Companies use additives to improve color of foods

What are color additives?

Color additives are any dye, pigment or substance that imparts color to a food, drug, cosmetic or to the human body. All color additives are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. All colors are classified as "certifiable" or "exempt from certification."

Certifiable colors are man-made. There are nine colors in this category with seven of these used in food. These colors are more intense than natural colors and can be used in smaller amounts. They are more stable, easy to blend and give good uniform color. They do not give unwanted flavors to foods.

Certified colors come in two forms, "dyes" or "lakes."

Dyes dissolve in water in the form of powders, granules, liquids or other forms.

Lakes are water insoluble. They are more stable and function best in fats, oils or low-moisture foods.

Here are the seven certifiable colors that are approved for food use. They are listed by their name, common name, hue and use in foods.

  • FD&CBlue; No. 1, Brilliant Blue, bright blue. Used in beverages, dairy products, powders, jellies, confections, condiments, icings, syrups and extracts.
  • FD&CBlue; No. 2, Indigotine, royal blue. Used in baked goods, cereals, snack foods, ice cream, confections and cherries.
  • FD&CGreen; No. 3, Fast Green, sea green. Used in beverages, puddings, ice cream, sherbet, cherries, confections, baked goods and dairy products.
  • FD&CRed; No. 40, Allura Red, orange-red. Used in gelatins, puddings, dairy products, confections, beverages and condiments.
  • FD&CRed; No. 3, Erythrosine, cherry-red. Used in cherries in fruit cocktail and in canned fruits for salads, confections, baked goods, dairy products and snack foods.
  • FD&CYellow; No. 5, Tartrazine, lemon. Used in custards, beverages, ice cream, yellow confections, preserves and cereals.
  • FD&CYellow; No. 6, Sunset Yellow, orange. Used in cereals, baked goods, snack foods, ice cream, beverages, dessert powders and confections.

Colors exempt from certification include annatto extract, beet powder, caramel color, fruit juice, paprika, saffron, turmeric and more. Besides adding color, these products will add flavors to food that may be desirable or undesirable.

Why are color additives used in food?

Food colors are used for many reasons. Besides adding eye appeal to foods, added color can balance color variations in food throughout the year.

Here are the main reasons color additives are used:

  • To reduce color loss from light, air, temperature change, moisture and storage conditions.
  • To correct natural variations in color, such as orange peel.
  • To enhance the natural color that is weak for that food.
  • To give color identity to colorless foods, such as bright green lime sherbet.
  • To give "fun foods" color, such as festive candies.
  • To protect flavors and vitamins affected by sunlight during storage.
  • To provide variety to meet consumer demand.

What process does a manufacturer have to go through to use color additives in food?

Color additives are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The manufacturer petitions the FDA with all evidence showing intended use. Animal studies are conducted to show the product will not cause harm at expected usage levels. Human studies also may be conducted.

The FDA considers composition and properties of the product, expected consumption limits, possible long-term effects and other safety issues. It is impossible to prove absolute safety. Therefore, the FDA must give reasonable certainty no harm will occur under specified usage conditions.

Once approved, the FDA issues regulations as to where the color is used, maximum usage limits, and how it is identified on food labels.

Colors for meat and poultry also are approved by the USDA.

What's the difference between waxed paper and parchment paper?

The biggest difference is parchment paper can survive high heat.

It is quite strong, even when wet. The paper is treated with a sulfuric acid bath to add strength to the paper. The paper surface becomes hard, smooth and impervious to heat and moisture. Some parchment paper is coated with silicone for a nonstick finish. Virtually nothing will stick to this finish.

Parchment paper is ideal for moist cooking methods such as en papillote. En Papillote means in paper, a simple cooking method in which food is wrapped in parchment paper along with various aromatics, herbs and seasonings and cooked in the oven.

Parchment paper can used for a substitute cooking lid by cutting a sheet to fit the cooking pan to trap moisture during cooking. It also can be used to line baking sheets for baking cookies. It can be reused several times.

Waxed paper is not heavy-duty or all-purpose. It is made of tissue paper coated with paraffin wax on both sides. It is grease-proof and somewhat moisture proof. Liquids will eventually soak through. It works well for wrapping fatty or juicy foods. Its slippery coating makes it ideal for making sticky foods such as candy. Waxed paper can survive oven temperatures if completely covered such as in the bottom of a cake pan.


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