Interesting facts about Food Colorants

Food Colorants

A food colorant is any substance that may be added to a food or drink to change its color.

Colors also play a vital role in making our food look appetizing.

However, lots of regulations are imposed on food colorants to ensure food safety.

For example, around 25 natural colorants are permitted in Canada, while 10 synthetic colors are permitted which include 8 allowed and 2 restricted colorants.

Some examples of different natural colorants are Carotene, Caramel, Chlorophyll, Annatto, Cochineal, saffron, gold, turmeric, etc.

A Question for you-

Which is the most widely used food colorant in America?


Hint 1- It is a natural food colorant.

Hint 2- It is also used in Soft drinks

Hint 3- Please see the answer below…


Caramel is the natural colorant that is used to color all the cola drinks and other similar cola-like drinks.

Beverages like colas account for three-quarters of the demand for caramel coloring.[Source- Wikipedia commons images]

The controversy associated with the CARAMEL-

During the processing of Cola drinks, a chemical is produced, which is called 4-methyl imidazole. Many studies believe that it is a potential carcinogen as far as the testing on animals is considered, but the carcinogenicity is not confirmed on the humans.

However, as a precautionary measure, the American federal authority has ordered all makers to label the carcinogenicity aspect associated with Caramel.

Due to this order, makers were upset about the future drop in sales, if the labeling will be done. So, many makers adopted different techniques of bringing caramel type color, which avoids the production of 4 methyl imidazole.

Natural Food Colorants

We have seen something about caramel, another natural food colorant is present mainly in Carrots, called Beta Carotene (E160a).

Orange color (beta-carotene)

Similar to beta carotene, Canthaxanthin is also a reddish-orange color widely used as an Artificial tanning agent.

Canthaxanthin color- used as a tanning agent. Source- Taiwan healthcare

It is also fat-soluble just like beta- carotene.

Canthaxanthin is used as a tanning agent by many people in the form of TANNING PILLS because these are fat-soluble and when they are ingested into the body in the form of pills, they are dissolved and deposited in the fatty tissue just below the outer skin.

SO, the skin looks tanned and it is now a much-growing trend among people, as it hides the wrinkles, makes the face look full in terms of muscles.

These 2 pics are of the same girl, left one is without tanning, while the second pic is after taking the tanning pills

However, Canada has banned the use of Canthaxanthine as an artificial tanning agent, because of some cases of crystal deposits in the eyes of people.

Food Colorants in Butter-

We may have seen either yellow or White butter.

In Summer seasons, the cows graze the fresh grass well and hence the beta carotene present in the fresh grass is responsible for the YELLOWNESS of the butter. People also prefer yellow butter to white butter.

While in Winter seasons, cows eat the stored hay, which may not have the required beta carotene, thus responsible for the white color of the butter.

This white cow is made of white butter only

Since people prefer yellow butter to white, makers try to enrich the feed given in winters with beta carotene artificially to make the white butter look yellow.

Similar is the case for yellow and somewhat white egg yolks. People prefer yellow egg yolk, so feed rich in beta carotene is given to the chicken. Then we get a beautiful yellow egg yolk.

Interesting COCHINEAL RED-

If I want to make a strawberry cake, obviously I need a Strawberry flavor. And for the pink color, an artificial strawberry extract is needed.

Generally, it is obtained from Cochineal Red. it is a natural color and it is made from BUG JUICE, i.e. by crushing the cochineal insects.

Female & male cochineal insects

Here, we can see that the right one is the male insects having wings, while on the left is the female cochineal insect.

The female has only the color in her eggs, while the male doesn’t have the color.

Also, these insects are taken out of the leaves of the cactus plants.

Collecting cochineal insects from Cactus plant

When the farmer goes to collect the insects, since the male insects have wings, so they quickly fly off leaving the females on the cacti plant to sacrifice their life for the cause of the RED.

After catching up the insects, they are crushed and the BUG JUICE IS READY to be used in different products like Salami, Campari, red or pinkish icecreams, Starbucks coffee, etc.

Hope you enjoyed reading this article. Please comment on what you are feeling…..

Lau, K. (2012, March 27). One tall Strawberry Frappuccino – extra insects please! Starbucks reveals popular drink contains crushed bugs. Retrieved from
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2012, January 12). Tanning pills. Retrieved from
Knight-Ridder Newspapers. (1981, October 3). Food coloring may not be the guilty party. The Gazette (Montreal), p.34.

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