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Coupon Abbreviations
  • SC = Store Coupon
  • MC = Manufacturer Coupon
  • SS = Smart Source
  • RMN = Retail Me Not
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
Coupon Terms
  • WYB = When You Buy
  • B1G1 = Buy One Get One Free
  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

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organic living journey tackes food coloring

The following is part of an Organic Journey Guest Post Series, written by Amy a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.

There is an old saying that we eat with our eyes first. It’s true that a great presentation makes food more appetizing.   Am I the only one who notices that my homemade mac & cheese never looks quite as “cheesy” as the box mix?  That’s because Yellow No. 5 & No. 6 are added to enhance the appearance of many mixes.  You might have seen a recent news article about some folks petitioning to get artificial food coloring removed from a well-known brand of mac & cheese. That got me thinking and digging in deeper to find out what the hype is with artificial colorings and if we have any alternatives out there.

I was also left wondering why cheese is yellow in the first place. As it turns out, cheese made from the milk of grass-fed cows can give off a yellow hue from their beta-carotene rich diet. Most yellow cheese is now colored with annatto, a natural pigment used to make the cheese appear more yellow. Sure enough, I checked the cheddar in my fridge and it has annatto listed as an ingredient. Don’t you find it interesting that the concept of yellow-orange cheese is so familiar to us, but that for the most part, it’s not naturally occurring?

Okay, I didn’t want this article to be about cheese & dairy since we already covered that, so let’s get back to food coloring. I’ll admit, this research got a little sciencey, but I think there is a lot to learn here! In the US, there is a long list of food colorings that are FDA approved. These range from dyes derived from petroleum or coal tar to animal, plant and mineral based colorings. Yep, I said coal tar. The petrochemical based dyes are subject to batch by batch testing to make sure they meet purity standards. These include the dyes normally listed as a color and number (like Blue No. 2 or Red No. 40).

The other category of colorings are exempt from the FDA batch testing and these include a range of colors from beet powder to cochineal extract which is made from beetles in a series of chemical processes. Now there may not be anything wrong with beetle food coloring, but suddenly the color additives start to make me lose my appetite instead of increasing it.

There are a plethora of studies that claim links to everything from cancer to hyperactivity and allergies, particularly with the numbered artificial dyes. The FDA released a guide for consumers in 2007 and they state that FDA approved colorings are “very safe when used properly”, but they also acknowledge potential allergies.

“It is possible, but rare, to have an allergic-type reaction to a color additive. For example, FD&C Yellow No. 5 may cause itching and hives in some people. This color additive is widely found in beverages, desserts, processed vegetables, drugs, makeup, and other products.”

For the most part it seems we can rely on the “organic” label to steer us clear of the synthetic additives. I dug through the list of allowed substances and organic labeled colors are derived from agricultural products. They can’t be produced with synthetic solvents or carriers or any artificial preservatives. 19 total colors are approved including: beet, carrot, blueberry, annatto, cabbage and others. Many of these colorful species are high in antioxidants, so they might actually contribute to the nutritional value of our food, not just enhance the color. Novel concept, I know. Interestingly, these additives are required to be organic if it is commercially available, but can be non-organic if that is the only option available. (See section 205.606 of this document if you want the full list and all the details.)

The good news is that by buying organic products, you can avoid petroleum (or even bug) based food colorings. But what if I want to make Red Velvet cake or decorate some colorful Christmas cookies with my kids? I stood at my local specialty cake decorating shop hunting for options and they only had a huge aisle of the synthetic stuff. For next week, I’m on a quest to find some natural food coloring options for home bakers!