Artificial food colors, they’re everywhere.  Pick up virtually any food or drink item at the grocer and you’d probably see, “Blah, Blah, Blah, FD&C Red No. 40, and FD&C Yellow No. 5”- or something like that.  There is one place that I often run into artificial food colorings that catches me off guard- vegan recipes on the web.

Not only are these chemicals toxic, they aren’t vegan.  Artificial food colors are tested on animals.

Shocking, right?  I know.  I wouldn’t have immediately thought of it either, but I looked them all up to get an idea of what they are made of.  Guess what?  They’re achieved through the wonder of chemistry and the industry of oil drilling.  Certainly not something I want on my vegan cupcake, gross.

Artificial colors keep the food sitting in warehouses and on grocery shelves fresh and cheery looking so that we’ll buy it thinking how good and tasty it must be.  Perhaps more insidiously, the bright blues, reds, and oranges of candy lure youngsters with promises of tasty delight- an experience and association that persists into adulthood when it’s time to decorate cakes and cookies for the family or work outing….or, Halloween.

Have you ever noticed that the artificial food colorings at the grocery stores always go on sale around holidays?  We are constantly bombarded with ways to incorporate these chemicals into our diets.  I’ve seen special colorings for drinks, for baked goods, for ice cubes for goodness sake- all in the name of Halloween “fun.”  Food colorings don’t add flavor to our food, they actually taste bad.  So, is our fun really worth the lives of animals?

To determine the safety of these chemicals as they are used as food additives, they are tested on animals.  Of course, these tests do not indicate the substance’s effect on humans, only how much is needed to cause cancer and death in the animals they are administered to.

After the jump I talk about the Seven Deadly Primary Colors and how you can replace them with versions that are 100% all natural, chemical-free, and vegan.  Let’s get our cute fun on with compassion for all!

The Seven Deadly Primary Colors are:

#1.  FD&C Blue No. 1, Brilliant Blue FCF.

  • Tested on animals such as mice, rats, and dogs.  Beagle dogs were fed Brilliant Blue FCF in the diet for periods up to 1 year to determine the maximum amount of chemical one could ingest before it caused death.
  • Previously banned in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland (among others) but is “certified safe” as a food additive in the EU and the US.  It causes allergic reactions in humans, particularly in individuals with pre-existing conditions.

#2.  FD&C Blue No. 2Indigotine

  • Tested on animals such as mice, rats, and dogs.  “Accidental ingestion of the material may be harmful; animal experiments indicate that ingestion of less than 150 gram may be fatal or may produce serious damage to the health of the individual.”
  • Indigotine is a synthetic replacement for plant-derived indigo, often used as a textile dye.  It is also used in capsules as it is accepted for food use- even though it is harmful to eyes, skin, and respiratory tract.

#3.  FD&C Green No. 3Fast Green FCF

  • Tested on animals such as mice, rats, and dogs.  Four beagles/group, equally divided by sex, were fed Fast Green FCF at 0, 1.0, or 2.0% of the diet for 2 years to determine it’s effects at high-levels of ingestion.  (here’s a hint, it’s many)
  • Fast Green is an eye, skin, and lung irritant.  It has its very own MSDS.  A little scary, right?

#4.  FD&C Red No. 40Allura Red AC

  • Tested on animals such as mice and rats.  In one test, rats were impregnated and fed doses of Allura Red AC.  On Day 20 (prior to birth) they were examined for gross abnormalities followed by euthanasia.  Caesarean sections were then performed to study the fetuses skeletal or soft tissues.
  • Red.  One of the most prolific artificial colors in candy.  Allura Red has been determined to cause behavioural & developmental problems in children.  If that wasn’t bad enough, it is a carcinogenic & mutagenic azo dye.  That’s right.  It causes cancer growth in cells.

#5.  FD&C Red No. 3Erythrosine

  • Tested on animals such as mice and rats.  “Chronic studies revealed an increased incidence of thyroid follicular cell hyperplasia and adenomas in male rats that received 4% FD&C Red No.3 in the diet (2464 mg/kg/day) during life-time (30 months) following in utero exposure.”  In other words, it gave the rats tumors and initial stages of cancer.
  • This artificial red is what is known as a toxic endocrine disruptor.  This means it disrupts normal hormone function.  Another malevolent azo dye allowed in food.

#6.  FD&C Yellow No. 5Tartrazine

  • Tested on animals such as mice and rats.  From one study, “At the end of week 13, all rats were deprived of food, but not water, overnight and then blood samples were collected via the abdominal aorta for hematology and serum biochemistry.  Animals were then killed by exsanguination from the abdominal aorta.”
  • Yellow No. 5 is an unqualified human health hazard.  It’s hard enough to fathom why any artificial color is permitted in regulated food, let alone this toxic mess.

#7.  FD&C Yellow No. 6Sunset Yellow FCF

  • Tested on animals such as mice, rats, and rabbits.  Sunset Yellow in petrolatum or in aqueous solutions studied and found not irritant to rabbit skin and was minimally irritant to the rabbit eyes.
  • Yet another azo dye.  Consumer advocates have petitioned the government to ban this and other artificial colors, citing studies that have concluded that these toxins increase hyperactivity in children.

The seven listed here aren’t the only ones out there.  Citrus Red 2 is approved for one use only in food- to color the peel of oranges.  That’s a pretty big vegan conundrum, if you ask me, considering that it too, is tested on animals.

So what is a vegan to do?  Use natural food colorings found right inside your fridge!  Here is a list of colors and vegan, all natural ways to get that perfect color you’re looking for.

Desired Color Use
Red/Pink Beet Juice, Cherry Juice, Raspberry Juice, Pomegranate Juice
Yellow Turmeric
Purple Acai Juice, Blueberry Juice, Plum Juice (made from simmering ripe plum skins)
Green Kale, Spinach, Parsley or other green juice.  (use sparingly)
Blue Boiled Red Cabbage
Brown Coffee or Tea
Orange Mix red and yellow ingredients together to get shade you want.
Black Swiss Chard Juice (Be aware, it’s super salty and bitter- use sparingly) or a mix of food colors above.

You can also find decorating sprinkles made with raw sugar and carnauba wax, it just takes a bit of reading in the decorating aisle of your local grocer.  If you really want to splurge, Whole Foods carries natural and vegan sugars perfect to top our cupcakes and cookies with.  Buyer beware, it costs a small fortune.  I usually keep my colors to ones I can make at home with the ingredients listed above.  You can too.  It’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s better for (you) the animals.


** UPDATE 2013 ** I have been flooded with questions and comments on this post since it has originated.  The most asked question/comment has to do with when these colorants were/are tested on animals and if the practice still continues.  The links provide this information.  Each one links to recent (as few as 1 year ago in some cases) scientific data collected in animal testing.  Personally, I don’t view avoiding these toxic chemicals any differently than I do avoiding health and beauty items that are tested on animals.  I know that there are some people who are willing to overlook animal testing because “at some point everything was tested on animals” and “no one can avoid everything non-vegan so why should we make a big fuss over it” but I think that misses the point.  There is so much we can not avoid as vegans- things like medications, cars, computers.  Since I can’t avoid everything I avoid everything I can.  Rejecting toxic chemicals as food isn’t all that hard anyway.

Featured Photo credit (glasses): 96dpi via Flickr