There are a lot of reasons why food and beverage manufacturers color their products. Brightly and boldly colored food can simulate appetite, interest, and recognition. Many companies leverage the appearance of their products as an extension of their brand.
Beyond the graphics of a package or label, some foods and drinks, whether sodas or snack cakes, can be instantly identified by their color. Achieving this isn’t always easy. Most commercial food coloring needs to meet some very important standards.
Food coloring needs to be easy to incorporate into the product and in a way that can produce very uniform and consistent results. It must also not affect the taste or texture. Because of this, manufacturers can spend a lot of time choosing their food coloring sources.
Artificial food dyes can be especially favorable for delivering these and other qualities. When produced through a synthetic process, it can be easy to create solid and liquid food coloring in industrial size quantities that are easy to replicate.
Artificial food dyes can also be more economical compared to natural food coloring. However, consumer concerns and purchasing habits also affect what manufacturers choose to include in their products.
Even if an ingredient is deemed completely safe for consumption, customer preferences for all-natural ingredients can have an impact on product and industry trends.
Increasingly, processed food and drink makers are transitioning away from artificial food dyes and coloring agents to more naturally-derived sources of pigment.
What Is Artificial Food Coloring Made From?
Artificial food coloring is usually made from synthetic organic compounds. In modern food manufacturing, this has conventionally meant color additives that come in the form of dyes and pigments.
In the United States, many of these colors are identified by an FD&C color, which are special compounds that are approved by the FDA for use in food and beverages, as well as drugs and cosmetics.
FD&C colors are made of various synthetic and chemical compounds. These substances integrate easily into different ingredients without affecting taste or texture. The resulting colors are vivid and easy to continuously replicate in large batches of commercial products.
When included in U.S. manufactured items, these dyes are listed by their FD&C certification number. Red No. 40, Yellow No. 6, and Blue No. 2 are all examples of common synthetic food dyes.
Not all artificially colored products use food dyes made from chemical and lab-created sources. A product may also be labeled as artificially colored even when its coloring is derived from natural sources.
When natural ingredients are used solely for the purpose of enhancing a product’s appearance, this is typically referred to as “artificially colored” on nutrition and ingredients labels.
Carmel coloring is one well-known example, which is derived from burning sugar and is often used to give foods and drinks a richer brown or golden color.
What Are Natural Food Dyes Made From?
Over the last few decades, consumers have increasingly favored products they perceive as more natural and less synthetic. There have also been a growing number of studies that call for the reexamination of artificial food additives and links to possible health effects.
Manufacturers are well aware of this and many are exploring alternative and natural food dyes. This means that the foods are still artificially colored, but the food dyes utilize natural ingredients to achieve an exaggerated or enhanced hue.
Achieving the same vibrant and easy-to-produce color saturation—that also doesn’t affect flavor—can be more challenging. There are, however, some natural sources that manufacturers regularly use to color their products.
Cochineal bugs are now familiar as a source of red food dye. These insects are dried, ground, and combined with other ingredients to make cochineal, which is also used to dye fabric in addition to functioning as red food coloring.
Donato seeds, also known as annatto, are used for producing bright shades of orange and yellow. Various vegetables and other plant sources, including beets, carrots, spinach, and red cabbage are sometimes used to create natural pigments.
Those consumers who favor non-synthetic or chemical-free ingredients should keep in mind that even naturally-derived substances can carry the potential for negative health effects.
Manufacturers also still must rely on a lot of processing to take a natural ingredient and render it to a state that makes it commercially viable.