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The food-coloring topic


Fat Guy
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There's a "Week in Review" piece in the New York Times today by Gardiner Harris that gives a very good overview of the food-coloring scene.

Naked Cheetos would not seem to have much commercial future. Nor might some brands of pickles. The pickling process turns them an unappetizing gray. Dye is responsible for their robust green. Gummi worms without artificial coloring would look, like, well, muddily translucent worms. Jell-O would emerge out of the refrigerator a watery tan.

I thought we could use this topic to gather all our thoughts on food coloring:

- Is it safe?

- Is it essential for enjoyment of many products?

- Are current regulations adequate, too little, too much, wrong-headed, wise, or what?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Lots of studies out there, with results that are, unfortunately, rather discouraging, although by no means conclusive (e.g. Mcann et al.'s study, Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial), because of the frequent the presence of other ingredients suspected of being problematic.

The general impression I get from these articles is that, at least where kids are concerned, it's a good idea to keep intake of these dyes to minimum.

The aesthetic side of it is mostly down to what you're used to: My parents were hard-line health-food consumers, so even when it came to the occasional sweet, beige to brown was the order of the day; aggressively coloured sweets actually look a bit dodgy to me (although in actual fact, I'm as capable as anyone of packing away a bag of vividly-tinted wine gums). I can also taste many of the synthtic dyes (slightly bitter/metallic note), so I do tend to gravitate towards brands like Katjes, which usually use natural dyes.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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I find overuse of coloring offensive.

Among the 'normal' looking bagels at a reception yesterday, there were aqua/blueberry, pink/strawberry?, and suspiciously vividly yellow/egg culprits. :wacko:

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Squid Ink Ravioli anyone?

I keep a very very tight control over food coloring when it comes to items that we eat at home and have noticed an increase in choices when it comes to natural dyes (turmeric, natural fruit and vegetables, etc) and a decrease in prices in said products.

This of course feeds into the items that I choose for my customers..

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I've seen what seem to be really well done studies with proper blinding and controls on both sides of this issue (i.e. that these dyes cause problems and that they are completely safe). It's come to a point where you just have to pick a side.

I do wonder, however, how homogenous the fields of nutrition and dietary studies are in terms of the academic attitudes towards foods. I live near and got my Master's from a university with a highly regarded medical school and teaching hospital. I also work for a health care company that employs nutritionists. So I've met and worked with quite a number of people in the field. Every person I've encountered seems to be someone who tended towards natural\health foods even before they went to school.

I wonder then if this influences the consensus in the field. I would think that a group of academics who all got into the field because they believed in natural foods would tend to marginalize studies that said that "unnatural" ingredients were harmless while pumping up the significance of studies finding harmful effects from food additives.

The selection bias in some of the social sciences is already a pretty well known phenomena. I wonder how much it infiltrates some of the harder science fields.

All that is not to say that I think all food additives are good for you. I just tend to be skeptical of these things because of the tendency for these fields to be fairly homogenous groups.

Also, I wonder if anyone has ever thought to do these types of studies using common natural ingredients like heirloom organic tomatoes. I imagine you'd have a study or two that said that there was a correlation between hyperactivity and tomatoes. I just bet no one ever thought to try this with a typical food.

Edited to clarify

Edited by BadRabbit (log)
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Cheetos, gummy worms, jello - not things I should be eating anyway. Not things I'd give kids if I had 'em (kids, I mean). I get my pickles from a neighbor and I don't mind that they're not bright green. I posted last week in the Trader Joe discussion the news (to me) that nothing they sell has dyes - I never even noticed that. I have often wished that diet Coke and Pepsi came in a clear version, without the teeth-staining caramel coloring.

Is it safe? I don't know. I think it's unnecessary - it's a marketing tool to make (mostly) junk food attractive to kids.

Is is essential for enjoyment of many products? Not to me, but then I don't eat those products. (Well, maybe I do sneak the occasional cheeto, and I'd be grateful if they didn't give me away by staining my fingers orange! :laugh: )

Are current regulations adequate, too little, too much, wrong-headed, wise, or what? I suppose current regulations are adequate, but I'd like to have a choice. I mean, how many different kinds of Coke are there? They can't make a dye-free one? I would think that would actually gain them more customers, for reasons of health or, as in my case, vanity. :rolleyes:

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Are current regulations adequate, too little, too much, wrong-headed, wise, or what? I suppose current regulations are adequate, but I'd like to have a choice. I mean, how many different kinds of Coke are there? They can't make a dye-free one? I would think that would actually gain them more customers, for reasons of health or, as in my case, vanity. :rolleyes:

I don't remember the source but I recall reading somewhere that sales of Crystal Pepsi didn't do so well compared to its traditional product, so they eventually dropped it after a short run. Ditto for Coke.

My initial response to FG's comment was that it only matters if most of what one eats is overly-processed garbage. I consume very little junk food so the news that artificial coloring may become more closely regulated doesn't bother me that much. If it gets people to really think about what they're putting in their bodies, that's great news to me.

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We avoid artificial food colorings in our house. However, I have no problem with natural plant based food dyes that come from beets, turmeric, spinach, etc... We just find it unnecessary in most cases. We do a lot of shopping at Trader Joes and Whole Foods, which do not sell items that use artificial colors, so that makes shopping easier.

Food colouring is also a litmus test for me at bakeries. If I see neon green key lime pie or neon colored cookies or cakes, I question the place and might walk away.

Dan

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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I eat very little food with food coloring in it but I'm okay with ingesting some food coloring. More so than I am okay with ingesting radiation and mercury and hormones.

The only food coloring I use is red for red velvet cake. Since I eat that once a year, Valentine's Day, I'm not worried about it. You can't get that sexy red from beets.

I think childhood would be diminished if brightly colored candy did not exist.

I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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The only food coloring I use is red for red velvet cake. Since I eat that once a year, Valentine's Day, I'm not worried about it. You can't get that sexy red from beets.

You can get it from beetles though.

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I eat very little food with food coloring in it but I'm okay with ingesting some food coloring. More so than I am okay with ingesting radiation and mercury and hormones.

The only food coloring I use is red for red velvet cake. Since I eat that once a year, Valentine's Day, I'm not worried about it. You can't get that sexy red from beets.

I think childhood would be diminished if brightly colored candy did not exist.

And this is the main reason I avoid red velvet cake(and cupcakes)like the plauge. I can taste the food coloring and to me, its just so nasty.

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I eat very little food with food coloring in it but I'm okay with ingesting some food coloring. More so than I am okay with ingesting radiation and mercury and hormones.

The only food coloring I use is red for red velvet cake. Since I eat that once a year, Valentine's Day, I'm not worried about it. You can't get that sexy red from beets.

I think childhood would be diminished if brightly colored candy did not exist.

And this is the main reason I avoid red velvet cake(and cupcakes)like the plauge. I can taste the food coloring and to me, its just so nasty.

That's the reason that I have been using the Organic food Coloring from Nature's Flavors

My Mewmaw's Red Velvet Cake never used food coloring - she would use maraschino cherries but I later used canned red cherries to avoid the dye.

In recent years I found the All-Natural Maraschino cherries and I keep these on hand to use in the cake.

The color is just a vivid but there is no red dye to cause problems or an altered taste.

My Mexican neighbor uses a combination of annato seeds and tamarind paste to make a coloring for some of the cakes she makes for fiestas. I haven't researched it but she tells me that annato seeds are "healthy" and better to use than regular food colors. She says that some of the food colorings sold in Mexico contain chemicals that are dangerous so she has always made her own, but buys the natural ones now available here.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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That's the reason that I have been using the Organic food Coloring from Nature's Flavors

Does organic/natural mean it's harmless?

dcarch

Click here and read about the cherry red dye.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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. . . .

And this is the main reason I avoid red velvet cake(and cupcakes)like the plauge. I can taste the food coloring . . .

Second that... I can definitely taste the food colouring, and, to be honest, the colour kind of freaks me out.

. . . .

Does organic/natural mean it's harmless?

dcarch

Of course! Consider our friend, red lead :wink:

However, I am inclined to favour dyes that have a long history of fairly unproblematic use, which do tend to be natural (and were organic) by default (owing to the level of technology that existed at the time they were first used).

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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"Does organic/natural mean it's harmless?" Nope, especially if it's concentrated. If you extracted all the red coloring from 5 kilos/11 pounds of beets(betacyanin and betaxanthin), and ate it at one go, it probably wouldn't be good for your stomach, and might be toxic. But, since we have evolved consuming ~ 1 gram per day of various related flavonoids in our natural diet, there are multiple metabolic pathways by which our bodies use these chemicals. At low doses, their antioxidant properties are beneficial. On the other hand, we didn't evolve consuming low doses of coal tar derivatives.

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Nothing I cook at home seems unappetizing because of its color, or lack thereof. But then again, I can smell and touch it. I imagine dyes are inevitable when you are selling food that has to be visually striking first and foremost, because it is otherwise sealed off in packaging.

On the personal front, I'm a food luddite and a mother, and artificial dyes do not pass our door.

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I can't taste food coloring. I don't have any kids, so I don't have to worry about them bouncing off the walls. I read the article. I'm not seeing what's so horrible about food coloring.

I'm a very clean eater, believe me. It's organic cooperative, farmer's market, mom and pop ethnic specialty shops all the way.

The the taste of vinegar, cocoa, buttermilk, cream cheese, and red food coloring turns me on once a year.

I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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My Mexican neighbor uses a combination of annato seeds and tamarind paste to make a coloring for some of the cakes she makes for fiestas. I haven't researched it but she tells me that annato seeds are "healthy" and better to use than regular food colors.

I've used annatto seeds to colour a paella. It affected the flavour slightly, but not in a bad way-- just gave a slight 'bite', for lack of a better word. The seeds are like rocks and I had a hell of a time grining them down to the texture I wanted. The colour was a lovely... orange? LOL

There are 3 kinds of people in this world, those who are good at math and those who aren't.

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The question of banning or removing food dyes from foods because some portion of the population finds the colors repulsive, while others find them critical to the eating experience (e.g. children eating brightly colored cupcakes), seems to be similar to the debate going on in the "foams" thread. Some people don't eat artificially colored foods because it creeps them out. That's perfectly reasonable.

Regarding the question of safety of food coloring, I have a hard time putting much stock in the CSPI recommendations, especially if those are based solely on their recent publication, "Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risk". The vast majority of the review examines the carcinogenicity and genotoxicity of petroleum based dyes; there seems to be very little focus or information of "hyperactivity" in children. Additionally, many of the reviews of animal experiments dismiss negative findings based on trivial or absurd reasons. For example, one (negative) study is partially dismissed because the researchers used 6-week-old mice. This is common practice, and there is no reason to reject a study for this reason. Another (negative) study is dismissed, in part, because the researchers did not treat the mice for their entire lifetime (~2 years). This too is standard practice; housing, feeding, and experimenting on mice is very expensive, and very few studies every treat mice for such a long time. Additionally, for every almost every study confirming the genotoxic effects of food dyes, there are an equal number (and up to 10 times as many) studies that find no genotoxic effects. As BadRabbit pointed out, there seems to be no compelling evidence to support either side of the argument.

And while I'm fully in support of organic and natural foods, like dcarch pointed out, organic/natural is not synonymous with "safe". Natural things cause cancer and disease too...

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My Mexican neighbor uses a combination of annato seeds and tamarind paste to make a coloring for some of the cakes she makes for fiestas. I haven't researched it but she tells me that annato seeds are "healthy" and better to use than regular food colors.

I've used annatto seeds to colour a paella. It affected the flavour slightly, but not in a bad way-- just gave a slight 'bite', for lack of a better word. The seeds are like rocks and I had a hell of a time grining them down to the texture I wanted. The colour was a lovely... orange? LOL

My neighbor just cracks them and simmers them in a little water - she also steeps some in tequila when she only needs a few drops. Same with the tamarind and jamaica - a combination of these can yield a range of reds.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I have just about no experience with food coloring, since I don't bake a lot and I don't buy a lot of processed foods. Once in a blue moon I'll eat Cheetos, since I have no plans to make them myself, with or without bright orange dust.

My cousin used to whip up fantastic jello using only fruit juice and gelatin and fresh fruit. One of my favorite desserts is a Blood Orange Jello made from fresh squeezed fruit and served with an alcoholic whipped cream.

As for Red Velvet Cake made with beets, hordes of people weigh in on how to do that if you google it, many of them testifying that the use of beets keeps the cake moist. I would guess that a little beet juice could color a lot of cake without adverse effects on taste. Maybe it would even be an improvement.

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