All About Dyes

What are artificial dyes?

Artificial dyes are Man-made or synthetic dyes that are chemically produced to look like natural colors.

Dyes are certified, water soluble synthetic food colorants. They are manufactured as powders, granules and liquids. The synthetic dyes are of several types as per their basic compound and structure.

What are the chemical components of food dyes?

Food dyes contain Anionic dyes that have a sulphonic or carboxilic group . The Cationic dyes have amino or aminomethyl as the basic group and are available as acid salts.

Azo dyes have 1 to 3 azo bonds and make the largest permitted food dye. They have a primary aromatic amine and an aromatic compound and their combinations cover a wide range of colors.

azo dye – any dye containing one or more azo groups

congo red – a red-brown azo dye especially as a chemical pH indicator (congo red is red in basic and blue in acidic solutions)
methyl orange – an azo dye used as an acid-base indicator; used for titrations involving weak bases
dye, dyestuff – a usually soluble substance for staining or coloring e.g. fabrics or hair

Dyes have to be certified for their safety to be used as a food or cosmetic colorant. A dye which is listed as “FD&C” is permitted by the Food & Drug Administration to be added to foods, drugs and cosmetics. “D&C” means the dye may be used only in drugs and cosmetics. [1]

As an example, early synthetic dyes used coal tar, which was a
waste product from coal distillation in the gas works. [2]

How many types of color additives are there?

There are two main types of color additives for food use:

  1. Dyes – Dyes dissolve in water, but are not soluble in oil. Dyes are manufactured as powders, granules, liquids or other special purpose forms. They can be used in beverages, dry mixes, baked goods, confections, dairy products, pet foods, and a variety of other products. Dyes also have side effects which lakes do not, including the fact that large amounts of dyes ingested can color stools. [5]
  2. Lakes – Lakes are made by combining dyes with salts to make insoluble compounds. Lakes tint by dispersion. Lakes are not oil soluble, but are oil dispersible. Lakes are more stable than dyes and are ideal for coloring products containing fats and oils or items lacking sufficient moisture to dissolve dyes. Typical uses include coated tablets, cake and doughnut mixes, hard candies and chewing gums, lipsticks, soaps, shampoos, talc, etc. [5]

Why do food manufacturers use artificial dyes?

Before the onslaught of chemical additives (before the 1950’s) foods were naturally colored using plant and vegetable based components. For example, pale red colors could be achieved from beets or paprika – green could be achieved from chlorophyll – yellows and orange could be achieved from extracts from a number of other plants and spices. [3]

After the 50’s, the chemical industry grew rapidly and were able to produce petroleum based ingredients at a fraction of the cost of natural colorants. This gave the food industry a better chance to boost their profit margins. Some of the benefits that manufacturers saw in these petroleum based ingredients were convenience, lower cost and a longer shelf life.

Other reasons include:

  • Offsetting color loss due to light, air, extremes of temperature, moisture, and storage conditions.
  • Masking natural variations in color.
  • Enhancing naturally occurring colors.
  • Providing identity to foods.
  • Protecting flavors and vitamins from damage by light.
  • Decorative or artistic purposes such as cake icing. [4]

Which artificial dyes are used in the USA?

There are 7 artificial dyes that are approved by the FDA to be used within the United States. They are:

FD&C Red #3 –  Main uses= Candy, Desserts, Baked Goods. Also used for ingested drugs.

FD&C Red #40 – Main uses= Beverages, Candy, Desserts, Pet Food. Also used for drugs and cosmetics (eye area).

FD&C Blue #1 – Main uses= Beverage, Candy, Baked Goods. Also used for drugs and cosmetics (eye area).

FD&C Blue #2 – Main uses= Pet Foods, Candy, Beverages. Also used for ingested drugs.

FD&C Green #3 – Main uses= Beverages, Candy, Also used for drugs and cosmetics

FD&C Yellow #5 – Main uses= Pet Food, Beverages, Baked Goods. Also used for drugs and cosmetics (eye area).

FD&C Yellow #6 – Main uses= Beverages, Candy, Desserts, Sausage. Also used for drugs and cosmetics

There are 2 other colors that are allowed in the production of food, but mainly for outer casing colors. They are:

Orange B – Main uses = Casings or surfaces of frankfurters and sausages (from the Azo dye group)

Citrus Red #2 – Main uses = Skins of oranges not intended or used for processing. Citrus Red 2, Citrus Red No. 2, C.I. Solvent Red 80, or C.I. 12156 is an artificial dye. As a food dye, it is permitted by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1956 only for use in the United States on skin on some oranges. While the dye is a carcinogen, it does not penetrate the orange peel into the pulp. It is an orange to yellow solid or a dark red powder with a melting point of 156 °C. Citrus Red 2 is not water-soluble, but readily soluble in many organic solvents. [6]

Colors Exempt from Certification: Annatto extract, B-Apo-8′-carotenal*, Beta-carotene, Beet powder, Canthaxanthin, Caramel color, Carrot oil, Cochineal extract (carmine); Cottonseed flour, toasted partially defatted, cooked; Ferrous gluconate *, Fruit juice, Grape color extract*, Grape skin extract* (enocianina), Paprika, Paprika oleoresin, Riboflavin, Saffron, Titanium dioxide*, Turmeric, Turmeric oleoresin, Vegetable juice

Why should we be concerned about artificial dyes?

There have been many debates, articles, research and experiments done concerning the use of artificial dyes and almost all research done on the use of them have all pointed to the same conclusion: they should not be used in food production!

Did you know that many people that have food allergies (or intolerances) are actually allergic to the dye that is used and not the food itself? It is the leading cause of hypersensitivity and behavioral issues in children with ADD, ADHD and Autism. When certain dyes have been eliminated from their diets, the symptoms went away also.

Signs of dye allergies

Some signs that you have a dye allergy are

  • gastrointestinal distress (diarrhea, gas or bloating)
  • skin problems (rashes, skin redness, tingling, itchiness or tightness, hives , eczema worsens)
  • cold/flu like symptoms (person may experience sneezing, itchy nose, itchy throat, watery eyes or itchy eyes)
  • dizziness
  • trouble sleeping
  • poor concentration
  • loss of appetite
  • swelling
  • joint pains (can aggravate)
  • seizures
  • headaches / migraines
  • hyperactivity (especially in children)


  4. Purpose of Food Coloring –
  5. Dyes and Lakes –
  6. Citrus Red 2 –

I get asked alot “Why do you care so much about artificial dyes in foods?” and I answer “Because someone should!”.

Powered by Nexx