People have added colorings to food for centuries. In the early 1900's synthetic food coloring came from coal tar, but nowadays most artificial food dyes are made from petroleum. Over the years, hundreds of artificial food dyes have been developed, but a majority of them have since been found to be toxic. There are a handful of artificial dyes that are still used in food (and cosmetics) today, but their safety is very controversial. Some countries have banned them, while others deem them safe to use.
Food dyes have been a cause for concern because some research suggests that there is an association between artificial food dyes and hyperactivity in children, migraines, allergic reactions, and the most disturbing claim, cancer.
The good news is that there are alternatives to artificial dyes. There are plenty of companies that are opting to produce natural and organic food dyes that are plant based.
If a safer way is available, why do companies still use artificial dyes? The key benefits of artificial colors are cost and shelf life. Synthetics can be mass-produced at a fraction of the cost of gathering and processing materials used to make natural food dyes. And synthetic dyes might last longer than their natural counterparts. Not to mention that lab-produced colors are not limited to what is available in nature.
Do you have a better alternative to artificial food dye? We'd love to know your favorite brands!