Into Natural and Artificial Food Colors

Thursday December 01, 2022

With the development of human beings and the progress of science and technology, consumers not only pursue the basic external performance of food such as taste and color but also start to pay attention to factors such as the health and safety of food. And then, Do you really know food colors, which can affect the consumer product purchase desire and human health? What are the differences between natural colors and artificial colors? How to choose the food colors?

Part 1. Learn natural colors and artificial colors

Natural colors:

Natural colors come from the nature, and they are extracted from coloring raw materials, without any chemical products.

And many countries have given different regulations for natural colors. In the United States, the most common non-synthetic food colorant term is “natural colors.” In Europe, natural colors can be divided into food additives with “E numbers”(e.g. Turmeric E100) and coloring food ingredients derived from fruits, vegetables and algae.

Artificial colors:

Artificial colors are food additives used to provide or enhance characteristic colors in food products. They are obtained from synthetic processes, and are typically made up of complex hydrocarbons, nitrogen and sulfur ions.

Part 2. The sources of natural colors and artificial colors

The origin of food colors dates back to 1500 BC. Humans have been using natural colors in food since the ancient Egyptians. Natural extracts and wine were used to improve the color of sweets. Then In Mid-19 century, the production of synthetic colorants is attributed to William Henry Perkin, who in 1856 accidentally discovered aniline purple. Shortly after, food colors became more common. By the 1900s, around 695 food colorants became available. But now, due to pursuit of clean label and and natural, artificial colors are becoming less appealing to consumers. Where are they from?

Natural colors are derived from plants, invertebrates and minerals, including the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits, algae, insects, etc. Artificial colors are made from aniline dyes separated from coal tar, so it is also called coal tar pigment or aniline pigment.

Part 3: The characteristics of natural colors and artificial colors

Natural colors:

①Low stability

②Easily discolored by heat, light, acid and alkaline factors

③High security

④Natural color tone

⑤Higher cost

⑥Short shelf life

⑦Natural, health and safe.

Artificial colors:

①High stability

②Strong coloring power, not easy to fade

③Low security

④Vibrant colors

⑤Lower cost

⑥Long shelf life

⑦Not safe. It may cause diseases such as cancer.

Part 4. The types of natural colors and artificial colors

According to the list of food coloring published in the EU, the US, Japan, China and other countries.

Natural colors:

Anthocyanins, Betanins, Carbon black, Carotenoid, Carmine, Curcumin, Chlorophyll, Phycocyanins, Safflamins&Carthamins

Artificial colors:

New Coccin, Erythrosine, Allura red AC, Amaranth, Tartrazine, Sunset yellow FCF, Fast green FCF, Beilliant blue FCF, Indigo carmine.

The lists of natural colors

TypesSourcesMain ColorsCAS #
AnthocyaninsPurple corn, purple carrots,
sweet potatoes, radishes, elderberries, cabbage
Blue, red, or purple11029-12-2
Carbon blackCharred vegetable matter like coconut husksblack1333-86-4
CarotenoidAnnatto, beta-carotene, paprikaBright yellow, red, and orange 7235-40-7
CarmineThe cochineal insectred1390-65-4
CurcuminTurmeric rootYellow458-37-7
Safflamins&CarthaminsSafflowerYellow, brown36338-96-2

The lists of artificial colors

ColorsCNUSEUJPCAS #Molecular Formula
Red胭脂红New CoccinE124赤色102号2611-82-7C20H11N2Na3O10S3
Red诱惑红Allura red ACE129赤色40号25956-17-6C18H₁₄N₂Na₂O8S₂
Yellow日落黄Sunset yellow FCFE110黄色5号2783-94-0C16H10N2Na2O7S2
Green/Fast green FCFE143绿色3号2353-45-9C37H34N2Na2O10S3
Blue靛蓝Beilliant blue FCFE133青色1号3844-45-9C37H34N2Na2O9S3
Blue亮蓝Indigo carmineE132青色2号860-22-0C16H8N2Na2O8S2

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