Even though all M&Ms taste the same, many of us will select a specific colour when given the option. Psychologists say that colour choice has a subconscious meaning and is a reflection of our personality. Regardless if you agree or not, one thing I am sure we can all agree on is that colourful food has eye appeal.
In fact, numerous studies have shown that colour cues for flavour. This is one of a number of reasons formulators have long added colour additives to foods and beverages, including dairy. Other reasons include correcting natural variations in the actual colour of certain ingredients and ensuring colour during processing and storage.
Here’s the deal on adding colour to foods in 2013…and beyond. It’s all about using colour additives referred to as exempt from certification, or more casually, natural colours. In fact, an increasing number of dairy processors are replacing artificial colours with natural ones because of the negative publicity surrounding artificial colours.
Artificial colours have been the cause of controversy since the 1970s, when a pediatrician first identified a correlation of intake to children’s behaviour. They came under fierce scrutiny again in September 2007 after the results of a British study from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom showed a correlation between artificial food colours and additives and exacerbated hyperactive behaviour in children.
Referred to as the Southampton Six, the colours singled out for a connection to hyperactivity in children include these three synthetics approved for use in the States: Alurra Red (FD&C 40), Tartrazine (FD&C 5) and Sunset Yellow (FD&C 6). The other three of the Southampton Six–Ponceau 4R, Quinoline Yellow and Carmoisine–have long been banned by FDA.
Colour suppliers offer an array of natural replacements for the Southampton Six, as well as the other FD&C colours used in the States. Often times, a natural substitute requires careful blending of exempt-from-certification colours, as well as some minor process and formulation modifications…but it can be done! And consumer studies show that phrases such as contains no artificial colours or contains no additives appeal to a growing number of consumers.
Food Colours 101
The term colour additive is legally defined in Title 21, Part 70 of the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 70). Basically, any ingredient with the sole purpose of adding colour to a food or beverage is a colour additive, with all colour additives requiring approval by FDA as a food additive.
In the U.S., synthetic food colours are classified by FDA as colour additives subject to certification (21 CFR 74). They are certified with an FD&C number. This indicates that the additive has been tested for safety and is approved for used in foods, drugs and cosmetics, or FD&C. Seven colours were initially approved under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Over time, several have been delisted and replaced. Today there are still seven, which can be combined into an infinite number of colours; hence, the seven are considered primary colours.