Historical use of food colourants: The addition of colourants to food dates back to Egyptian times when wine & natural plant extracts were added to candies to make them more attractive to children. Synthetic food colourants have been added to food products more than 100 years ago when food production became industrialised.
Why add colourants to baked products?
Have we ever wondered why colourants are added to most baked products such as cakes, cookies, muffins, fondant icings, buttercream and even bread? One of the main reasons is that “colour” reflects the quality and freshness of food. In addition, we tend to associate a particular colour with a certain flavour. For example we all expect strawberry cream to be crimson red in colour and a pandan cake to be green in color. A wholemeat wheat bread will have to be none other than brown. However, processing and baking cause the natural colours of the foods to fade. Baked foods usually end up with an unattractive shade of beige or grey. In reality, off-coloured pastries and cakes are not desirable! So, In order to achieve the desired colour, artificial colourants are added to provide consistent & vibrant colours that are resistant to fading.
Health concerns over synthetic colourants.
The most commonly used colourants in food production have been synthetic or artificial colourants. There is, however, emerging health concerns over the toxicity of their breakdown products. For example, the European Union suspended the use of the dye RED 2G due to its break down product aniline, which is carcinogenic. In fact, many synthetic colourants have been banned over the years for causing various health problems.
Of particular concern is the association of synthetic colourants with abnormal childhood behaviour found in a landmark study commonly referred to as the “Southampton Study”, which was performed by researchers at the University of Southampton in United Kingdom. In essence, it evaluated 6 commonest synthetic food colourants (Sunset Yellow [E110], Carmoisine [E122], Tartrazine [E102], Ponceau 4R [E124], Quinoline Yellow [E110], Allura Red AC [E129]) and sodium benzoate [E211] as a preservative in two separate age groups of children (age 3 and age 8/9 year old). These synthetic additives were found to increase hyperactivity amongst the children evaluated. The result from this study has far reaching impact on the processed food & drink industry.
So what are the alternatives?Use natural colorants instead! Well in Malaysia we are blessed with a plethora of natural food sources that can be extracted into different spectrum of natural colorants. Below is the chart of local ingredients and how they can be extracted using different types of methods and KENWOOD appliances.
Synthetic colourants such as quinoline yellow, sunset yellow and tartrazine do not posses any nutritional value. These are also associated with hazardous effects on health including allergy and hyperactivity in children. Despite the potential health problems with synthetic colourants and the subsequent ban in various countries particularly in Europe and possible further ban in other countries, colourants remain an essential for most bakers.
This will inevitably drive an increase in demand for natural colourants. We hope that after reading this article, you too will be inspired to try out locally sourced ingredients for not only the flavours but also the colours that they impart.