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Dye Tartrazine (E102) – Dangerous, But Allowed

From 1991, the food coloring tartrazine was only allowed to be used in liqueurs and brandies in Germany, and tartrazine was banned for food. In the course of legal harmonization with the EU, this ban was lifted again seven years later.

Tartrazine – once forbidden, now allowed again

Tartrazine is one of the health-threatening azo dyes and colors many finished products and confectionery yellow or orange. Tartrazine is particularly common in baked goods and confectionery, effervescent powder, snack products, pudding powder, desserts, mustard, processed cheese, cheese rinds, and some artificial casings.

Tartrazine can also be found in cosmetics, care products, and even pharmaceuticals. However, since we know how unfavorable tartrazine can be for human health, particularly that of children, foods containing tartrazine have had to bear a warning since the summer of 2010 that the dye can impair children’s attention and activity – at least in Germany.

Tartrazine on vacation

In Spain, on the other hand, tartrazine is sold in all supermarkets, where it replaces the valuable saffron that was used in the past and is now used in large quantities every day in traditional cuisine.

Keep this in mind if you are there on vacation and you will be served a beautiful yellow-orange colored paella (typical local dish – rice stir-fry with vegetables, meat, and seafood).

Tartrazine – food coloring made from tar

In addition to E102, tartrazine can also have the opaque designations “640” or “19140” or “Acid Yellow 23” and is obtained from coal tar, i.e. basically from that strange-smelling (and therefore nausea-triggering in some people) black and smoking mass that normally processed into road surfaces. Tartrazine is also used in the textile, leather, and paper industries.

Tartrazine and its health consequences

Tartrazine has been shown to cause allergic reactions. These manifest themselves in asthma attacks, nettle rash, runny nose, eczema, and other skin rashes.

Other known side effects of tartrazine include anxiety, migraines, vision problems, thyroid cancer, eosinophilia (an increase in a type of white blood cell), depression, ADHD or hyperactivity, irreversible genetic damage, rapid heartbeat, trouble sleeping or insomnia, feeling generally unwell, Hot flashes and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

In severe cases, anaphylactic reactions to tartrazine can also occur. In some countries, the substance is also fed to chickens to make the yolk of their eggs more visually appealing.

Tartrazine worsens carpal tunnel syndrome

Research has also shown that consumption of tartrazine can worsen symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (a painful condition in the wrist caused by compression of the median nerve – which runs between the ligaments and bones of the wrist).

The reason for this effect is that tartrazine influences the vitamin B6 metabolism in the body. However, eliminating tartrazine from the diet can at least alleviate carpal tunnel syndrome or prevent its onset altogether.

Tartrazine and hyperactivity

In 2007, scientists conducted a study involving 153 three-year-old and 144 eight- to nine-year-old children. The children were divided into three groups. Group 1 received a dye mix, which i.a. contained tartrazine, Group 2 drank a similar cocktail of dyes but did not contain tartrazine, and Group 3 was the lucky control group who got to live dye-free. Group 1 showed a strikingly opposite behavior compared to the control group. In other words, groups 1 and 2 behaved significantly more hyperactively than group 3. The researchers concluded that a diet containing coloring agents can generally influence children’s behavior toward hyperactivity.

There are enough alternatives

The main reason for using tartrazine is the fact that it is a cheap alternative to natural dyes such as e.g. B. represents beta-carotene or saffron. Turmeric could also be used as an alternative yellow coloring in savory foods. Annatto, a reddish-yellow dye obtained from the seeds of a South American bushy plant, could also replace tartrazine. There are plenty of alternatives, but where there is no will, there is no way…

For this reason, as a consumer, you better pay attention to the ingredient labels or – even better – buy your food in organic shops – not least for the sake of your children. Fortunately, you will look in vain for tartrazine and similarly questionable additives in organic specialist shops.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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