Estimation of theoretical intake of synthetic food colours


Food colours have the power to enhance and elevate the visual appeal of a food item and make it look tempting and appetising. Food manufacturers across the world use food colours especially for processed and packaged foods that are stored for longer periods of time. There are two common types of food colours – natural food colours and synthetic colours. While natural food colours are derived from plants, synthetic food colours are usually manufactured in the laboratory using chemical reactions. This makes synthetic food colours less expensive and the more preferred option among large-scale food manufacturers. There are other advantages also to using synthetic food colours. These colourants offer a high stability to light, oxygen, and pH, and colour uniformity. 


Some synthetic food colours have been known to cause toxicity, including behavioural effects on children, effects on the respiratory system, connection with allergies, the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, and neurodevelopmental effects. The impact caused by these food colours are usually dependent on multiple things:

  • The food product that contains the colour additive
  • The amount or concentration of the food colour in the product
  • The quantity of the food that is consumed by a person
  • The body weight and general health of the person

This is why regulatory bodies across the globe have banned the use of certain synthetic colours while permitting certain synthetic food colours to be used. The colourants being used are to be certified as fd&c colours. 


Also known as Carmoisine colour, Azorubine is an azo dye colour that is permitted as a food colourant. It is mainly used in food products that have undergone heat-treatment after the process of fermentation. Foods and beverages such as cheeses, dried fruit, and some alcoholic beverages use azorubine as a colourant. 


With a cherry-pink colour and a xanthen-poly-iodine structure, Erythrosine is an organic iodine compound that is used in sweets like candies and popsicles and cake-decorating gels. Pistachio shells are also sometimes coloured with erythrosine to make them look fresher. Some countries use erythrosine less because Allura Red is a more popular variant. Surprisingly, while erythrosine is permitted as a food colour, it is banned for use in cosmetics or external drugs. 


An azo food colour in the form of a sodium salt that gives food a strawberry-red colour, the ponceau 4r colour is used as a synthetic colourant in a variety of food products. While ponceau 4r is stable to heat and light, the food colour fades in the presence of ascorbic acid. The most common food items that contain the ponceau 4r colour are alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, and a variety of foodstuffs including confectionery, desserts, cheeses, meats, preserved fruits, and sauces.

Based on recent studies, there is no conclusive evidence shown that the average consumption of the food colours Azorubine, Erythrosine, Indigotine, and Ponceau 4R leads to any health risks from the excessive consumption of these artificial food colours.