food colourants have become an important ingredient in the food processing industry, but are they harmful to your body?

Food Colourants belong to the group of food additives that give specific colours to food commodities.

They are available in different forms: solid, liquid, powders, gels, and pastes.

Over the past 2 decades, there has been a great acceleration in the marketability of colourants.

The Market of Food Colorants

North America and Europe are the two major markets for the production and consumption of food colourants.

Both regions account for almost 55% of the market share.

The market size of food colourants reached almost 60 kilotons in 2017.

The applicability of food colourants is on a broader spectrum for the beverage processing industries than other industries such as dairy, bakery and confectionary. 

Previously we spoke about another form of food additives and its health concerns.

Thickeners are another important ingredient that is used in many products in the food industry.

Read the full article: Thickeners in My Food, Should I Be Worried?

What is A Food Colorant?

Food colourants or simply colour additives are specific dyes or pigments that impart the colour properties of food products.

Food products can be either in solid form, semi-solid form, or  liquid form.

What Are The Different Types of Colourants and Why Are They Used?

There are two main types of food colourants. Food colourants are generally classified as:

  • Natural colours
  • Artificial colours

Natural food colourants are derived from the plant origin and they are capable of dealing with the better colouring of food commodities.

Natural food colours are also known as organic food colours.

Artificial colours or synthetic colours are the result of different chemical reactions.

They have many applications in the beverage sector.

Generally, natural colours are better and have less harmful effects when compared to artificial colours.

Why Are They Used?

  • Colours are added to enhance the physical appearance of food commodities
  • They can prevent the deterioration of vitamins and proteins in many foods that are exposed to sunlight
  • They enhance the flavour of food products
  • They can also correct natural colour variations in food products

Natural vs Artificial Colorants – What is The Difference?

There is a great difference between the physical and chemical characteristics of natural and artificial food colourants.

Comparatively, natural food colourants are much better than artificial food colourants.

The major differences between natural and artificial food colourants are as follow:

Comparison Matrix

The main features that differentiate the natural food colourants from the artificial ones are as follow:


Natural Food Colorants

Artificial Food Colorants


They are obtained from plant and animal origin

They are obtained from many chemical reactions


They have less consistency and stability

They have more consistency and stability


They are more costly in nature

They are less costly

Health Concerns

They have no health concerns

They can have health concerns


They are processed by many different physical means

They are processed by chemical means

Consumer Acceptability

Its consumer acceptability is good

Its consumer acceptability is always questionable

Are Food Colourants Harmful to Your Body? 

There is a great and extensive debate related to the benefits and disadvantages of food colourants.

In recent decades, the marketability of food colourants excessively ameliorated.

Broadly speaking, there are no disadvantages of natural or organic food colourants.

They are organically derived and capable of providing good texture to food products.

Whereas, there are excessive health concerns related to artificial food colourants.

Harmful Effects

Artificial Colorants & Hyperactivity

Artificial colourants and preservative agents that cause hyperactivity in children.

In 1973, a pediatric allergist claimed that the excessive use of artificial food colourants generally causes hyperactivity in children.

Children with hyperactivity issue generally show ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Artificial Colorants and Cancer

Some experimental evidence has shown that certain artificial colourants can be cancerogenous.

Some most notorious colourants are:

  • Red-40
  • Yellow-5
  • Yellow-6
  • Benzidine, 4-aminobiphenyl 
  • 4-amino azobenzene

Artificial Colorants & Allergies

Some of the artificial colourants can cause allergic reactions in our bodies.

The most notorious colourants that cause allergic reactions are:

  • Red-40
  • Yellow-5
  • Yellow-6
  • Blue 1

Case Study for Food Colorants

Here, we are going to discuss a very interesting research article to check the harmful effects of food colourants in the bodies of Albino Rats.

Why Albino Rats for Research?

Many food scientists use rats, more precisely Albino rats for different experiments.

They have similar genetic, chemical, and biological characteristics to human beings.

Experiment Conclusion

Ten male albino rats were studied. They were divided into 10 groups from G-1 to G-10. The experimental information of the first five groups were as follow:

Group no.

Basic Diet

Food Colorant

Amount of Food Colorant


Basal diet

Not Added

Not considered


Basal Diet

Blue dye no.2

124 mg/Kg diet


Basal Diet

Red dye no.3

70 mg/Kg diet


Basal Diet

Yellow dye no.5

75 mg/Kg diet


Basal Diet


1.25 g/Kg diet


All of the groups were left alone for 42 days.

It had been investigated that all groups from Group 2 to Group 10 showed significant biological changes in albino rats.

Health Issues Depicted in The Experiment

The main problems that were depicted were as follow:

  • A decrease in body weight
  • Hyperactivity problems
  • Reduction in Glutathione contents
  • Increase in serum alanine aminotransferase
  • Reduction of blood protein cells (haemoglobin molecules)

Important Note

Note that the Group 1 did not show any of those complexities.

All other groups were affected. These findings suggest that certain artificial colourants can have disastrous effects on our bodies.

In a Nutshell

Food colourants are divided into two main types.

Organic colourants have neutral effects on the body and can sometimes be rich in antioxidants and vitamins. 

While certain artificial colourants can have a negative impact on our health.

The food colourants industry is expanding day in and day out.

The addition of certain artificial food colourants in the diet can cause many health-related issues.

The experimental analysis in the above discussion depicts the numberless disadvantages of certain artificial food colourants.

It is adviced to be careful when choosing a food product that has artificial colourants as some might have a negative impact on your heath.

However, increased concerns regarding the health effects of artificial food colourants led to more stringent food release regulations. 

This will hopefully limi the risk of listing products with very harmful colourants. 

It is recommended to consume products that have natural food colourants.