Food coloring

The Colorings are substances which add color to a food or restore the original color; they include natural components of foods and other elements of natural origin, normally not consumed as food or used as a typical ingredient in foods.
Dyes are preparations obtained from foods and other basic edible materials, of natural origin, obtained by a physical and / or chemical process that involves the selective extraction of pigments, in relation to their nutritional or aromatic components.

Food regulations distinguish between edible dyes, which are added directly to food, and a second group of dyes, which can only be used for coloring the surface of food. Generally, the coloring of the surfaces, which concerns for example the rind of cheeses and the decoration of Easter eggs , is not carried out on the edible parts. If they are authorized by the European Union, the dyes intended for consumption are marked with numbers preceded by the letter E (Europe); on the other hand, dyes intended for food wrapping and coatings are qualified with a number preceded by the letter C. Food dyes are indicated on the labelswith the following wording: from E 100 to E 199.
Particular attention should be paid to dyes intended for cosmetics: since these dyes, for example those used for lipstick, can be ingested, they are subject to the same restrictions and controls in force for food coloring.

For some foods, Italian law prohibits the use of any type of dye. These foods are: coffee , chocolate , nougat , vinegar , fruit juices , wine , beer , oil , water , bread , pasta, rice , sugar , honey. , meat and fish. These products must be offered to the public in their natural color; otherwise it is a fraud to mask the lack of authenticity of a product or its altered state.

The very recent EU legislation requires, starting from July 20, 2010, that additional indications appear on the label for some dyes. These are those dyes for which, over the years, studies on the ability to concentrate and attention children, especially in schools, have shown a negative influence. Some children are in fact more sensitive to processed foods and show immediate effects immediately after ingesting foods containing dyes. In any case, the toxicity of an additive is always related to the quantity ingested and also depends on the interference it has with other additives.


Dyes without side effects : of the dyes currently allowed, this category mainly includes vitamin groups (such as vitamin B2), provitamins (such as beta-carotene ) and natural components such as chlorophyll , carotenoid and beetroot. Their safety is undoubted, so much so that they can be used in food without explicit indications. However, in the event that the addition of these dyes can mask the actual quality of the food in which they are contained from the consumer, they must be reported on the label.


Dyes with side effects : there are different dyes (above all azoic ones, i.e. those dyes that formally derive from azobenzene and which therefore have the azo group – N = N – between two aromatic rings of benzene, but also of naphthalene, anthracene or aromatic heterocycles; they are also called azo dyes) on which it is possible to hypothesize a certain risk factor for human health. In particular, cases of allergic reactions can occur , sometimes caused by even very small parts of these dyes, especially in those people who have allergies to acetylsalicylic acid ( aspirin ) as well as to salicylates.
There are a great many people who, every year, are affected byurticaria due to allergic reactions to food additives . About 10% of asthmatics react to azo dyes with asthma attacks .

What foods can dyes be added to?

According to the latest provisions, the foods that can be treated with permitted dyes are mainly the following:

Confectionery: icings and sugar-based products, with the exception of licorice and products prepared with milk , butter , honey, eggs , malt , caramel , cocoa , chocolate, coffee; cherries for cocktails ; candied fruit , with the exception of candied orange and lemon peels ; packaged ice creams ; marzipan and the like.
Fish: products based on fish eggs; shrimp in a jar; canned salmon fillets .
Other products: low calorie jams, creams and jellies , puddings , sweet sauces and soups with the exception of products based on cocoa, chocolate, coffee, eggs and caramelized sugar; fizzy drinks, packaged drinks, margarine , cheeses, herbal liqueurs; canned strawberries , raspberry and cherries.

Directions on the package:

Due to the long and complicated chemical definitions, full indication of dyes on food packaging is not necessary.
According to the regulations in force, the indication “colored” or “with dye” must be clearly printed on one visible side of the package, at a short distance from the commercial name (for example strawberry candies with dye). A more precise characterization must then be reported in the list of ingredients, where it is possible to find the list of additives.

What are the dyes?

Dyes can be classified both on the basis of the color they give to the foods to which they are added, and on the basis of their origin. Below we group them according to the first classification.


E120-129 RED


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