Different chemicals, natural or synthetic that are added to the food to change or increase the intensity of its colour, are called food colours. Food colours are now commonly used in most of the food items like cakes, biscuits, pasta, sweets and a lot of other foods. These are also available in varied packaging e.g. in small capped plastic bottles, packaged as food colouring markers (used when precision has to be maintained), as powdered dust (which can be applied to the food by mixing with a suitable solvent).
Synthetic food colours have an advantage over the natural one. They are much less costly so they can be used for mass-consumed food articles. We can prepare artificial colours in different desired shades. Also, natural food colours are extracted from naturally found pigments in fruits and vegetables which are seasonal and might not be available in place where it is needed. Synthetic colors are able to fill the gap.
Food colours make the food look more attractive. Thus it becomes more appealing to the people therefore this ingredient is very important to the food industry.
Maximum use of food colours is done in manufacturing different colored candies. Various colors are used in candies which can also be arranged in different patterns. These appealing designs can be possible only due to the presence of food colours.
Cakes and cookies have a wide variety of flavours e.g. mango flavour, strawberry flavour, blueberry flavour and many more. Adding the flavouring agent to the batter does not give the typical colour for which these flavours stand for, like strawberry stands for pink. We can attain a little bit of pink colour by adding strawberries but the pink color we commonly see in cakes and cookies is due to the addition of a pink food colour.
Medicines may have unpleasant external appearance. Food colours can be added to such medicines whether in capsules or syrups to make them more palatable to both kids and adults.
Some of the chemicals used as food colouring agents also act as a preservative thus prolonging the shelf life of some food items.
SAFETY PRECAUTIONS FOR THE USE OF FOOD COLOURS
Food colours can be derived from the natural elements that are pigmented. For example, the beta carotene pigment is widely distributed amongst various orangish colored fruits and vegetables and that pigment can be extracted from the same. It then undergoes the process of separation, purification and concentration. It can be dehydrated to form a powdered food colouring. It can be mixed with a suitable solvent to form a liquid color.
Most of the colours derived from natural sources are usually harmless. As the sources of these colors are also commonly being consumed, these colors do not cause any adverse effect on the body but these may cause some side-effects to sensitive people. For e.g. a person having allergy from carotenoids will also be allergic to respective food color.
Synthetic food colors can be derived from varied sources. These can also be prepared by certain chemical reactions on the pigments obtained naturally from the plants. Usually these food colours when added to the food do not cause any harmful side effects.
All our food colours, synthetic or natural pass through a strict certifying procedure and are approved by the Indian Govt standards. These can safely be used in different type of food items.
Regulations are also put on the mixing of food colours in the food. Mixing a lot of amount may actually damage the flavour or the shelf life of the food.
The best way to obtain a particular colour is to add the food colouring agent drop by drop to the food item and then mixing to see if you have got the desired hue.