Safflower yellow: An ancient natural plant-based colorant

Saturday December 23, 2023

Safflower is one of the oldest crops grown by humans. The analysis of ancient Egyptian textiles from the 12th dynasty reveals the use of safflower dyes as coloring agents. Safflower garlands have even been found decorating the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The use of safflower later spread to Europe and from there to other parts of the world.

Safflower has been used by dyers for centuries. It is a celebrated color in China and the petals contain both a yellow and a red dye. It is extremely responsive to pH shifts, which are used to extract both the yellow and a vivid orange-red or pink shade. It is not a very light or washfast color, but it is a lot of fun to see the beautiful shades develop.

The color of safflower extract solution varies with pH. When alkaline (caustic soda, ammonia, etc.), the color rapidly changes from red to orange. In acidity (acetic acid, tartaric acid, citric acid, ascorbic acid) discoloration does not occur.

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