Food coloring or color additives are pigments–synthetic or natural–added to food to create a certain color, enhance a natural color and improve the overall aesthetic appeal of a dish. Food coloring can make food fun for children or make food match the color palette of a special occasion. There are basic ingredients common to all synthetic food colorings (those certified as safe by the Food and Drug Administration) but each color contains its own unique components.

General Ingredients

Food coloring contains one or more of the certified color additives approved by the FDA commonly known by their numbering system, for example, red dye number 5. Color additives are blended to create a brightness or intensity to the base color. The other basic ingredients of synthetic food coloring are propylparaben, propylene glycol and water.

Used in medicines and cosmetics as well as food coloring, propylene glycol is classified as a food additive. It is the result of a chemical reaction between propylene oxide and water, and is a liquid without color or smell. Propylene glycol is classified as a solvent that stabilizes the ingredients in a given synthetic product.

Propylparaben is utilized in both the cosmetics and food industry. It is composed of white powder crystals that act as a preserving agent in a liquid. Propylparaben prevents the growth of mold and fungus and has no taste or smell.

Red Food Coloring

Synthetic red food dye contains propylene glycol, propylparaben and water as well as fd&c reds 40 and 3. “Fd&c” is an FDA abbreviation for food, drug and cosmetic use. Cocheneal has been a natural source of red food pigment for centuries. Elderberry, currants, cherries, beetroot and carrots can also be mixed to create natural red coloring.

Green Food Coloring

The average green synthetic food coloring contains not only propylene glycol, propylparaben and water but also fd&c yellow 5, fd&c blue 1. Grasses and vegetation as well as mint are natural sources of green pigment.

Yellow Food Coloring

Yellow food coloring is composed of water, propylparaben, propylene glycol, as well as fd&c yellow 5 and fd&c red 40. A natural yellow food dye is the spice tumeric.

Black Food Coloring

Black food coloring contains water, phosphoric acid and sodium benzoate. Sodium benzoate is another preservative that takes the place of propylparaben. In terms of color additives, black coloring contains fd&c red #40, fd&c blue No. 1 and fd&c yellow No. 5. Blackcurrant is a natural “almost black” food coloring.