Food Colors – Impact on Health and Future Alternatives

Food Colors – Impact on Health and Future Alternatives

Have you ever thought of sensing through eyes, Is there any reality in saying when people say a phrase ”You eat with your eyes” and in Kashmir itself it is said like, “Aechow seet kheoun”, The answer to this is Yes it is possible to eat with your eyes, depending upon the perception of looking at different things. The common such thing is Food because of the fact how foods look becomes one of the primary sensory criteria which we use to make decision about the foods we eat. Whether you call it conscious or subconscious, all our five senses begin to gather essential food information. The sight, Aroma, odour, and even the sound of food, all these factors help you in making one’s decision to choose your favourite food. Let’s think about the visual appearance of food. The expression “eating with your eyes” is certainly true because when a dish is visually appealing and attractive, it’s more appetizing. A Roasted Barbeque/ Seekh Kebab, Pizza, Chicken Shawrma and other Snacks common in Kashmir like Nadder Monje, Chutneys, Aloo Pakora, Fish Pakora etc., all fills your mouth with water. A salad made with colorful leafy greens, red chillies and carrots, and other Ingredients looks more attractive than a bowl of plain salad. The shape and consistency of the food is something that we also look for before eating. Along with Visual Appearance, odour, Aroma is important factor determining our choice of food. Hot foods are more aromatic than cold foods because heat causes compounds within the foods to become more volatile (like a gas). The nasal cells detect them easily and send a message to the brain for recognition of the flavour or type of cuisine. The effects of color on food are tremendous as color plays a crucial role in the visual perception of the food we eat along with other elements like flavours. The appearance and aroma of the food produce a craving for it and color is a major factor that affects the appearance of food. Coloring and flavouring agents are generally used as food additives to attract consumers. In India, only those colors and flavours are permitted for use in Food Products which have been approved by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. FSSAI has various standards for food colors and flavours, as added in the regulations under (Food Product Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011.


Why Colors are added to foods

Colors are generally added to foods and beverages to make it attractive in appearance. Their addition enhances the color of foods which could have been deteriorated due to the processing operations, as consumers perceive such foods to be of inferior quality. There are many other reasons about addition of food colors by Food Business operators. Addition of colors has been started from old traditional times which have created a sense of perception for guessing the color of food item to be consumed. It actually goes hand in hand association with food. It is general assumption by the consumer’s that cola’s will be dark-brown, mango juices will be yellow, sauces will be red, etc. In the absence of the right colors Food manufacturers add color to foods as consumers prefer buying foods by appearance. Colors are also added to enhance the natural color which increases value addition of foods and are also added to foods because of the color losses during storage as it gets deteriorated by the effect of heat and sunlight. In general the addition of colors to foods influences the perceived flavour and overall acceptability by the consumers.


Types of Food Colors and Effect on Human Health

Food colors are of two types and classified as artificial and natural. Generally natural colors are considered as better alternative because of its origin, wholly derived from plants. It usually appears less vibrant without glaze, when compared to artificial food color; however it does not affect the taste and palatability of your food. Natural food color can be a dye, pigment or any other chemical derivative obtained from vegetable, animal, mineral source, capable of coloring foods or drugs. Colors may come from variety of sources like seeds, fruits, vegetables, algae and insect. Nowadays the demand for naturally occurring colors has increased worldwide due to the increased awareness on therapeutic and medicinal properties and their benefits on public health. It can also be because of the known profound toxicity of synthetic colors. (Red, blue and violet), They are derived from anthocyanin’s found in beetroots, raspberries and red cabbages, (Green) color is derived from chlorophylls, the green pigment found in all leaves and stems, (Yellow, Orange, Red) is derived from carotenoids found in apricots, carrots and tomatoes. Artificial colors are synthetic in nature and are manufactured by chemical reactions commonly used in food and pharmaceutical industries. The most commonly used food colors are tartrazine, sunset yellow, amaranth, allura red, quinolone yellow, brilliant blue and indigo carmine. Food regulatory authority has given a clean chit to various colors as safe to be used in foods, but they have to fulfil specific criteria to be used as a food additive. Synthetic colors can be sub divided into two categories as permitted and non-permitted and are widely used in many foods such as bakery products, confectioneries, jellies, and beverages available in the market. Various foods and beverages which are easily available in the market may contain some non-permitted synthetic colors viz (Fast red, Rhodamine B, Metanil yellow, Bromo-cresol purple, Green S, Sudan 1, Sudan 2, Sudan 3 and Sudan 4) as well as the overuse of permitted synthetic colors. Various studies have confirmed that the synthetic food colors are a major source of food intoxication and lead to severe health problems such as low haemoglobin concentration, allergic reactions, mutations, cancers, irritability, restlessness, sleeping disturbances, effects on the liver, kidney, and intestine, hyperactive effects on children, ear infections, asthma, and eczemas Indiscriminate use of permitted synthetic colors is also not safe. The aim of the labelling of food items is to stimulate the buyer’s interest by providing information on nutritional attributes and different additive contents of the food product for the consumer to make informed decisions.


Food Authority Regulations

The FSSAI regulations for Food Colors are enlisted under the category ‘Coloring Matter’ within the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011.The regulations say that no coloring matter should be added to food unless permitted in these regulations. The food colors cited in the regulations, when utilized in the preparation of any article of food, shall be pure and free from any harmful impurities. Synthetic colors have maximum limits not exceeding 100 parts per million of the final food product available in market for consumption. Generally, in some food products and beverages, the maximum permissible limit of permitted synthetic food colors should not exceed 200 parts per million. The declaration about the added synthetic food colors in the product should be mentioned on the label of the food product in accordance with the regulations enacted. If any food product available in the market fails to comply with the regulations of Food regulatory authority, the Food Manufacturer is liable for Penalty or punishment. If the color used in food is used to conceal blemishes or inferior food products for making its appearance better or greater in value then it can mislead the consumer by presuming the fact, “if the color in the food is intact the food could not be spoilt”


Alternatives of Synthetic Colors:

Color is important constituent of our food and has been added to our foods from centuries. The coloring of candy and wines has been earlier used by Egyptians dates back to as long as 400 BC. Saffron, turmeric and paprika were also used as traditional food colorants. Yellow Color (Annatto Dye) in butter has also been colored as far back as the 1300 BC. Ancient Romans have used saffron (Picrocrocin and Safranil) and other spices to put a rich yellow color into various foods. Other naturally occurring foods, in powdered form after drying viz carrot, pomegranate, grapes, mulberries, spinach, beet, parsley and flowers, were also used as food coloring agents. With the advent of strict legislative regulations and growing awareness among the consumers about food safety, bio-colorants have become the choice in the foods as the same are extracted from common sources of biological origin and are much safer than their synthetic counterparts in many foods. In India, under the rule 26 of The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 (PFA) and The Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955 & 1999, following colors viz Beet-root concentrates, Annatto, Beta-carotene, Cochineal Extract, Grape extract, Paprika, oleoresin, Turmeric Oleoresin, Luetin, Phycocyanin, Saffron, isolated from natural sources have been permitted. Biocolors are naturally prepared from renewable sources easily degradable and without causing any harm to the environment. Natural dyes & Food colors have growing importance not only in dyeing but also due to their utilization in medicinal properties. The awareness among people towards natural dyes and their therapeutic uses are increasing due to their nontoxic or less toxic properties, with fewer side effects. Production of colors by fermentation is also a newer trend in genetic engineering with the various advantages i.e. lesser production cost, easy extraction, high yield, and no seasonal variations with minimum raw material available. Many microbial pigments are not only used as coloring agents in food and cosmetic industry but also act as anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-oxidant. Isolation of new microorganisms producing coloring pigment can be an alternate source of colorants used in food and pharma industry etc. In this way, biotechnology plays a pivotal role for larger amount of production of bio-colorants through fermentation. The other advantages of Biocolors are less toxicity, less polluting, less health hazardous, non-carcinogenic and non-poisonous. They are harmonizing colors with gentle, soft, subtle, and create a restful effect. Most of them are water-soluble (anthocyanin’s), which facilitates their incorporation into aqueous food systems which makes natural food colorants attractive. Biocolors are also environment friendly and can be recycled after use. Use of bicolor may enhance immune systems which lead to inhibition of tumour developments. So it becomes essential to explore natural sources of food grade colorants for utilization in food products. Hence, natural colors produced by microorganism in the form pigments are safe and sound than other synthetic food colors. As far as future scope of Food colors is concerned there is an increasing trend of progressive world shifting from synthetic to biocolors. Therefore more detailed studies and scientific research on same is required to assess the real potential and availability of biocolorants to satisfy the growing need and demand of growing population.


Note: (The author is an Aspiring Food Technologist/Writer and opinions expressed in this article are based on scientific research carried by scholars, and has nothing to do with the organization he works for).


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