By Swati Solanki*


A Food Colour is a tint which gives colour when it is added to any foodstuff. These are not naturally present in food, but added artificially to make food more attractive. They can be added in various steps like during production, processing treatment and transport and storage of food. Food Colour can be used for commercial as well as for domestic purpose. Several peoples are using natural food colours for centuries but artificial food colours were invented in 1865 from coal tar. There are different types of food colours like dye, liquid gel dye, paste, natural food colourings and powdered dye. Some examples of food colouring are sunset yellow, allura red, brilliant blue and indigo caramine. These, some colours found naturally in our environment like carotenoids (red and orange), chlorophyll (green), anthocyanin (purple and blue), and turmeric (yellow). A number of industries are using artificial colours because of their long shelf life and their cost.

The Prevention of Food adulteration Act (PFA) gives permission to various industries for using the food colours, but in limited quantity (100 parts per million). It has been made mandatory that every industry should mention the usage of colours on their packaging.

Some Applications of Food Colouring

  • Gives identity to foods.
  • Preserves flavors and vitamins which can be damage by light.
  • Serves decorative purposes such as cake icing.
  • Neutralizes colour loss due to light, air, extremes of temperature, moisture, and storage conditions.
  • Providing variety to wholesome and Nutritious food that meets consumer’s demand for better taste
  • Used as food or drink additives to change colour
  • Improves the nutritional value of food.

Consuming too much food colours containing contaminants could pose a health risk. It may cause hypersensitivity in sensitive children. Some dyes may contain cancer causing agents like Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6.

As per Centre for science and environment (CSE), potassium bromate increases the strength of dough, while potassium iodate can be used as a flour treatment agent. But, the government banned use of potassium bromate as a food additive following a CSE study that found its existence in bread is causing cancer. The Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI), has banned potassium bromated because of its carcinogenic properties in food as flavouring agent.


According to the latest studies it has been concluded that food colour will not cause cancer. But not everyone agrees with this conclusion.  Food colours safe in one country, are banned in another country for human consumption, making it extremely confusing to determine their food safety. Many Regulatory agencies, like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), have proved that food colours do not pose any significant health risks.


* The Author is Copy Editor in Food Marketing & Technology Magazine