How Common is Caramel Coloring?For centuries, people have safely used caramel to color their foods. In fact, one in 20 food items you find in any supermarket — from bread to salad dressing — is made with caramel coloring.
Found in hundreds of foods, caramel coloring is the world’s most widely used food coloring. It’s made in a heating process called caramelization. In its basic state, caramel coloring ranges from pale yellow to amber to dark brown. But when added to some foods, it can create many other colors.
What is Caramel Coloring?
Why Do We Use Caramel Coloring?People have always placed appearance and color above all other factors when choosing what to eat. Caramel coloring has improved the appeal of hundreds of different foods, including baked goods, soft drinks, and even alcoholic beverages.
“If food does not taste good, people will not try it again.
If food doesn’t look good, people may not try it at all.”
– Ted Nixon, D. D. Williamson Chairman and CEO
What Does the FDA Say About Caramel Coloring?The FDA classifies caramel color as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe). That means caramel color may be safely used in foods, as long as it is made according to FDA regulations. Other GRAS ingredients include salt, vinegar, and most cooking spices. The World Health Organization (WHO) also concludes that caramel color is safe.
What Do Scientists Say?For the past 40 years, all caramel safety studies have shown no health threat to humans. Studies have shown that it meets rigorous food safety standards around the world.
Can Caramel Coloring be Eliminated from Foods?Yes, but caramel coloring affects the flavors in foods and beverages and your family would find their food far less appetizing. Imagine a world with gray potato chips, beige barbeque sauce, and pale gravy.
I’ve Heard that Caramel Coloring Contains 4-MeI. What’s That?4-MeI, or 4-methylimidazole, is a common trace compound that’s a byproduct of the natural heat processing of many foods. It’s also produced through browning. It occurs naturally in foods and drinks we enjoy everyday — like roasted coffee, chocolate, grilled meats, and baked goods. You also make it yourself, when you’re baking with brown sugar, or frying onions.
Why Do I See Stories Claiming that Caramel Coloring May Cause Health Concerns?Almost all of the concerns raised about caramel coloring are based on a controversial 2007 study of laboratory rodents. The tiny creatures were force-fed a diet of 4-MeI (the natural component of caramel color and other browned foods) that was the equivalent of a human consuming more than a thousand cans of soft drinks every day for two years. The mice developed cancerous tumors as a result of this highly excessive laboratory diet. The rats were unaffected and in some cases actually saw improved outcomes.
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Typical Foods and Personal Care Products with Caramel Coloring