Unique features of colourings


Food colouring or colourants are any substances, dyes or pigments added to food to change the colour.

Colourings come in the form of liquids, powders, pastes or gels, and can be manmade or organic.


Organic food colouring comes from brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, and substances like paprika, turmeric, and saffron.


Inorganic food colourants mostly have a chemical origin; it tends to give more intense colours than natural colourants.

The use of food colourants, particularly synthetic food colourings, is rigorously legislated in the EU.


What are food colourings used for in products?


Food colouring is extensively used in commercial food production; as well as, food preparation in the home.

Food colourants are also used in crafting projects; the production of cosmetics and make-up, and in pharmaceuticals.


The reasons for using food colourants are pretty varied:


  • To make food look more appetising and attractive.
  • Correct for loss of colour as a result of storage conditions like; exposure to light or heat.
  • Achieve uniformity where there are unattractive variations in colour
  • Hook into people’s concepts of what an item’s ‘natural’ colour should be; as for example; the expectation that glacé cherries should be a bright; glossy red.
  • Intensify natural colours; so that the food looks more appealing.
  • To give an attractive ‘fun’ colour to foods that are naturally colourless.
  • Make it easy for consumers to ‘identify’ an item on sight by giving it a colour that they associate with that item.
  • To enhance the flavour because to a large extent we ‘eat’ with our eyes and taste what we expect to taste.


Products that contain food colourings


The use of food colourants is extensive.

Here are some of the products that contain them:

  • Salad dressings
  • Tinned fruit
  • Ice cream and sorbets
  • Oatmeal
  • Processed meats
  • Potato crisps/chips
  • Cooldrinks, sodas and mixers
  • Petfood
  • Syrups
  • Bottled sauces
  • Bottled ‘smoothies’
  • Nutritional drinks
  • Gravy mixes and thickenings
  • Stock cubes
  • Jams and fruit spreads
  • Seasonings
  • Soup mixes
  • Protein bars
  • Candy bars and sweets/candy
  • Peanut butter, other nut butters and spreads
  • Beef jerky
  • Preprepared meals
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Pickles
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Bread
  • Chewing gum
  • Sweetened yoghurt


Types of colourings


These are the most commonly food colourants:

  1. Liquid food colourings have been traditionally used for a long time. They have a water base with synthetic food colouring dissolved in it.
  2. Liquid gel dye consisting of synthetic colorant in a glycerine, water and/or a corn syrup base.
  3. A concentrated gel paste dye; also called concentrated gel or icing colour. Consists of a water, corn syrup and/or a glycerine base.
  4. Powdered dyes made of synthetic colourants (no base ingredients) sold in jars of dry powder.
  5. Natural food colourants made from plant and other natural sources like saffron, cocoa, carrot, turmeric, squid ink, spinach, beetroot, etc.