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Food Colours

Food Colours

The colour of your food plays an important role by visually stimulating your appetite. But have you ever wondered where these colours come from? Let’s take a closer look.

Why is Colour added in foods?

  • Off colour foods are generally considered inferior in quality and so colours are added.

  • Colours can also protect vitamins and flavours that may be affected by sunlight during storage.

  • By using colours, we can enhance the natural colour of a dish and introduce decorative colours to other foods.

  • Colour of the food can influence the perceived flavour.

Types of food colours- Natural and Synthetic Colours:

Food colourings are of two types: artificial and natural. Not surprisingly, natural colours are a better alternative as they are wholly derived from plants. Natural colouring usually appears less vibrant when compared to artificial colouring. This however, does not affect the taste of your food.

Natural colours:

Natural food colour is any dye, pigment or any other substance obtained from vegetable, animal, mineral that is capable of colouring foods or drugs. Colours come from variety of sources like seeds, fruits, vegetables, algae and insect. Grass, beet root, and turmeric are some of the natural sources from which colours are extracted.

Know your natural colours:

  • Red, blue and violet: Derived from anthocyanins found in beetroots, raspberries and red cabbages.

  • Green: Derived from chlorophylls, the green pigment found in all leaves and stems.

  • Yellow, Orange, Red: Derived from carotenoids found in apricots, carrots and tomatoes.

Synthetic food colours:

They are also called artificial colours. These are manufactured by chemical reaction and are commonly used in food and pharmaceutical industries. Some of the common food colours are tartrazine, sunset yellow, amaranth, allura red, quinoline yellow, brilliant blue and indigo carmine.
Synthetic or Natural:

Due to consumer concerns around synthetic dyes, there is a tilt towards promotion of natural colours. Certified, synthetic colours are popular because they are less expensive but they are also effective in giving an intense and uniform colour. They can also blend easily to give a variety of hues. The usage of synthetic food colours is gradually coming down in India too after realising their harmful effects. Considering the relatively higher cost of natural colours, it seems that the shift from synthetic colours is going to be an extremely slow process.


Whether it is natural or synthetic, the key thing is to meet the desired specifications of the product as stipulated by regulation. There are a set of regulations according to FSSAI-the Indian regulatory body for the use of food colors in different foods. Even if there is a tilt towards natural products, if the desired specifications are not met, then this serves no purpose.