What Is The History of Food Dyes?

Color extractions, naturally extracted from mineral sources, and veggies were the main source of food colorings that were utilized in ancient times in the manufacturing of several cosmetics, foods, candies, and medications. For instance, some of the majorly used food dyes were copper sulfate, paprika, lead oxides, saffron, and iron. 

History of Food Dyes

Usage of food colorings in hair colors and cosmetics was initially commenced by Egyptians, of the early era. Late in 300 BC, wine was the first thing that began to get artificially colored.

Mauve is known to be the first organic synthetic food dye. It was founded by William Henry Perkin, in the year 1856. Likewise, the hunt for similar food dyes began and as human nature is concerned, they made their discovery quick, and all people out there got crazy over their usage in products like medications and cosmetics. The dyes used in those days were extracted and manufactured from the by-products of coal extractions; hence they got to be named “coal-tar colors.”

The normality with the usage of artificial food dyes in the United States began in 1990, with many medications, cosmetics, and food items being artificially colored. Five fingers are not equal, likewise, some food dyes were used to hide the defecting foods, and on the other hand, some of them were completely harmless. 

Every food dye was passed through a detailed analysis of the ingredients, and the allergies they can cause, but at that time manufacturers used to lead, mercury, and arsenic in the creation of food dyes, which are considered to be patently poisonous elements. The high sensitivities of the elements stated above held the properties like carcinogens, irritants, toxins, or sensitizers, when used as artificial food dyes.

Liquid gel food dyes.

Food Coloring History

Many herbs and plant extractions were used as food colorings in the era gone ages ago. For fruits and veggies, their peels and skins were utilized to add vibrancy to any food. Ingredients such as:

  • Saffron
  • Pomegranate
  • Beetroots
  • Grapes 
  • Berries
  • Parsley 
  • Spinach 
  • Indigo
  • Turnsole 
  • Alkanet 
  • Red Saunders 
  • Marigold, and 
  • Turmeric

Natural substances like Azure (copper carbonate), ores extraction of minerals, silver leaf, and gold leaf, mostly poisonous substances, were also used by many people in the early decades as food dyes. Elise Fleming investigated recipes going all the way early to 1390 A.D. and produced a fascinating range of dietary additives employed centuries ago, along with delightful comments in Middle English via references, in an educational essay on the food coloring of yesteryear.

Natural Food Colorings

Natural food colorings are mostly composed of anthocyanin, carotenoids, turmeric, and chlorophyll:

  • The deep blue and purple shades in grapes, cranberries, blueberries, are because of Anthocyanins. They are also used in liquids and pulps, like jams, and soft drinks.
  • Carotenoids provide a reddish, gold, or magenta hue, and perhaps the greatest well-known pigment is beta-carotene, which is responsible for the color of sweet potatoes and squash. To make butter and cheddar more appealing, beta-carotene is frequently incorporated.
  • All of the green plants out there contain chlorophyll which is a natural pigment. Foods that taste like lime, or mint. Or any candy tasting like mint is often manufactured using chlorophyll as a natural food color enhancer.
  • Tangerine, light yellow, deep yellow, and yellowish-orange are some of the shades that are obtained by using turmeric powder. It is not only utilized as a spice, but also as a vibrating element in foods, and sauces like mustard.
multicolored powder dyes
multicolored powder dyes

Organic Synthetic Food Dyes

At a point in food dyes history, natural food colorings became highly expensive for the factors like vegetables and fruits cost, the procedures it went through, and also the ingredients mandatory to make them. This was the time when Synthetic dyes came in. They were much cheaper than those natural food dyes, had elongated expiry dates, and were more capable of providing vibrancy to the foods making them appear vivid for the eyes. 

Food colorings which were initially derived from coal tar and are currently generated from petrochemicals have remained a source of contention. Many colors have been prohibited due to the negative impact they have had on animal experiments. According to the findings of some research, several of the 9 presently authorized dyes present a hazard.

The Future of Food Coloring

For the past one or two years, airbrush techniques had taken over the food coloring industry, mostly used in decorating cakes, muffins, frostings, and much more related to it. But now the revolution has taken its stand. The innovative department came into action and created food spray paints that come in aerosol cans, also they are edible too. They come in different colors like silver, gold, crimson, blue, orange, and many others.

What is in food dye?

Food dyes are made up of chemical compounds. They are created by combining several chemical compounds to enhance the appearance of food by adding artificial colors.

What are the uses of Food Dyes?

Food dyes are commonly used for the following purposes:

  • To provide color to otherwise colorless foods
  • to bring out the hues
  • To avoid color loss caused by environmental factors
  • When the color of the meal varies, it is important to maintain uniformity.

Why should you Avoid Food Dyes?

The most dangerous misconception that has circulated over the years is that food dyes cause cancer. However, rumors, in general, do not have a piece of proof to support them, and regrettably, the components of facts to verify these rumors are extremely weak. The studies that have been done for this purpose have not yielded a result claiming that food dyes increase cancer risk.

Some food colors contain ingredients that may trigger allergic responses in some persons due to sensitivity problems. If you are intolerant to certain chemical elements, you should avoid consuming them; otherwise, there is no need to exclude them from your meals.

The most compelling allegation ever made against food dyes is that they promote excitability in vulnerable or, dare I say, abnormal youngsters. Multiple studies have found that food dyes increase restlessness in both ADHD and non-ADHD children; although, some children are more vulnerable than others.

Food dyes 5 colors.

If you are interested in learning more about the types and uses of food dyes, read here – What are food dyes?


In laboratories, synthetic food pigments are produced and tested for potential impact on living organism nutrition. Synthetic dyes come in a wide range of colors and tints. They are much more heat resistant and vibration than various chemicals, provide a brighter hue and do not alter the flavor. That’s why they’re in food. However, all of these can be quite risky: several medical studies demonstrate that they induce sensitivities or restlessness in adolescents and young adults. Many food colors cause DNA destruction, which is the root cause of many malignancies.