An artificial rainbow
Ever wonder what's behind those multi-colored cereals, neon-gelatin jelly beans and hundreds of food and beverage products your kids are probably drawn to like magnets? Petroleum is one likely ingredient. Yes, food coloring is often derived from petroleum -- the stuff they make gas, asphalt, kerosene and plastics from.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit watchdog and consumer advocacy group that focuses on nutritional education and awareness, published The Rainbow of Risks that outlines the types of food coloring prevalent in U.S., with related scientific studies and safety concerns. What might be even more startling is that food dye consumption in America has increased fivefold since 1955.
Britain, on the other hand, has been cracking down on artificial colors. In fact, while many of the products marketed and sold in America are dosed with Red No. 40, Yellow No. 6 or Blue No. 1, the same product sold in Britain (like Kellogg's Nutri-Grain bars, for example) are made with natural colors, extracted from things like beetroot, annatto and paprika.
Not all food coloring comes so easily identified on labels. Erythrosine, Amaranth and Allura Red AC are other names for red food coloring. There are some color additives that are not currently required by the FDA to be declared by name on the label. In those cases, often times the label will just read colorings or color added.
Color me bad?
The food-dye debate and its impact on children has been ongoing since the 1970s, when Dr. Ben Feingold advocated for the removal of food additives, like dyes from children's diets because he felt they lead to hyperactivity. Recently, the U.K.'s government-funded Food Standards Agency study found that children who drank juice with artificial colorings and the preservative Sodium Benzoate were more likely to "... lack concentration, lose their temper, interrupt others and struggle to get to sleep... "
Whether you're shopping out or baking in, there are natural alternatives to conventional petroleum- and coal tar-based food coloring. If you're scouting labels, look for color found in nature with ingredients like beets, pomegranate or carrots. If you're baking at home and want red velvet cake or a rainbow of cookies without the chemicals, try organic food coloring. Grab an assortment of natural colors (Chocolate Craft, $27), so you always have coloring on-hand to make food decorating fun without the worry!