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Food Colors - Ingredients, Laws and Standards

Before the 19th century, food was mostly prepared at home. As society progressed, packaged foodstuffs came into vogue, and so did the use of food colors. Food colors are essential in order to maintain the desired color appearance, as well as to improve or sustain the sensory qualities of the food product that may be impacted or lost during processing or storage. Today, food color additives are more strictly studied, regulated and monitored than at any other time in history.

What are Food Colors?

Any dye or chemical that develops color when added to food, drink, or beverages is referred to as a food coloring agent or color additive.

The ultimate appetizing value and consumer acceptance of meals and beverages are greatly enhanced by color. Food makers use synthetic food colors more frequently than natural food colors to achieve certain features, including low cost, improved look, high color intensity, more color stability, and consistency.

Why are Food Colors Added to the Food?

  • Enhancing naturally occurring colors.

  • Decorative or artistic purposes, such as cake icing.

  • Masking natural variations in color.

  • Offsetting color loss due to light, air, extremes of temperature, moisture, and storage conditions.

  • To change the color of some food items.

What are Permitted Natural Food Colors?

Permitted Natural Food Color (INS163/E163) is water-soluble, the violet color derived from the cell sap of plants, vegetables and flowers. It functions as an antioxidant in fruits and vegetables and has anti-inflammatory characteristics. It is permitted for use as a natural coloring agent in foods and beverages by the European Union (EU). It is one of the most common food additives in the world, which is found in almost all foods and is used to impart color.

Furthermore, it comes in a variety of colors, including:

E163(a) cyanidin (red), E163(b) delphinidin (blue), and E163(c) malvidin (purple color).

Laws Related to Food Color Regulation in the US

The Food Additive and Color Additive Amendment, the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2012, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) of 1966, and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act (Bioterrorism Act) of 2002 serve as the main foundations for the federal color additive regulation in the US. Under Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the USFDA, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is in charge of enforcing the laws governing food colors. The specifications and guidelines for using authorized color additives are listed in Parts 70–82 and 101, with reference to Part 58 on acceptable laboratory practice for testing. These parts also contain rules on petitions and labelling. Additional limits for usage of certain goods are included in the standards of identity for over 300 foods, which are detailed in Parts 130–169 and Part 319 of Title 9 and are governed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

US laws distinguish and require certification of these dyes.

Further, all the products in these categories are under a continuous review process conducted by the FDA.

Food dyes: Both synthetic and natural products are available. Some are required to be certified, while others are not. There are a total of 11 synthetic products (of which 6 are natural coloring agents) that require certification and 26 that do not.

Drug Dyes: There are drug dyes that must be certified (6) (dyes and pigments), and there are drug dyes that are not required to be certified (16). (Natural dyes).

Drug and Cosmetic Dyes: This is the list with the most items on it, and it includes synthetic dyes and pigments that must all be certified. One item on this list, a natural dye, is the sole one that is exempt from certification.

Cosmetic Dyes: Only four synthetic dyes are required to be certified.

Laws Related to Food Color Regulation in the EU

Regulation (EC) No. 1331/2008 (EC 2008a) sets out a common authorization procedure, and Regulation (EC) No. 1333/2008 (EC 2008c) on food additives and its amendment, Regulation (EC) No. 1129/2011 (EC 2011), include the rules for food colors. The annexes of Regulation (EC) No. 1333/2008 contain food categories and a positive list of colors permitted in the EU, including maximum quantities and instructions for use. Regulation (EU) No. 231/2012 (EC 2012) lays down the specifications for food additives listed in Annexes II and III to Regulation (EC) No. 1333/2008.

In the EU, ingredients that are added to foods to change their color are classified one of three ways: as a color additive, as a flavor or as a coloring food.

What are Synthetic Food Colors?

Synthetic food colors provide a number of economically significant advantages over natural colors, including low cost, resilience to light and pH, and good color stability. Chemicals used in artificial food coloring are derived from coal tar, and most of them have an azo group.

Generally, the synthetic food colors are available in the following forms: -

  • Granular

  • Powder

  • Lake Colors (Water-insoluble)

  • Food, drug and cosmetic Colors (FD&C Colors)

  • Drug and Cosmetic Colors (D&C Colors)

The three distinct varieties of synthetic food colors are as follows:

  • Primary Food Colors: Primary food colors are water-soluble and dissolve into a powdered form. Primary food colors are widely utilized as dyes in food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and other industries because of their great utilitarian value. Primary food colors mostly consist of (CH2)2CHNH2-COOH, (CH2)2OH, and CH2NHCOCH3, among other things

  • Blended Food Colors: These colors are made by combining various primary and secondary hues, either separately or simultaneously. Blended Food colors are unique in color property, and the chemical composition is CH2OH-NH2.

  • Lake Food Colors: Pharmaceutical, cosmetic, link, and plastic food container sectors can all benefit from the vivid consistency of lake hues. Lake food has the chemical formula C37H36AlN2O9S3.

Some Commonly Used Food Colors

Lake Tartrazine (INS 102/ E 102)

Chemical composition: (C16H9N4Na3O9S2)

It is a chemical that is utilized in both domestic and commercial food manufacturing. It serves as an ingredient in a variety of foods, including custards, cereals, ice creams, beverages, and confections.

Lake Quinoline Yellow (INS 104/ E 104)

Chemical composition: (C18H11NO2)

Quinoline Yellow Lake is a widely used food ingredient that is inexpensive and used in many sectors. It comes in powder form and dissolves uniformly in a range of liquids. Quinoline

Lake Sunset Yellow for Food Coloring (FCF) (INS 110/ E 110)

Chemical composition: (C16H10N2Na2O7S2)

In terms of manufacturing and supplying lake sunset yellow FCF to the market, VIPL has had success. It has a high value in the food, beverage, cereal, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries.

Red No. 3 (Erythrosine) (INS 127/ E 127)

It is a cherry-red coloring that is frequently used in candies, popsicles, and cake-decorating gels.

Brilliant Blue No. 1 FCF (Blue No. 1) INS 133/ E 133)

It is a greenish-blue color that is used in popsicles, icings, canned peas, and ice cream.

Drawbacks of Using Food Colors

Studies and research have linked artificial food dyes to:

  • Hyperactivity, including ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).

  • Behavioral changes like irritability and depression.

  • Hives and asthma.

  • Tumor growth

  • Carcinogenicity

  • Allergic reactions


Modern consumers choose food products based largely on their aesthetic appeal, and color is an essential ingredient in both food and beverages. Food colorants are used in the manufacture of foods, necessitating the development of precise, sensitive, and accurate analytical techniques for their measurement. Artificial food colors are commonly found in processed foods, which gives us yet another reason to stay away from them. Even though food dyes haven't had a bad effect on human health when used and ingested in ordinary amounts, it is better to prefer food with naturally colored ingredients.

Lastly, consumers must make conscious decisions related to their eating habits. After all, health is wealth, isn't it?



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