By Baþak Keki and Deniz Ilgýn


The power of colors

Appetite is a concept largely influenced by vision; when we look at a certain food, we first appreciate its image.  If we don’t like its color, we don’t feel like purchasing it.  Before we buy a food, first the food has to capture our attention, seize our appetite.  And colors play a large role in attaching us to foods.  So, food industries, realizing this basic human tendency, play with the color concept cunningly, for the sake of having us consume their products in greater quantities with more appetite…  But what is food coloring?  Why do our foods get colored?  What are the effects of this process?  In this modest research of ours, we found some answers to those questions.  Here is what we have come up with.

The definition of “Food Coloring”

Food coloring is any dye, pigment or substance that can give color to foods, drugs or cosmetics.  In the US, food coloring is regulated under the authority of the Food and Drug Association (FDA).  In Turkey, it is regulated by Turkish Food Codex.  All color additives permitted for use in foods are classified either as “certifiable” or “exempt from certification”.  Certifiable color additives are man-made; this is an “approval process” and it assures the safety, quality, consistence and strength of the color additive before it is used in foods.  Colors Exempt from certification are allowed right away, not required to be tested because they are coming from natural sources like animals, minerals and vegetables. (1)

The motivations of food coloring

            Although it is been noted that only 10% of the food in the United States added color, it is worth touching the most common reasons for coloring foods.  These are:

·     To offset color loss due to exposure to air, light, varying temperatures, moisture, and storage conditions.

·     To provide a colorful identity to foods that would otherwise be virtually colorless, such as ice cream.

·     To correct natural variations in color.

·     To protect flavors and vitamins that may be affected during storage and by acting as a light filter.

·     To provide an appealing variety of wholesome and nutritious foods that meet consumer’s demands.  (2)


There are serious concerns raised about food coloring being unhealthy.  Before exploring this it is important to illustrate that there are no deaths in United States because of  food coloring.  (3)


  9 commonly used certified colors 

·       FD&C Blue No. 1 (Brilliant Blue FCF); it is bright blue and common uses are beverages, dairy products, dessert powders, jellies, confections, condiments, icings, syrups, extracts.

·       FD&C Blue No. 2 (Indigotine); it is royal blue and commonly used in baked goods, cereals, snack foods, ice creams, confections, cherries.

·       FD&C Green No. 3 (Fast Green FCF); it is sea green and used in beverages, puddings, ice cream, sherbet, cherries, confections, baked goods, dairy products.

·       FD&C Red No. 40 (Allura Red AC); it is orange red and it is used in gelatins, puddings, dairy products, confections, beverages, condiments.

·       FD&C Red N0. 3 (Erythrosine); it is cherry red and used in cherries in fruit cocktail and in canned fruits for salads, confections, baked good, dairy products, snack foods.

·       FD&C Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine); it is lemon yellow and used in custards, beverages, ice cream, confections, preserves, cereals.

·       FD&C Yellow No. 6 (Sunset Yellow); it is orange and commonly used in cereals, baked goods, snack foods, ice cream, beverages, dessert powders, confections.

·       Orange B (This is restricted to specified uses.)

·       Citrus Red no. 2 (This is restricted to specified uses.)


Colors Exempt from certification

Annato extract, B-Apo-8(-c+arotenal*, beta-carotene, beet powder, canthaxantin, caramel color, carrot oil, cochineal extract (carmine), cottonseed flour, toasted partially defatted, cooked, ferrous gluconate (this is restricted to specified uses), fruit juice, grape color extract (enocianina, this is specified to specified uses), paprika, paprika oleoresin, riboflavin, saffron, titanium dioxide (this is restricted to specified uses), turmeric, turmeric oleoresin, and vegetable juice. (1)

As for foods in Turkey

Here there is couple of examples from Turkish products that involve various food coloring:  Calve mustard (E150), Knorr chicken Broth (E150), Becel butter (Carotene, E160), Coca Cola (Caramel, E150), Turkish apple tea (Caramel, E150), Paper Halvah, Turkish Delight.


How innocent or how evil is food coloring?

However, the fact that food coloring does not kill anyone does not make it totally innocent.  It should be well acknowledged that synthetic color adds nothing to nutritional value.  Moreover, there are potential problems with both natural and synthetic forms.  There is some data that food coloring may cause severe allergies, asthma or even may cause hyper activity in children. 

Red colorings come in two forms, cochineal extract or carmine.  Both are derived from female cochineal beetles, raised in Peru, the Canary Islands and elsewhere. They provide pink, red or purple color to foods ranging from ice cream and yogurt to fruit drinks and the aperitif Campari as well as to pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.  In the past several years, doctors in the US, Switzerland and France have proven that the colorings can cause allergic reactions, including sneezing, asthma and anaphylactic shock.  The prevalence of allergic reactions is unknown.  (4)

As an illustration, the correlation between asthma, food coloring and preservatives was initially found while treating people with Attention Deficit Disorder.  ADD sufferers had food chemicals taken out of their diets to see if it would affect their disorder.  Those with asthma showed a marked improvement in their asthmatic condition.  We had briefly mentioned food coloring being applied to drugs as well.  Some metabolisms, even if not all of them, may be sensitive to coloring chemicals in foods. (5)

In addition to these problems, tartrazine is a well- known toxic substance (FD&C Yellow No.5 or E-102 in Europe), a coal-tar driven substance that is used to color foods, cosmetics and other products.  It is also reputed to be a catalyst in hyperactivity/ADD, other behavioral problems, asthma, migranes, thyroid cancer, and lupus.  Although it causes several health problems, food companies constantly use it because it is simply cheaper than natural alternatives.  Tartrazine is often found in skim milk, yogurt, butter/margarine, orange colored cheeses, Kraft macaroni and cheese, orange colored snacks (Doritos, etc.), candy, gelatin and pudding desserts, ice cream, Tang, other artificially colored drinks, boxed breakfast cereals, shrimp, canned fruits and vegetables, pastas, breads, cakes and other baked goods (especially ones that contain “candied fruit”), Wasabi, alcoholic drinks (especially mixed drinks like sours but some beer also), shampoo, cosmetics, lotions, tooth paste, vitamins, birth control pills, aspirin and other medicines.  Tartrazine has been banned in Norway and Austria and in the United States manufacturers are required to indicate that a product contains tartrazine on the label.  (6) 


At the end of this research, we see that food coloring is a pretty controversial issue.  It is neither purely innocent nor totally evil.  However, we should keep in mind that all certified food colors in use today belong to a class of chemicals called “polycyclic aromatic” hydrocarbons that are universally suspected as carcinogenic.  The FDA argues that food coloring is safe because it causes cancer at tests on rats only when they are directly “injected”.  (7)


It is obvious that colors in our foods play a great role in tempting and manipulating us to buy them.  There is no way that we can be blind to colors.  The FDA and the Turkish Food Codex  have their own reasons for letting manufacturers use coloring-marketing concerns.  It would be unrealistic to consider that once the additive colors are removed from our foods, we would still approach and demand them in the same way.  However, we shouldn’t ignore the potential dangers of the food coloring chemicals on the sensitive metabolisms.  Thus, what we as consumers should do is to urge that all the food that has coloring, even if derived from insects, be labeled clearly so that we can make our own decisions.