FOOD DYES: Find out what colors your favorite foods!


It is said that "even the eye wants its part", which is why when we prepare something or when we choose a food we often rely above all, in addition to the scent, on the aspect with which the food is presented to us! A beautiful dish with bright colors will surely attract our attention more than a gray or pale colored dish; but if we said that even the eye wants its part .. well we must consider that "often the dress does not make the monk !!" and the rainbow cake at the supermarket counter that inspired us so much, maybe is not as healthy as beautiful !!

What are food dyes?

A food coloring is a chemical compound that can be used to change the color of a food and due to this property it is classified as a food additive. Dyes are not a technological tool necessary for food, but they are used because color is a fundamental element in the choice and judgment of food!

At the legislative level, food additives are defined as "substances with no nutritional value or used for non-nutritional purposes that are added ... ... to preserve the chemical, physical or physico-chemical characteristics over time, to avoid spontaneous alteration or to enhance particular characteristics of appearance, taste, smell or consistency".

Regulation (EC) no. 1333/2008 establishes that a dye can be authorized for food use if it satisfies the general conditions set for all food additives in addition to some specifications provided for this category, such as the permitted use if "on the basis of available scientific data, it does not pose problems safety for consumer health ” and if “ it does not mislead consumers ”. According to the Regulation, all food additives must undergo a safety assessment by EFSA which can authorize their use and periodically review the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI).

As food additives, all dyes, natural or synthetic, are marked with a 3-digit code (between 100 and 199) preceded by the letter E, a coding system that we find on the labels of the foods that contain them.

Artificial alternatives to food colors are much cheaper, chemically stable, uniform in color and always available in large quantities and this has meant that the food industry could not do without them to improve the appearance of colorless foods or those that have lost it during the manufacturing process.

Despite the technological advantages, the scientific evidence supporting a potential correlation between the ingestion of some synthetic dyes and the development of allergies, tumors and hyperactivity in children is different: for this reason we are trying to devise new food formulations that go to replace synthetic dyes with natural dyes.

Natural food dyes are compounds extracted from biological sources such as plants, algae, insects, fungi and animals; additives with code from E100 to E163 are natural organic dyes and can be used both to color the external and internal surface (mass) of the food. The natural dyes with code from E170 to E180 are inorganic dyes, i.e. of mineral origin that can only be used for coloring the outer surface of the food!

Here are some examples of natural dyes that can not only give a beautiful color to our foods but have bioactive properties that are beneficial for health!

  • Red: Betalain (E162): water-soluble red pigments extracted from red beet juice and remain stable over a wide pH range; Malvidina (E163): red anthocyanin abundant in cherries. Less pH stable than betalain, the color can vary from red to blue depending on the pH of the food. These two pigments share antioxidant, anticancer and antimicrobial properties found both in vitro and in vivo.
  • Yelloworange: Lutein (E161b): it is a carotenoid and is extracted from the petals of calendula, it gives a yellow color to the food; β-carotene (E160a): pigments extracted from carrots, are responsible for the orange color of the foods that contain them or to which they are added. β-carotene is converted in the liver into vitamin A and its long-term consumption, as well as lutein, is associated with an improvement in cognitive performance in the elderly and the degree of attention in young people.
  • Blue: The Phycocyanin is a blue protein extracted from the filamentous alga Spirulina, the only blue dye allowed in Europe. Phycocyanins are renowned for their antioxidant potential, in particular, they seem useful for fighting free radicals, counteracting the oxidation of lipids in the liver and with an anti-inflammatory action acting in a similar way to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Fans).
  • Green: Chlorophyllins (E 140): they are extracted from alfalfa, nettle, olive waste and cucumbers. They can take on yellow-green shades and have a Mg atom2+ at the center of the molecule which makes the molecule unstable and irreversibly assumes an unpleasant brown color, for this reason the replacement of Mg2+ with Cu2+ , copper chlorophyllins (E141) represent a solution to obtain an intense and stable blue-green color.

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