Natural Food Colours

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Nature devised colour in fruit and vegetables as a signage indicating amongst other things, their capacity for natural healing. Certain naturally occurring food colours are associated with particular phyto-nutrients. These bio-chemicals fight disease in plants and continue to do the same when these coloured plants are ingested by human beings.

The attempt by human beings to replicate nature-like colouring by using synthetic and chemical food additives doesn’t have quite the same effect. In fact more and more studies reveal that synthetic food additives may cause considerable harm to consumers. As a result of this, there is an increasing demand for food-stuffs that are coloured with natural and ‘exempt’ colours.

Exempt colours refer to those colours listed by the FDA that are derived from natural sources but are synthetically produced e.g. Carol Riddle, senior chemist, customer technical services, Hilton-Davis Co., Cincinnati says” Some, (exempt colours) including beta carotene, are synthetically made. That's why I prefer the term 'exempt' to 'natural.'”


[edit] Did you know? - Dangers of artificial food colour

  • Studies have linked hyper-activity (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD) and disruptive behaviour in children to food additive including artificial food colouring.
  • The British Government’s Food Standards Agency has issued guidelines to parents advising them to check the labels of products that their children consume.
  • This is especially important with respect to sweets, drinks and cakes since the incidence of additives and food colours is extremely high in these food products.
  • This advice is following a widespread study conducted by the British Government and published in the Lancet (a medical journal) on September 6, 2007.
  • Food campaigners believe that the government has lost an opportunity to ban these substances in food.
  • The leader of the study in Southampton, Professor Jim Stevenson, said: "We now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colours and benzoate preservative can adversely influence the behaviour of children. There is some previous evidence that some children with behavioural disorders could benefit from the removal of certain food colours from their diet."
  • While the law demands that all additives be displayed on the label, there are several products like ice-cream that are sold lose and don’t have a label.
  • In the USA the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) manages the Adverse Reaction Monitoring System (ARMS). This organisation monitors the effect of added food colours on consumer health. The FDA also has an advisory committee on Hypersensitivity to Food Constituents. This committee in 1986 found that FD&C Yellow No. 5 could cause skin rashes in less than 1/10,000. It found that it did not cause asthma as reported.
  • Red No. 3 remains on the list of the FDA’s food colours in spite of the fact that its usage was voluntarily terminated in 1990 after animal testing indicated an association with thyroid tumours.

[edit] Purpose of colour in nature

Food is naturally coloured for primarily three reasons

  1. Reproduction -- Fruit and seed bearing pods are often brightly coloured. Animals and insects attracted by these bright colours either eat them or brush against them and act as agents of seed dispersal, transporting the seed to other areas.
  2. Phyto-nutrient presence -- The presence of colour in fruit is also an indication of the presence of plant bio-chemicals that are natural defence mechanisms against disease. For example, tomatoes contain lycopene which is red and shows up as the colour of the berry.
  3. Natural Warning -- Many plants are brightly coloured as a poison warning to animals. Certain wild mushrooms for example are brightly, often spectacularly coloured.

[edit] Categories of natural food colours

  1. Plant: Plant based colours come from various parts of the plant. The leaves, roots, flowers, fruit all provide colouring agents. Turmeric, Chlorophyll, blueberry juice, beetroot juice and so on.
  2. Animal: An extremely well known animal based colour is cochineal or carmine. Derived from the body fluid of an insect, it has been widely used over the years.
  3. Mineral: Mineral colours in food include Titanium dioxide which imparts an opaque appearance to the food.

Natural food colours are available in different forms, as powders, pastes and liquids. Some are water and others are fat soluble. While synthetic food colours are largely without flavour, a large number of natural food colours have flavours or taste. This must be taken into consideration when cooking with them. E.g. Beetroot has a very specific flavour which comes through in the final product. The European Union numbers all food additives and the code indicated is the EEC number.(European Economic Commission).

Food colour chart A listing the most common natural and naturally derived food colours.

Annatto E160b
Turmeric E100
Paprika E 160c
Anthocyanins E 163
Beta Carotenes / E 160a
Gardenia -
Gardenia -
Gardenia -
Iron Oxides E 172
Iron Oxides E 172
Iron Oxides E 172
Iron Oxides E 172
Marigold Extract / E 161b
Chlorophyll E 140
E 141
Titanium Dioxide E 172
Carbon Black E 153</td>
Beet Root E 162
Safflower -
Caramel E 150
Lycopene E 160d
Monascus -
Red Cabbage -
Raddish -

[edit] Difficulties with natural food colours

  • Unappetizing appearance: Since food is a sensory experience it is only natural that consumers want their food to look good as well as taste great. Natural food colours are by and large less luminous and fluorescent than their synthetic counterparts.
  • Limited usage: Natural colours cannot be used in all products. Beet colour can be used in a Soda but not in cake. In milk it turns blue rather than red It doesn’t hold up to baking either.
  • Colour Stability and Fading: Natural colours are often extremely unstable. They tend to deteriorate and breakdown quickly.
  • Heat Sensitivity: Natural colours tend to break down with the application of heat more easily.
  • Price and Availability: Natural colours are marginally more expensive and more difficult to find than synthetic colours.

[edit] Food Colouring and the Law

There are several government agencies that regulate food additives. A few internationally recognised ones are listed below

  • Food Safety Agency- UK
  1. The Food Standards Agency is an independent agency set up by an act of parliament in 2000.
  2. This sets standards and examines industry trends in order to safeguard public health.
  3. It is accountable to parliament and to government agencies in Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
  • Food Standards Australia New Zealand
  1. The Food Standards is a body set up as a regulatory arm.
  2. It coordinates with all levels of the government and the provinces in Australia and New Zealand.
  • Food Safety Commission – Japan
  1. The commission is an independent body that assesses risk with respect to food in Japan.
  2. Its work involves examining the risks associated with food, communicating information and also dealing with food related accidents and mishaps.
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – USA
  1. The FDA regulates food, drug, cosmetic and home appliance materials. It also involves examining vetinary products
  2. Label control also comes under the FDA’s purview.
  3. More details on the law are available at Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act
  • For European Union Laws See Belgian Biosafety Server.

[edit] Associations

Associations other than governments that are also involved in researching food additives include

  • The European Food Information Council, EUFIC
  • International Food Information Council
  • European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
  • The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA)

[edit] Reference

  • Food Additives
  • Danger to children from food and drink additives is exposed
  • Food color and health hazards
  • Natural Food Colors from Beetroot, Safflower, Kokum and Grapes
  • Natural Food Colors
  • The Hunt For Natural Colors
  • Food And Behaviour Research
  • Danger to children from food and drink additives is exposed)

[edit] External Links

  • Natural Food Colors
  • Process of production of individual natural food colours and additives.
  • The Hunt For Natural Colors
  • More details on Food Additives Associations
  • The history of food colouring at The Color of Food and Food Coloring Agents.

[edit] See Also