50 Shades of Red, Blue, Green & Yellow…

food dyes cakeWhy are we drawn to different colored foods? Does red velvet cake have a special taste because it is red or does it just look more luscious? Do green cupcakes on St. Patrick’s day or orange cupcakes on Halloween make that day more festive? Food that has been colored has now become a part of our way of eating. Food Dyes have been classified as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) and now are offered as powders, gels and liquids. The origins of food dyes can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt when their sources were mainly vegetable or mineral and their use was purely cosmetic. However, we use food coloringfood dye makeup now as a visual to give the impression of quality by making an item appear richer and appeal to what a consumer might expect. Early pieces of legislation in France both in 1396 and in 1574 made it illegal to add color to both butter and pastries. In 1531 Germany went as far as calling for the death by burning of anyone who used saffron as a coloring agent. As we entered the Industrial Age around 1820 there is documentation of mercury, lead, copper and sulfates being used to color candy, cheese, pickles, lozenges and certain teas. Not only was this misleading the consumer by disguising poor quality but more food dye fabricimportantly, it proved to be poisonous and sometimes deadly. This practice continued until the middle of the 19th century when synthetic coloring was by accident discovered while making an anti-malaria drug. This led to a whole range of synthetic colors that proved to be cheaper and more stable than their predecessors. In turn, it opened the door for use in the textile as well as the food industry. By the turn of the 20th century restrictions on the use of color additives had become totally unregulated and were now being used in all of the popular foods throughout Europe and the United States. This became commonfood dye beets practice in ketchup, jellies, mustard and even wine. It wasn’t until 1906 that the government passed the Pure Food and Drug Act and the 80 colors in use were reduced to 7 which were considered less harmful. However, laws were loosely enforced and the number crept back up to 16 causing serious illnesses and adverse reactions. Although at present the number of artificial food dyes is under 10, there is also now in use more natural and safe substitutes. Everything from beets to carrots, grapes to paprika even insects are being used to add color. This is the result of the public demand for a greater say in what is being used in our food supply. In the future we can look forward to having a purple cupcake, a piece of green candy, a bowl of orange rice and most importantly red velvet cake without having to think about chemicals.