Cheese is a beautiful yellow, strawberry jam is bright red and chocolate pudding is of course chocolatey brown – but food coloring has often been used to give the product natural-looking colours. Some colorings in food are not harmless to health.
Food colors are used in two different ways: natural and artificial.
If the dyes are used to color food, this must be indicated on the packaging.
The dyes are indicated with E numbers.
Food colorings are additives used to color food and can be divided into natural and synthetic (artificial) colorings. For example, riboflavin (E 101) for a yellow color and betanine (E 162) for red are two natural dyes used to color food.
If synthetic dyes have the same chemical structure as natural dyes, they are referred to as nature-identical. Öko-Test tested 72 foods with colorings.
What are food colorings used for?
Manufacturers use colorants, for example, to compensate for color losses that occur during processing of a product or to give food a consistent color. Food dyes give unsightly goods a sales-promoting, colorful and appetizing appearance. A beautiful color can be used to convince consumers that the product is of better quality – for example, a higher proportion of fruit in confectionery.
Food colorings are mainly used for confectionery, lemonades, puddings, ice cream and fruit products, but also for margarine, cheese and fish products.
When do food colors have to be labelled?
The labeling obligation for food stipulates that coloring agents are listed on the packaging of food – but only if they are used to color food. According to EU law, the name “dye” must be given together with the E number. Excluded from the labeling requirement: strongly coloring foods such as turmeric extract, beetroot extract or spinach extract. They can also be declared as part of the ingredients as they are not considered a colouring.
Are food colorings dangerous?
While natural dyes are generally harmless, artificial (synthetic) dyes are controversial. Azo dyes are synthetic dyes and can be found in sweets and beverages. Azo dyes include:
- Tartrazine (E 102)
- Quinoline Yellow (E 104)
- Yellow Orange S (E110)
- Azorubine (E 122)
- Cochineal red A (E 124)
- Allura red AC (E 129)
The consumer center warns against these dyes, as they are suspected of triggering pseudo-allergies. Typical symptoms of these intolerance reactions are asthma, skin edema and hives.
In addition, the consumer advice center points out that dyes can trigger hyperactivity and attention disorders in children.