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Is Food Coloring Vegan? Read It Here!

  • Amy 

Artificial food coloring is a great way to add some color to your baking, without running the risk of ruining the flavor and taste. While you can get a green color with the addition of some fruits and vegetables, artificial coloring won’t muddy the flavor of your vegan cupcakes with mismatched taste pallettes. 

Is food coloring vegan? Technically, yes! Natural food dye is plant based, and artificial food dyes all tend to use no animal products in their chemical make up. However, other animal derivatives arrive from animal testing, where lab technicians test to see if the product is safe for human consumption.

Is Food Coloring Vegan?

While most food dye remains vegan, some may contain cochineal extract. This is made by crushing cochineal beetles for their color, making this insect based coloring filled with animal products. Although beetles are rarely the first thought for most vegans on their diet. 

One such brand with beetle based coloring is Crimson Lake. Other artificial food colors will use chemical compositions, and are better for difficult colors such as purple and pink. Otherwise plant based colors will use vegetable juice for natural colors. 

What is Food Coloring?

For beautiful colors in your baked foods, you will need to choose between natural colors and artificial colors. Despite the chemical compounds used, including chemical mordants to make the dye stick to the food, all food dyes sold commercially will be safe to eat depending on your food allergies. 

Is Food Coloring Ethical?

If you wish to be an ethical vegan, you will have to be careful buying natural and artificial food colors. While you may find beet powder based colorings to add to your ice cream or baked cakes, others will involve bugs and insects. Spirulina powder may be plant based, but beetles certainly aren’t.

Many insects have complex nervous systems, and although they aren’t as cute as a farm animal they can certainly feel. An animal is an animal, so unless you particularly dislike bugs for some reason you will want to stick to an all natural color. Although some bright colors are easier to achieve artificially. 

While a beet juice color (brown color) is an all natural color, technically speaking the insect blend color will also be marketted as natural coloring. Plant based, vegetable juice colors will be better for those enjoying a vegan diet, although they may not have the same bright rainbow colors.

A single batch of artificial food colors may also be tested on animals, unlike any plant blend color. Bright colors especially difficult to get naturally, such as purple, are more than likely to not be natural. Although the ingredients are vegan, the animal testing aspect is unethical and may put off the average vegan from their inspiration food color.

A brown color made with beet juice color will not be tested, unless chemical and artificial additives are put into it. Bright rainbow colors from a vegetable juice color will be held to the same standard. This is because chemicals are naturally dangerous and toxic, so excessive volumes may be a health risk for humans. 

Since vegetable juice color and your every day inspiration food color typically remain natural and free from artificial flavors and additivies, you will be fine to eat them. However, artificial food colors sold in grocery stores will also be safe since they will have been tested prior to being shipped and put on the shelf. 

Animal tests become particularly unethical when the food color additives are in fact problematic. This is when the animal tests do cause harm to the animals thanks to the food color additives, resulting in skin irritation, lacerations, and often long lasting chemical burns to the poor lab animal. 

Artificial Vs Natural Food Coloring

Artificial colors are, quite surprisingly, derivatives of petroleum. Other artifical food colors also include glycerine as a sweetener, as well as another color additive to actually get the vibrant colors into the dyes. 

Animal sources from insects can be present in natural food colors, but they may be combined with other chemicals for artificial colors. Artificial colors are also more than likely to be tested on animals. Rats, mice, rabbits, and dogs are the most common culprits of food safety testing. 

Artificial Vs Natural Food Coloring

Other than artificial colors, plant based colors use all manner of fruits and veg. Beet juice, for example, is used in brown food dye. In fact you can make your own brown dye at home with some baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) and some beet juice. 

Orange juice is also used in some plant based colors, although the citric acid may be problematic with some dietary needs. Natural colorings use other natural ingredients, such as annatto extract. Annatto extract is a reddish orange seed, common in similar colorings. 

Artificial food colors may also use the substitutes of actual plant colorings, such as indigo carmine. Indigo carmine is the chemical equivalent of indigo flowers, and used in Blue 2 artificial food colors. So if you need some indigo carmine for cupcake recipes, look for artificial foods colors.

Natural and artificial food colors are also found in bath bombs. Bath bombs are often artificial with indigo carmine or other dyes for different colors, but can be natural depending on vegan preferences or skin conditions. Chemical mordants won’t be present in these products however. 

Is Food Coloring Healthy?

Although the chemicals and natural additives in food dyes may not sound healthy, or in too small a quanitity to be beneficialm you’ll be surpised just how often they get used. Many dietary supplements may use artificial food colors as a means to avoid food allergens in potential customers. 

For medicines both over the counter and prescription, inspiration food color can be used to make it look more appealing. This is especially true in pills and tablets made for children, who may be resistant to taking the medicine unless it is colored and flavored to be enjoyable. 

Before being put into medicine animal tests will often still be performed. Dyes on animals isn’t a totally uncommon method for testing chemical safety, and before dyes on animals these tests were done for items such as basic cosmetics. Lipsticks, foundation, contour, you name it. 

Other than dyes on animals, artificial food colors are often pared with other animals products. Animal experiments involving colors on animals are the least of your worries as a vegan, when animal bones and animal bone char are used to extract gelatin. 

Gelatin, usually from the animal bones and animal bone char of cows and pigs, is paired with many food coloring products. Colors on animals can seem harsh, but gelatin is in all kinds of food you may not expect. For example, food coloring products and gelatin are found in many gummy candies. 

These colors in candy also contain many synthetic chemicals, making them more unhealthy than they already were. Human health can be seriously affected, certainly if you have an exiting health condition, which is why animal testing is done for chemical toxicology in the first place.

So if you can avoid and look past the ethical dilemma of animal experiments, you will still have to watch out for what food coloring products you consume. Testing synthetic chemicals and chemical toxicology on animals is abhorrent however, especially with mordant with which the synthetic chemicals will stick to the animal.

When to use Food Coloring

Common additives such as glycerine can be harmful to human health, especially with a pre existing health condition. So before you start using colors for baking in your next baking project, be careful. Animal derived ingredients can be avoided, but glycerine can harm diabetics significantly. 

This is because glycerine can raise your blood sugar. As a diabetic, you will want to keep your blood sugar levels in controls. Food colors in candy, as well as other animal derived ingredients, are bad enough without the rest of the ingredient list included in sweet treats. 

Adding baking soda to your next baking project can help you make your own colorings at home, with just a few everyday ingredients. With certain fruit and vegetable juices, home made natural food colors for baking are ideal for vegans or diabetics. 

With other everyday ingredients, you can make your own colorful baking chips. Most food coloring is also gluten free. So if you want to turn a layer of cake into a brilliant blue, while keeping the wheat gluten protein out of it, then you shouldn’t have to worry too much about what colorings you select. 

When to use Food Coloring

Despite all the testing done, you may have an allergic reaction to food dye. An azo allergy is an allergic reaction to azo dyes, otherwise known as food colorings. If you have an azo allergy, it will most likely manifest on your skin or in your mouth, with a tingling sensation or rashes. 

If not properly cared for, this allergy can lead to full blown dermatitis. So be careful adding that brilliant blue, and test some dye on the back of your hand for an allergic reaction if you are unsure of your allergen needs. 

If you need ideas for your next recipe, our favorite sugar cookies are both entirely vegan and gluten free. If you want a more exotic flavor, why not try adding coconut sugar instead of granulated cane sugar, for an almost tropical taste to your favorite sugar cookies. 

Natural and artificial food colors are typically best reserved for baking, rather than cooking. Cakes and biscuits take the sweetened dyes better than meat and side dishes. Still, if you want to change the color of a dessert food like custard of ice cream, then feel free to add a color drop from your food dye bottle. 

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Amy Toliver

Hey'all I'm Amy, a born foodie and diagnosed with celiac disease 7 years ago. I refused to cave into tasteless, boring gulten free food and create my own! On my blog you'll find info & cool facts along with recipes, all on gluten free foods!