Friday, July 10, 2009


How about a cola drink that is transparently white? Can you readily accept a fruit flavored soft drink with out the cloudiness? A chocolate drink without the familiar brown color? That brown blemish on the potato chips can be a disaster in the market place. An orange cream biscuit must contain only the orange colored cream between the biscuits. Candies with different flavors usually use colors which is supposed to help the consumer to associate with the corresponding natural source of the flavors. There also exists a situation where the sweet meat industry uses all types of colors without any correlation with natural foods. Even the Popsicle vendor on the road sides are experts in making their humble products attractive to the school children by evolving their recipes with exciting colors whether permitted or not.

Why does the industry, whether small or big, consider appearance more important than the quality of the contents? Answer is simple, people like colors and consider color as "the spice of life"! It is just like cosmetic products which are supposed to enhance the beauty or handsomeness of a person which of course is not quantifiable and it is this tendency of humans that is being exploited by food sector to enhance the attractiveness of the products to the buyers. Food industry technically justifies use of colors for off setting color loss during processing, uniform color for the end product made from raw materials with different hues, masking natural variations, enhancing natural color appeal, providing identity to foods they produce, protecting flavors and vitamins from damage against light and decorating baked foods. Colors like Brilliant Blue (E-133), Indigotin (E-132), Fast Green(E-1430. Allura Red (E -129), Erythrosine (E-127), Tartrazine (E-102) and Sunset Yellow (E-1020 are the most commonly used primary synthetic colors which give characteristic shades of colors when incorporated singly or in different combinations.

Though each country has its own laws governing use of synthetic colors, due to inadequate management system many dangerous dyes used in non-food products also get into food products causing enormous risks to the lives of the unsuspecting consumers. Some of the dangers associated with use of synthetic colors include dermatitis, tumors in brain, bladder, kidneys, breasts and adrenal glands as shown in animal studies. Besides they also cause broncho constriction, chromosomal damage, hyper activity especially with young children, asthma, allergies and angioedema. Correlation has been established between children eating foods colored with artificial colors and the commonly seen childhood afflictions like 'Attention Deficiency Disorder' (ADD) and 'Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder' (ADDH). Synthetic colors aggravate the above syndromes amongst growing children significantly. Norway had even banned all artificial dyes for use in food some years ago but lifted the ban subsequently probably because of considerations other than consumer safety.

There are natural colors like caramel, annatto, cochineal, green from chlorella algae, belanin from beets, yellow from marigold and chrysanthemum, curcumin from turmeric, anthocyanins from red chillies and blue grapes, saffron etc which are currently available as alternates to synthetic colors but industry seems to be reluctant to switch over to natural colors due to their lower tintorial power and poor stability. The larger question is why should any food be colored at all when to day's packing technology can simulate any colors through printing on the containers. According to psychologists colors do play a role in appetite stimulation with blue being the least 'appetizing' color and brown, red and yellow the most desirable colors. Eating a colorful food in darkness is considered to be less exciting than eating the same food in bright light. Probably human beings, with high color differentiating sense, are driven by their instincts towards colorful foods and industry only plays to their tune.

If we take the classical example of tomato, ketchup and sauces were colored artificially not long ago but to day tomato varieties with high color content are grown to meet the demand from this sector. There has to be a total ban on all synthetic colors for the sake of safety of the consumers which only can drive the industry to develop better raw materials and use natural colors in processed products. A consumer movement to shun products artificially colored can send a strong message to the industry for such a paradigm shift. The option of choosing between a colorful life and a good quality life with minimum health disorders is with the consumer!


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