Issues related to usage of artificial food colours.

Food Colours and Types

A food colour is any pigment which is used to impart colour to food. Food colours are regarded as additives, that is, they add value to food by enhancing its appearance.

The types of food colours used are as follows -
Natural food colours - These food colours are obtained from completely natural sources.

Nature-identical food colours - These food colours possess the same chemistry as natural food colours but are artificially synthesized.

Artificial food colours - These food colours are synthesized under completely artificial conditions. They are the most widely-used type of food colours. They are labeled as “FCF” (For Colouring Food).

Need for food colours

• Enhancement of appearance
• Improved colour and taste
• Compensation for colour loss due to exposure to heat or light
• Hiding colour variations

Artificial Food Colours - What's The Issue?

Artificial food colours are also known as synthetic food colours as they are synthesized in a completely artificial environment. These colours are mainly derived from coal tar and petroleum. The consumption of these artificial food colours can have a negative impact on the health of an individual as given in the table below -

Artificial Food Colour











Brilliant Blue FCF








Ice-creams, icing sugar, candy, soft-drinks

1.      Induction of allergic reactions in individuals pre-disposed to asthma

2.      Disruption of cellular metabolism in the bloodstream by inhibiting mitochondrial respiration

3.      In critically-ill patients, occurrence of refractory shock and acidosis

4.      Skin irritation - subjects suffering from dermatitis reported worsening symptoms of condition

5.      DNA damage in rats and genotoxic effects on mammalian cell culture. However, Ames test proves no mutagenicity

6.      Reported intolerance to Brilliant Blue FCF causing digestive and neurological problems

7.      Chromosomal damage

8.      Causes kidney tumour in mice

9.       Constriction of bronchi (in combination with Indigo Carmine FCF)




Indigo Carmine FCF




Dog food, beverages, candy

1.      Incidence of brain tumours in male rats

2.      Causes irritation of skin, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract

3.      Asthma, allergies, cardiac problems, nausea, vomiting, hypertension, breathing problems

4.      Constriction of bronchi (in combination with Brilliant Blue FCF)


Citrus Red # 2 FCF

Foods containing artificial orange flavour

1.      Toxic at modest levels

2.      Tumour of bladder

3.      “Possibly carcinogenic” to humans



Fast Green FCF


Beverages, candy, ice-cream, cosmetics (non-edible uses)

1.      Irritation of eye, skin, digestive tract, respiratory tract

2.      Chronic exposure produces mutagenic effects

3.      Found to cause tumours in experimental animal models

4.      Significant increase in bladder & testes tumours



Allura Red FCF




Baked foods, candy, cereals, beverages

1.      Contains benzidene which is a human and animal carcinogen

2.      Enhances tumour metastasis in immune system (lymphomas)

3.      Triggers hypersensitivity and hyperactivity

4.      Chromosomal damage



Erythrosine FCF




Candy, sausages, glazed cherries

1.      Sensitivity to light

2.      Risk factor for breast cancer

3.      Chromosomal damage

4.      Hyperthyroidism and tumours of thyroid gland

5.      Learning difficulties

6.      Adverse effect on functioning of neurochemicals, having a negative impact on behavior





Tartrazine FCF




Candy, medicinal drugs, beverages, baked goods

1.       Palpitations

2.       Restlessness, behavioural problems, and sleep disruption

3.       Hives and itching

4.       Most allergic food dye - Subjects intolerant to aspirin suffer from allergic reactions

5.       Blurred vision and migraine

6.       Respiratory problems

7.       Hyperactivity and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

8.       Appearance of purple-coloured patches on skin

9.       Speculated to lower sperm count

10.    Lymphomas and thyroid tumours

11.    Neurochemical disturbances





Sunset Yellow FCF






Sausages, cosmetics, medicinal drugs


1.      Allergic reactions and food intolerance

2.      Skin rashes and eczema

3.      Gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting

4.      Chromosomal damage

5.      Hyperactivity

6.      Tumours of thyroid  and adrenal gland

7.      Abdominal pain

8.      Respiratory problems - nasal congestion and bronchoconstriction

9.      Dislike for food taste






Brown HT FCF

Substitute colorant in foods containing cocoa or chocolate; chocolate milk, cheese, yogurt, fish


1.      Allergic reactions in asthmatics

2.      Skin sensitivity with eczema and rashes

3.      Growth retardation found in male rats

4.      Mild renal dysfunction

5.      Brown pigmentation in Kupffer cells of liver

6.      Reduction in haemoglobin and red blood cell count

7.      High dosage level in rats reveals slight increase in mortality rate

8.      May cause eye irritation



Carmoisine FCF

Foods heated post-fermentation, jams, yogurts, jellies, cheesecake,


1.      Asthmatic reactions in individuals intolerant to aspirin

2.      Skin irritation

3.      Bladder cancer

4.      Hyperactivity





Brilliant Black PN FCF



Desserts, mustard, soft drinks, fish paste, caviar, flavoured milk, food decorations


1.        Histamine liberator, worsening symptoms of asthma

2.      Breathing and respiratory difficulties

3.      Carcinogenic effects in laboratory experiments, affecting liver, intestine, urinary bladder

4.      May be responsible for autoimmune disorders such as lupus

5.      To be avoided by subjects suffering from rhinitis, urticaria, and various other allergic conditions

6.     Intestinal bacteria have potential to convert Brilliant Black PN into hazardous substances

7.     Hyperactivity

Alternatives to artificial food colours
As seen in the above table, consumption of artificial food colours leads to various health hazards. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to replace artificial food colouring with “safer” alternatives. Various food colours can be obtained from completely natural sources, known as natural food colours.

Some of the natural sources of food colours are given below -

Food Colour | Natural Source
• Blue - Spirulina (FDA approved) ; red cabbage juice with baking soda. (purple turns blue)
• Green - Copper chlorohyllin (from alfalfa) ; powdered green tea; leaves of mint, coriander, spinach
• Red - Red beet, hibiscus, pomegranate
• Yellow - Turmeric, saffron, white onion, yellow marigold
• Pink - Strawberries, raspberries
• Brown - Chocolate, cocoa, caramelized sugar
• Orange - Carrots, orange juice, orange marigold



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