News from CRIS: 101 Series - Food Dye

February 2, 2021

What are food, drug, and cosmetic dyes?

Food, drug, and cosmetic dyes, called color additives, impart colors to products we consume and use. These can include food products, beverages, cosmetics, drugs, and more. In this post, we focus on color additives found in foods and beverages.
Manufacturers and home cooks alike use food dyes to enhance the natural color of a food or product, to add decoration to colorless foods and products (e.g., bright-colored sprinkles or frosting), and to help us identify flavors (e.g., red for cherry flavor, green for lime flavor, etc.) (1).
Like flavors, colorants are derived from both synthetic (artificial) and natural sources.

What is the difference between artificial and natural food dye?

Artificial food dyes are human-made using chemical ingredients and, as such, are regulated as a food additive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Food additives require additional rigorous safety assessments before being available on the market (1,2).
Artificial food dyes require batch certification. Certification is a process that requires manufacturers to provide the FDA with a representative sample for identification and specification analysis before manufacturers can use and distribute the colorants. The certification process is required every time a manufacturer creates a new food dye batch (1).
Natural food dyes are processed ingredients derived from plants, vegetables, minerals, and animals. Natural color additives tend to cost more money and can impart unwanted flavors to the products they're coloring (1).
Naturally-derived food dyes do not require certification for every batch. However, they still need FDA approval before manufacturers can add them to foods (1). 


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