants.