What is food coloring?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “What is food coloring?”. We will also discuss the purpose of food coloring, different food colorings used in food, and whether food colorings are good for children.

What is food coloring?

Food coloring, often known as a color additive or food dye, is basically any dye, pigment, or chemical that adds color to food or drink. They are available in different forms: liquids, powders, gels, and pastes. You can use food coloring in different forms and colors depending on what your recipe calls for.

Liquid food coloring is the most commonly used food coloring, they are added to different sweet and savory recipes, beverages as well as in different baked items. Their main purpose is to enhance the appearance of food by adding vibrant color to them. A bit of food color in your food can completely change its outlook, even the blandest of foods appear to be so delicious.

Adding colors to food is not a new thing, this practice has been going on for centuries, but the first artificial food coloring was only developed in 1856 from coal tar. However, most of the food colors today are manufactured from petroleum.

The main reason why most of the big food manufacturers prefer artificial food dyes over natural ones like beta carotene and beet extract is that they offer a more vibrant color. No doubt adding food coloring to your recipe just brightens up your food.

What is the purpose of food coloring?

The main purpose of food coloring is to add vibrant colors to your food as the name suggests. Although generally food colors do not have a particular flavor, most of them do have a bitter taste which is why food coloring should be added to your food carefully. A drop is enough to give the food a vibrant color.

Food coloring is also added to the recipes for many more reasons like:

  • To make food more appealing, alluring, delicious, and informative to the consumers. Foods that have added artificial food coloring likely to be more appealing to the customers.
  • To compensate for the color loss caused by light, air, temperature extremes, moisture, and storage conditions.
  • To correct the color differences that occur naturally.
  • To add color to colorless foods, especially while baking. Food colorings are added to different creams and batter while preparing cakes and pastries.
  • To allow customers to recognize things on the spot, such as confectionery varieties or medication dosages.

What are the different food colorings used in food?

There are different colors of food colorings available in the market. Some of the most commonly used food colorings that are also approved by both the EFSA and the FDA are as follows:

  • Red No. 3: Also known as Erythrosine, it is a cherry-red coloring that is often used in sweets, popsicles, and cake decorating gels.
  • Red No. 40: Also known as Allura Red, it is a dark red dye used in sports beverages, sweets, sauces, and cereals.
  • Yellow No. 5: Also known as Tartrazine, it is a lemon-yellow dye found in sweets, soft beverages, chips, popcorn, and cereals.
  • Yellow No. 6: Also known as Sunset Yellow, it is an orange-yellow color used in sweets, sauces, baked products, and fruit preserves.
  • Blue No. 1: Also known as Brilliant Blue, it is a greenish-blue color that is commonly found in ice cream, canned peas, packaged soups, popsicles, and icings.
  • Blue No. 2: Also known as Indigo Carmine, it is a royal blue color that is commonly found in confectionery, ice cream, cereal, and snacks.

Are food colorings good for children?

No, food colorings are not good for children. The use of artificial food colorings and preservatives in children’s food has been linked with different diseases and health issues including hyperactivity (ADHD) and learning problems in children. 

Furthermore, changes in behavior such as getting irritated or depressed were also observed in some cases. Additionally, some studies reported that when the use of food colorings was completely stopped, there was a significant improvement in the children’s behavior.

 It may even encourage tumor development in children. Some of the food colorings contain cancer-causing substances.


In this brief guide, we have answered the query, “What is food coloring?”. We have also discussed the purpose of food coloring, different food colorings used in food, and whether food colorings are good for children.




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