Seven Major Food Color Additives

Seven Major Food Color Additives

In the process of making food or drink, especially mass-produced by machine, the accuracy of the end product can be a bit skewed. Because specific colors are associated with certain flavors, and vice versa, food coloring was introduced to acknowledge its correlation to perceived tastes. Coloring is also used to mask color loss and aid food identification, and decoration, as in cake icing. Food Coloring even existed in early Rome, when saffron, carrots, pomegranates, grapes, mulberries, spinach, beets, parsley, and flowers were used as dyeing agents.

Seven Major Food Color Additives

Today, because of chemical advances, not only are more vibrant and often superfluous colors available, but the usage of these chemicals is far more widespread. Usually, on a list of ingredients, one can find “for color” rather quickly. However, until the Food and Drug Act of 1906, regulation for coloring was not in place in the United States of America. The current rules allow for seven main dyeing agents.

Blue No. 1

First among the accepted list is Blue No. 1, or Brilliant Blue FCF, which creates — as you might have guessed — a medium blue shade. This coloring was a ban in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, but has since been let back into most of the countries under the European Union. Blue No. 1 can be available in some dairy products, sweets, and drinks. Blue No. 1 uses coal tar as one of its components. Because of the use of coal tar, many organizations and circles are speaking out and boycotting products using colors with coal tar. It is carcinogenic in large quantities and known to cause tumors in lab rats.


It is also feared because only 50% of coal tar’s components have come under identification. One thing that Blue No. 1 does not cause is hyperactivity, which was disproved after testing. The body’s gastrointestinal lining absorbs only 95% of the coloring.

Blue No. 2

     Second is Blue No. 2, which is commonly in use for tablets and capsules, but its use is also in ice cream, sweets, baked goods, confectionery, and cookies. Also known as Indigotine, the color was extracted originally from several species of plant as well as one of the two famous Phoenician sea snails or woad, but nearly all indigo dye produced today for food or textile is synthetic. It is possible to have an allergy to Blue No. 2.

Green No. 3

Green No. 3, or Fast Green FCF, can be used for tinned green peas and other vegetables. Also for jellies, sauces, fish, desserts, and dry bakery mixes at the level of up to 100 mg/kg. Fast Green FCF produces a sea green. The intestines poorly absorb green No. 3.

Red No. 40

Red No. 40 is introduced as a replacement for Red No. 2 because Red No. 2, or Amaranth, was suspected carcinogenic. It has the appearance of a dark red powder. Red No. 40 can be available in sweets, drinks and condiments, medications, and cosmetics. Despite the popular misconception, the acquisition of Allura Red AC is not from the cochineal insect. Red AC is obtained from coal tar. However, Carmine (or Crimson Lake, Natural Red 4) is the coloring extracted from dry cochineal beetles. It is under ban in Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Austria. It was once feared as carcinogenic, but this has since been disproved. However, it can cause allergic reactions in people as well as hyperactivity in children.

Red No. 3

     Also known as Erythrosine, Red No. 3 is a cherry-pink coal tar-based food dye. Its use is also in printing inks, as a biological stain, a dental plaque disclosing agent, and as a radiopaque medium. Its use is in cherries, canned fruit, custard mix, sweets, baked goods, and snack foods. It can cause sensitivity to light and learning difficulties, can increase thyroid hormone levels, and lead to hyperthyroidism. It has been shown to cause thyroid cancer in rats in a study in 1990.

Yellow No. 5

Yellow No. 5, or Tartrazine, is used for yellow coloring, but can also be used with Brilliant Blue FCF or Green S to produce various green shades. The use of tartrazine is banned in Norway and was a ban in Austria and Germany before the European Parliament lifted the ban. Yellow No. 5 can be available in soft drinks, instant puddings, flavored chips (Doritos, etc.), cake mixes, custard powder, soups, sauces, and Kool-Aid. Also in ice cream, ice lollies, candy, chewing gum, marzipan, jam, jelly, marmalade, mustard, horseradish, yogurt, noodles, pickles, and other pickled products. Moreover specific brands of fruit squash, fruit cordial, chips, Tim Tams, and many convenience foods together with glycerin, lemon, and honey products.

Most famously is the now-termed urban legend that ingesting Yellow No. 5, or, more specifically, Mountain Dew, would lower a man’s sperm count and shrink his testicles, possibly rendering him sterile. Tartrazine, however, does produce the most common allergic reaction, especially among those with an aspirin intolerance and asthma. Some research has linked Yellow No. 5 to early childhood Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and hyperactivity. It is under a ban in Austria and Norway.

Yellow No. 6

     Also known as Sunset Yellow FCF, this dye is an orange coal tar-based food dye found in orange squash, orange jelly, and marzipan. It is also available in a Swiss roll, apricot jam, citrus marmalade, lemon curd, fortune cookies, sweets, hot chocolate mix and packet soups, trifle mix, breadcrumbs, cheese sauce mix, and soft drinks. This color is most prominently seen in DayQuil. It is capable of causing allergic reactions such as abdominal pain, hyperactivity, hives, nasal congestion, and bronchoconstriction.

What’s a Blue Lake 1?

The difference between dyes and lakes is in their solubility. Dyes will dissolve in water, but not oil, while lakes are the opposite. Lakes 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, and shampoos.

A Rainbow of Natural & Synthetic Food Colors

While looking up the seven primary colors above, we stumbled across a commercial website for a manufacturer of food colors and dyes, Rung International. This company makes and sells a wide range of colors. 

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