The eye eats before the mouth, a proverb that I grew up hearing in my culture. Guess what? Scientists found a direct connection between seeing food and the motivation to eat. So there's no doubt that color can make food either appealing or appalling! Manufacturers are totally aware of this fact, which is why millions of pounds of dyes are added to foods every year.
Are these food dyes safe? Most of the synthetic food dyes are derived from petrochemicals, while the 'natural' ones are no better. Over the years, research has implicated food dyes in a number of health conditions, such as hyperactivity, hypersensitivity and behavioral changes among children, as well as thyroid and bladder tumors.
Some of the food colorings and their dangers to health
- Cochineal, Carmine or Carminic Acid (E120) or Red 4: Albeit considered a natural food color, it is actually extracted from the cochineal insect. The female cochineal insect is sun-dried then crushed to produce the pigment, which gives food items their appealing bright red color. Cochineal or Carmine may trigger a severe life threatening allergic reaction in some people and workers who get exposed to it through handling or production may develop asthma (1).
- Tartrazine (E102) or Yellow 5: Tartrazine is a synthetic lemon yellow food coloring derived from coal tar (petrochemicals). It was found to increase hyperactivity and aggression among children, as well as raise their chances of developing asthma and/or eczema (2). Tartrazine is found in soft drinks, energy drinks, corn chips, cereals, soups, mustard, ice cream and more.
- Brilliant Blue (E133) and Indigo Blue (132) or Blue 1 and Blue 2: Already banned in some countries around Europe such as Norway, Blue 1 is found in candy, beverages, vitamins, medications, cereals, shampoos and toothpastes. It has been implicated in the death of patients receiving enteral feedings (patients being fed through a tube). (3)
- Red Erythrosine (E127) or Red 3: Although recognized as a thyroid carcinogen, Erythrosine can be found in cherries, candy and sausage casings.
How to make your own natural food colorings at home
- If you're using dry powders such as turmeric, matcha tea, spirulina or beetroot, you can go ahead and add them directly in very small quantities, around 1/8 teaspoon at a time.
- If you're using fresh or frozen fruits such as raspberry or blueberry, put them in a saucepan over very low heat and mash them with a spoon to extract all the juices. After it's done, use a strainer to remove any seeds or pulp.
- If you're using fresh juice such as carrot or beetroot, heat the juice in a saucepan over very low heat until the liquid reduces in half.
- If you're using the whole vegetable such as red cabbage or beetroot, shred or slice around two cups of the vegetable, place it in a saucepan with one cup of water, let it simmer on low heat until you reach your desired color.
Homemade food coloring is a safe alternative to dye eggs, whipping cream, DIY projects and more. However, they are not all suitable for baking as they may change color when heated in the oven.
Yellow color: Turmeric powder.
Pink Color: Beetroot, cranberry and raspberry.
Green Color:Kale, spinach, green tea or spirulina.
Blue Color: Blueberries.
Purple Color: Red cabbage.
Orange Color: Carrot juice and skin of yellow onion.
Note: Use very small amounts of turmeric as it may have an overpowering taste.
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