Vegetable dyes in food

29-Mar-2022 - Germany

Colorful hard-boiled eggs have been a symbol of the Easter holidays and the approach of spring for centuries. Recently, vegetable dyes have again been increasingly used for egg dyeing. But a wide range of other foods can also be dyed in this way. TÜV SÜD provides an overview of vegetable dyes that are used not only at Easter.

TÜV SÜD AG / Conny Kurz

Vegetable dyes in food

In addition to its symbolic significance, the color of a food product has an important signaling effect. Since the dawn of mankind, the familiar color has been a guarantee of edibility in terms of health. Red, yellow and green stand for ripeness and edibility, brown and violet often signaled inedibility or even spoilage. Pleasant appearance activates the senses and appetite. Color associates in advance the taste of a food.

Food additives

Colors for food are usually considered food additives. They are divided into purely synthetic, nature-identical colorants and natural colorants. Natural colorants are obtained from animal or vegetable raw materials. As food additives, they must undergo a health testing procedure and only then are they approved throughout Europe. Food colorants must be declared with an E number on the list of ingredients. Coloring foods, on the other hand, usually only appear by name (e.g. saffron) on the ingredient list.

Vegetable colorants

Unlike their synthetic or nature-identical counterparts, vegetable colorants are derived from plants (e.g. carotenoids, anthocyanins, chlorophyll). Or they are added to food as coloring foods (e.g., beet juice, spinach, paprika powder). Above all, vegetable food colors are in vogue. This is because, although they add their names to the list of ingredients in foods, they do not have to be listed as E-numbers. Many of the vegetable food colors are also approved for coloring vegan and organic foods.

Plant-based does not mean harmless

Synthetic dyes such as azo dyes (e.g., quinoline yellow (E104), azorubin (E 122))or natural dyes with animal components (e.g., carmine from cochineal lice) can cause allergies and intolerances. However, vegetable food colorants (e.g. the group of yellow and red carotenoids) can also cause allergies in sensitive individuals. This is not the only reason why the legal declaration regulations also apply to them. Because the color also evokes an expectation of taste.

Origin and use of important plant pigments (selection)


  • Saffron / Crocin: Saffron crocus - rice, desserts, paella,
  • Turmeric / Curcumin (E100): Turmeric - pasta, potato flakes, margarine, mustard


  • Annatto / Bixin (E160b): seed coat of a tropical shrub (Bixa orellana) - pastries, desserts, cheese, edible cheese and sausage casings, ice cream
  • Carotenes, (E160a-f): fruits, roots, leaves, vegetable oils, algae - margarine, cheese, ice cream, carrots, desserts

  • Lycopene (E160d): tomato, rosehip - crustaceans, meat and fish substitutes, seasonings

  • Beet red / Betanin (E162): Beetroot - sauces, soups, fruit yoghurt, chewing gum
  • Blue / Violet

    • Anthocyanins (E163): Red grapes, red cabbage, elderberries, eggplant - beverages, jams, jellies, breakfast cereals


    • Chlorophylls (E140) Leaf spinach, matcha tea, stinging nettle - canned vegetables, snack foods, candy


    • Vegetable charcoal / charcoal black (E153) : burning coconut shells, peat, wood - bread, baked goods, pasta, wax coatings for cheese, seasonal Halloween products

    Food products with atypical colors

    Today, manufacturers often want to arouse consumer interest with unusual color and flavor combinations: purple pasta, black bread, blue ice cream or green ketchup are just a few examples. Basic ingredients, colorants, flavorings, spices and allergens are of particular interest to consumers here. In this innovative product environment, ingredient and allergen declaration as well as reliable recipe testing are therefore particularly important.

    Further information

    Note: This article has been translated using a computer system without human intervention. LUMITOS offers these automatic translations to present a wider range of current news. Since this article has been translated with automatic translation, it is possible that it contains errors in vocabulary, syntax or grammar. The original article in German can be found here.

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