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Karnataka bans harmful food dyes, here is our deep dive on these additives and the myths surrounding them

INDKarnataka bans harmful food dyes, here is our deep dive on these additives and the myths surrounding them


Gobi Manchurian is a dish was found to contain harmful colours (Image used for representational purposes only)
| Photo Credit: Murali Kumar K

On June 21, the Food Safety and Quality Department of Karnataka issued an order about the use of food colourants and chemical additives. The order was passed after the department analysed almost 40 kebab samples from across the city. The tests in the government-run laboratories revealed that the presence of artificial colours were so high that they were deemed unsafe to eat. Not just kebabs, but the state also cracked down on the use of these colours in pani puri, cotton candy andgobi manchurian. India is cracking down on food safety laws, and for good reason. 

But not all artificial colours are entirely bad or harmful. Joonie Tan, the executive pastry artist at Lavonne tells us, “In our cafe, we use all natural colours, we don’t use any artificial dyes. If we need red, we use strawberries or raspberries.” But for more vibrant cakes and desserts, Joonie says that they use food gels since natural colours have a limited range as it is hard to derive many shades from these sources. Natural colours also tend to be more pastel and not as vibrant as the artificial ones.

The cafe always uses government approved dyes and Joonie explains that there is some misinformation about these products. “One big thing is the amount of these colours you use. Apart from the health reasons, it is also about practicality. The artificial dyes stain a lot. For example, if you use too much of black in a dessert, it may stain your mouth.” she adds. 

What are these colours?

Here is what you should watch out for as a diner, and f you are using colours in home cooking or baking. Some of the artificial colours that have come under microscope are sunset yellow (technical names include Yellow 6 and E110), carmoisine (a deep red dye, also known as azorubine. Its technical names include Red No. 10 and  E122), and rhodamine B (this is a textile dye, but sometimes illegally used in place of red colour).

Different countries have different regulations when it comes to these dyes. For instance, sunset yellow is approved for use in the US, while it needs to come with a warning on the label in the EU. Rhodamine B is banned in India by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Some colours are allowed to be used but only in limited quantities. One such example is tartrazine, the technical name of which is E102 in the EU and Yellow 5 in the US. The problem with the colours is that in large quantities they can be carcinogenic, or can induce stomach problems, or dizziness. Some of them are also not vegan or vegetarian, as they derive the colours from animal sources. 

Bakeries often use artificial colours for their products (Image used for representational purposes only)

Bakeries often use artificial colours for their products (Image used for representational purposes only)
| Photo Credit:
Murali Kumar K

The main culprits of dye usage are dishes such askebabs,manchurians and candy — anything with bright colours. In our research, most darshinis and street carts did not admit to using any colours in their food. We spoke to over five local bakeries, as well as more high end cafes, most of whom said they use food gels for the vivid colours.

Some popular and reputed brands of food-grade colour gels and powders that are used are Americolor founded in 1995 and Chefmaster, founded in 1938, both American companies. While these are made under the strictest regulations, one must always keep in mind that they will follow only the rules of the countries they are manufactured in. 

Artificial colours give more vibrant shades to products (Image used for representational purposes only)

Artificial colours give more vibrant shades to products (Image used for representational purposes only)
| Photo Credit:
Murali Kumar K

What are the natural colouring options?

It is easier for restaurants, as opposed to bakeries, to avoid artificial colours completely. The newly opened Topic Craft Bar and Kitchen in Banashankari uses natural colours in many different ways. “The recent ban on artificial colours by the Karnataka government aligns perfectly with our philosophy, and it doesn’t affect our operations at all,” says Naveen Ramchandra, a partner. “We even infuse these natural ingredients in oils to create rich, natural colours that enhance our desserts. Like our sponge cake is made with beetroot while our yellow raita is tinted with turmeric oil. Our Iranian chicken boasts a rich red hue from the natural extract of Byadgi chillies, and the green oil we use for plating is made with the extract of fresh greens.”

At Ishaara, a restaurant in Hebbal, the kitchen uses natural sources for their colours. “We extract colours from vegetables and fruits like spinach, tomatoes, beetroot, berries,” says  Prashant Issar, the director of Bellona Hospitality, the parent company. In the restaurant, they have a Goan green curry, and he tells us they use curry leaves and cilantro oil to achieve the bright green colour.

While there are many natural alternatives to artificial colours, they also have their advantages. As with any other safety and health issue, it is always best to read the labels of what you are using, do your research, and only buy from trusted and hygienic sources. 



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