Over the last 100 years, the amount of food coloring used in food has increased drastically. This shift is partly due to manufacturers’ increasing emphasis on making foods look more attractive, last longer and attract as many consumers as possible.
Color is a key ingredient in enhancing a product’s ultimate appeal value and consumer acceptance.
What dyes can you find in food?
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And what exactly are the dyes?
Colorants in the food industry are substances used to change or maintain the color of food. They are used to make foods look more attractive and appealing to consumers.
Colorants are added to a variety of foods, such as sauces, beverages, confectionery and frozen foods. If you enjoy colorful dishes, don’t forget to try our colorful recipes for Christmas cookies with lentils .
The use of color additives or dyes is not a new technology. Natural food colors were used to color wine as early as 300 BC Early experiments with dyes included naturally occurring color found in some spices and metal oxides. Examples include saffron and copper sulfate.
The first synthetic organic dye—called mauve —was discovered in 1856. Mauve was the first of many discovered synthetic dyes produced by processing coal, earning it the name “coal tar color.” Federal regulation of dyes began several decades later, in the 1880s.
Synthetic food colors are increasingly used by food manufacturers over natural colors to achieve certain properties such as low cost, improved appearance, high color intensity, greater color fastness and uniformity.
Artificial dyes can also be more durable than natural dyes of the same color. In addition, although nature creates impressive shades of colors, there are not many that are suitable for use in the food industry.
Synthetic food colorings were originally made from coal tar, which comes from coal. Early critics of artificial food coloring were quick to point this out. Today, most synthetic food colorings are derived from petroleum . Some critics will argue that eating oil is no better than eating coal. But the final products are rigorously tested to ensure that they contain no traces of the original oil.
Food dyes must be added to food in a certain concentration and within an acceptable limit .
If food colorings are present in a product in a higher concentration, it can lead to serious health problems such as various mutations, cancer, reduced hemoglobin concentration and allergic reactions.
Natural dyes are obtained from plants or animal products and are considered safer than synthetic dyes. Examples of natural dyes include, for example, curcumin (from turmeric root), carotene (from carrots), chlorophyll (from green plants) or carmine (from a type of insect).
Why are dyes used in the food industry?
- They highlight the naturally occurring colors in the food.
- Protects flavors and vitamins from light damage .
- It is used for decorative purposes .
- They mask the natural color variations of food.
- They compensate for color loss due to light, air, extreme temperatures, humidity and storage conditions.
- They improve the taste .
- Changes the color of food or drink.
- They give food an identity .
What are the effects of food dyes on human health?
The most disturbing claim about synthetic food dyes is that they cause cancer . However, the evidence to support this claim is weak. Based on currently available research, consuming food dyes is unlikely to cause cancer.
However, in some people they can cause allergies, intestinal problems and breathing difficulties .
The claim about food dyes that has the strongest scientific support is the link between food dyes and hyperactivity in children . In Europe, even products containing some of the potentially “dangerous” dyes must have a warning text – “may have a negative effect on the activity and attention of children”.
What properties must a food coloring have?
The dye must dissolve when added to water . If the dye is not soluble in water, it will not mix evenly.
Another important property of food coloring is that when dissolved in water, the color remains.
In what food products are dyes used?
The first foods ever to receive federal approval for synthetic food coloring were butter and cheese in the 1880s . Since then, grocery stores have been filled with foods containing both natural food dyes and artificial food dyes, including the following products:
- breakfast cereal
- ice cream
- bakery products
- canned fruit
- processed vegetables
- nonalcoholic drinks
- energy drinks
Regulation of the use of dyes in the food industry
In the Czech Republic, the use of dyes in food is permitted only if they are approved by the State Health Institute and are listed in the List of permitted food dyes , which is published in accordance with Regulation (EC) No. 1333/2008.
All colors used in food must be labeled with “E-numbers”, which are codes used to identify food additives.
In the Czech Republic, limits are also set for the amount of dyes that can be used in individual foods. These limits are established with regard to the safety of dyes for human health and are regularly revised.
If the manufacturer decides to use natural dyes in the food instead of synthetic ones, he is obliged to inform about this on the product packaging. Manufacturers are also obliged to inform about the use of dyes on product labels or in instructions for use.
In the US , the use of food coloring is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA establishes a list of permitted colors that can be used in food and also sets conditions for their use.