The Kosher Color Spectrum: The Kosher Status Of Food Colorants

Welcome home Feivel Simcha. How was your day in Yeshiva? Baruch Hashem Mommy it was great! We finished learning a Mishna in Maseches Shiveeis that talks about harvesting different plants during Shiveeis That sounds very interesting tattele. Feivel Simcha, what’s that candy in your hand? That’s a good question Mommy. Let’s turn off the lights and I’ll show you. See Mommy the “Globals” are glowing in all different colors – orange, yellow, green and blue. “Globals” are colorful glow-in-the-dark globed shaped candies that taste great! That’s interesting tattele, now please turn the lights back on. OK Mommy. You know why I bought them? On my way home from Yeshiva, I was chazering the Mishna. One of the plants mentioned in the Mishna was the Puah. The Puah was a red plant from which a red dye was made. So when I stopped of at Metukees candy store for some nosh, I wanted to buy the red “Globals”. However, I found out that all of the “Globals” had an acceptable hashgacha except for the red ones. Mommy, why should the color make a difference? I’d also like to know how they make the colors in the candy? Those are good questions Feivel Simcha. Now that you mentioned this, I’m wondering what the kashrus status of colors is in general. Let’s ask the OU.

Color is an important part of any food and in many cases is one of the main considerations of consumers when choosing food. Companies have increased sales by tinkering with the color of foods. Until a few years ago, the distinctive red hue of ketchup was intrinsic to ketchup. Nowadays, with an addition of a colorant, green, purple, pink, orange, teal and blue ketchup have caught the fancy of many. Of course, many foods have their own unique colors due to their inherent color pigments including cherries, green or red peppers, chocolate, and ketchup (tomatoes) for those who prefer the traditional version.

Regulations regarding colors vary from country to country. In the United States, there are two general categories of coloring agents: certified and exempt from certification. These categories are spelled out in the Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR” ) of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA” ).

Certified colors are commonly known as “artificial”; exempt from certification colors are commonly known as “natural” in the food industry. It is important to take note that the term “certified” colors has nothing at all to do with their Kosher status. Certification applies to the regulatory need to do laboratory analysis to assure the identity and purity of each batch of a colorant produced. Furthermore, the FDA does not consider that any color added to food to be natural unless that color is natural to the food itself – blueberry juice being added to blueberry preserves. If beet-juice is added to color strawberries it is consider to be an artificial color and not natural. On the other hand, there are synthetic duplicates of natural colors such as some beta carotenes that are also categorized as being “exempt”.

What colors are currently considered to be certified? The FDA has approved seven synthetic dyes for use in food products. They are blue #1, blue #2, green #3, red #3, red #40, yellow #5 and yellow #6. Many times they are mentioned in the ingredient panel of a product preceded with the modifier “FD & C” indicating their approval for usage in foods, drugs and cosmetics

These colors are used in various food applications. Yellow#5 has a lemon yellow hue and is commonly used in beverages, ice creams and cereals. Red#40 has a orange-red hue and is commonly used in dairy products, confections and condiments. Blue#1 has a bright blue hue and is commonly used in jellies, icings and syrups

What colors are currently considered to be categorized as non-certified or exempt colors? Presently there are thirty-one commercially feasible colorants made up of dyes, pigments or other substances capable of coloring a food that are obtained from various plant, animal or mineral sources, or are synthetic duplicates of the same.

Some examples of these colors include caramel beta-carotene, annatto and titanium dioxide, carmine, beet-juice, grape juice, grape skin extract, turmeric and saffron

These exempt colors are used to create various colors in foods. The sources for these colors can be from both the plant and animal kingdom. Botanicals have historically been a source for colors used in foods. When colors are extracted from plant material the product is called an oleoresin. Caramel color (from roasted sugar) produces a color ranging from golden brown to nearly black and is commonly used in beverages and dairy foods, beta-carotene (from an extract of a number of natural sources such as palm-oil, algae and carrots or made synthetically) creates an orange-yellow color commonly used in margarines, salad dressings, non-dairy creamers and many other food items. Annatto (from the leaching of the outer oily surface of seeds produced by tropical shrub with solvents) creates an orange color. This color is commonly used in snacks, baked goods and dairy products. Titanium dioxide (Ti02) produces a white color. It is also another example of an exempt color that while having a natural source is commonly made synthetically.

Food technologists must take into consideration a number of factors when determining the appropriate color to use in a food application. One important consideration is solubility. Solubility refers to the capacity of a solute – in this case a color additive – to dissolve into a solvent – a food. Certain colors are water-soluble, which means they dissolve in water. Caramel, for example, is water-soluble. It can be used to color soda, which is water-based, brown. Colas typically contain caramel. But caramel is not oil-soluble. An attempt to use caramel to color an oil-based system, such as an imitation cocoa butter, would, without the help of other ingredients, run into problems. Food colorants, in their pristine form, are either water-soluble or oil-soluble. They are not both. A medium, called a diluent, is one means available to help make a colorant miscible – dissolvable – into a food that it may not otherwise be able to dissolve in. On the other hand, a Lake color has been converted from a soluble dye into an insoluble pigment.

What are some of the Kosher considerations of colorants?

Colors are available to manufacturers as liquids or powders. The powder form is commonly spray-dried. Spray–drying is a process used to convert a dry a liquid into a powder. Spray-drying a colorant – or any other ingredient — could jeopardize its kashrus. Spray-driers are expensive pieces of equipment. Those who own them often seek clients for whom to do custom drying and blending. Food manufacturers who need their products spray-dried often look to a custom blender because the investment in purchasing a spray-drier is so great. Spray–driers can be used to dry kosher and nonkosher materials. Since spray-driers often operate 24 hours, seven days a week, it’s not so simple to invoke the principle of stam keilim aino b’nei yomo.

Certified colors, when not dissolved in a solvent, generally do not pose any kosher concerns. These synthetic colors are petroleum-based, factory made and are generally not spray dried.

Some of the non-certified or exempt colors in themselves might not be Kosher due to their natural source. For example, grape color extract (from concord grape juice) and grape skin extract (a.k.a. enocianina), derived from grapes, used in alcoholic beverages, beverage bases, carbonated drinks and “ades” may pose issues of Stam Yeinom Carmine /Carminic acid, derived from the shells of the Cochineal insect, produce a magenta red shade and are the pigment present in carmine colors and cochineal extract.

Fermentation can also be used to create natural colors. Fermentation refers to chemical changes of a given substance induced by a living organism or an enzyme. Often, the changed substance is sugar or starch based. Beta-carotene can be produced through fermentation. Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), a greenish, yellow pigment can be made by fermentation as well. In the case of both beta-carotene and riboflavin, the fermentation medium used is often mainly glucose. Glucose can be kitniyos or chametz. Glucose in Europe is very likely to be chametz-based. Therefore, these two pigments may have chametz-concerns and therefore their production must be reviewed before accepting them for Pesach production.

Another possible Pesach consideration arises with caramel color. Caramel is made by heating sugars. The source of the sugar could be dextrose, which could be either kitniyos or chametz-based.

In addition, spray-dried colors often contain maltodextrin, which in the U.S. is generally presumed to be kitneous but in Europe and elsewhere could be chametz.

In conclusion, colors can be kosher sensitive and need kosher supervision. Kashrus agencies pay special attention to the kashrus concerns involving colors. For the consumer, looking at a label will not provide a complete picture. Declarations of artificial or natural do not tell the whole story as far as kashrus. Natural colors may be extracted from non-kosher sources. Even when a color from nature is used as a colorant (even when extracted form a kosher source), it might be listed as artificial if it is not intrinsic to the food. Unless the artificial color listed is identified as one of the seven certified synthetic colors, it may in fact be a natural extract-“V’nahafoch Hoo”! On the other hand even if the color mentioned on the label is one of the synthetic seven, there still may be kashrus concerns as noted above.

In any case, Feivel Simcha, the red “Globals” might contain carmine from insects. By the way, Feivel Simcha, don’t forget to share the blue “Globals” with your sister Tova, it’s her favorite color.


This article is a compilation from a number of sources including:

  1. Perusing the Food-Color Pallete, Food Product Design, December 2004
  2. Color, Naturally, Food Product Design, August 2002
  3. The OU Daf HaKashrus, Color Additives and Kashrus, Teves 5764