Why I’m going to avoid artificial colors from now on. (Update 8/31/17)

 

I have been hearing all sorts of bad things about artificial and synthetic food colors for a long time. I had heard that they were tested on animals at some point, that they’re harmful to our health, that they’re not environmentally friendly, and that they are unnecessary. Yet, I kept seeing products labeled as vegan that had them in them and I assumed I could eat them despite what I believed were rumors. They are in, after all, in some of my favorite mainstream candies that are widely accepted as being accidentally vegan.

Realizing that many people avoid synthetic food colors for the reasons I listed above, I set out to begin to find some alternatives when I cook for other people and for the cookbook I am writing. I was not thinking I would decide to avoid them for the most part until I began to research them more as I was writing this.

However, I discovered some facts that upset me and convinced me otherwise:

Synthetic colors can be present in almost any product in the market, from food and drinks to toothpaste, chewing gum, medications, cosmetics, and even tattoos. They are typically made in a laboratory from petroleum products (Jacobson & Kobylewski, 2010, p. 10) or Coal (FDA, 2007). The petroleum and coal industries are destructive to our environment, and produce products and byproducts that are not exactly considered food!

To identify an artificial food coloring in your foods’ ingredients lists, you must look for the prefixes FD&C, D&C, or Ext. D&C, followed by the name of a color, and a number. Sometimes the artificial color may be listed just as the color and number. These labels mean that these colors have been “certified” by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and have been approved by them to be safe for use in food (FDA, 2007). Today, there are nine dyes that are approved to be used in food, and these are (minus the prefixes): Blue 1, Blue 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 (Jacobson & Kobylewski, 2010, p. 10).

However, the FDA does not require certain colorants derived from plants, animals, or minerals, though some are still considered artificial colorants and need to be regulated differently (FDA, 2007). This list includes some unappetizing options for colorings such as carmine and cochineal extract (which are produced using beetles and therefore not vegan), canthaxanthin, Sodium copper chlorophyllin, Toasted partially defatted cooked cottonseed flour, ferrous gluconate and ferrous lactate, synthetic iron oxide, mica, etc. The same list includes ingredients we vegans are more familiar with, such as beets, turmeric, vegetable and fruit juices, spirulina, saffron, paprika, carrot oil, and annatto (FDA, 2015). For more information on these lists you can check them out here.

In order to certify a synthetic colorant’s safety, they are tested on animals. The FDA requires that there are tests on at least two different species of rodents (Jacobson & Kobylewski, 2010, p. 11). That alone may be a reason to avoid these dyes. However, if it does not sway you for whatever reason, know that even scientists are critical of the ways in which animal testing is used and applied in research. In order to test the carcinogenicity of these colorful products effectively, scientists believe that more animals needed to be tested, that the tests need to be performed on pregnant animals and their fetuses, and have a longer duration than the two years they are conducted for at present (Potera, 2010). Personally, I would rather avoid or even encourage a ban these questionably safe products than advocate for more extensive animal testing.

Scientists, medical doctors, nutrition experts, and even psychologists, teachers, parents, and other concerned folks also take issue with some of the research findings of some dyes when the FDA has not. For example,  Potera states, “Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 contain free benzidene, a human and animal carcinogen permitted in low, presumably safe levels” (2010). However, benzidene has also been found to be bound to the chemical structure of the dyes at a greater level than the free benzidene. The tests the FDA does do not consider or identify bound contaminants, only free ones (Potera, 2010). Yellow 5 (also called tartrazine), can cause allergic reactions that can be severe in some people. Tartrazine is now required to be listed by name on food labels, but that isn’t the only concern with this colorant. In a majority of the test-tube and animal experiments for it, this yellow colored dye was shown to damage DNA, which may indicate that it is a carcinogen. Unfortunately, the studies that showed the data was not considered by the FDA (Jacobson & Kobylewski, 2010, p. 11). Furthermore, it has been suggested by researchers that artificial food colorings can increase hyperactivity in children diagnosed with ADHD, as well as children without the diagnosis (Arnold, Lofthouse, & Hurt, 2012).

Some food dyes used today are even banned for use in cosmetics and topical drugs but not food. Red 3 has been banned from these applications by the FDA. It has been shown in animal testing to cause thyroid cancer. Today, five million pounds of Red 3 are present in the food supply (Jacobson & Kobylewski, 2010, p. 10).

It is, as always, up to you to decide what you will tolerate ethically and put into your body. Personally, now that I know that these products are harmful to my health, animals, and the environment, I am going to try to do away with synthetic food colorings as much as I possibly can. I will use natural colors instead.

References

Arnold, L. E., Lofthouse, N., & Hurt, E. (2012). Artificial food colors and attention deficit/hyperactivity symptoms: Conclusions to dye for. Neurotherapeutics, 9(3), 599-609. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-012-0133-x

Jacobson, M. F., & Kobylewski, S. (2010, September). Color Us Worried. Nutrition Action Health Letter, 37(7), 10-11. Retrieved from Nursing & Allied Health Database.

Potera, C. (2010). Diet and nutrition: The artificial food dye blues. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(10). https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp/118-a428

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2007, December 10). How safe are color additives? Retrieved August 30, 2017, from https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm048951.htm

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2015, May). Summary of color additives for use in the United States in foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices. Retrieved August 31, 2017, from https://www.fda.gov/ForIndustry/ColorAdditives/ColorAdditiveInventories/ucm115641.htm#table1A

***

For the purposes of the cookbook I am writing, unfortunately, I had bought a bunch of sprinkles that were labeled vegan that used the artificial colors before I did this research. I feel guilty letting them go to waste and so I plan to use them. However, I feel the need to point out that there are naturally colored vegan sprinkles available. Let’s Do Organic… brand makes a fairly easy to find variety. India Tree makes some too, but not all of them are vegan. You will need to look out for ingredients such as confectioner’s glaze or beeswax (made from insects) before buying. Additionally, there is an Etsy store called Naked Sprinkles that makes a beautiful range of vegan and naturally colored sprinkles that  I’m really excited to support in the future!

Since my cookbook is all about creating fun, rainbowy, unicorn-inspired foods, I felt it especially necessary to provide options for creating these beautiful colors without the cruelty, environmental destruction, and health risks involved.

If you are short on time or these are not cost effective for you or difficult to find, there are pre-made natural colors that you can buy as well. India Tree, Color Garden, and Color Kitchen, all make natural and vegan food coloring that you can buy in stores or online.

The following are my alternatives to artificial dyes, using natural ingredients. I recommend that you mix each color in a small glass jar and keep chilled in the fridge until needed to color all sorts of foods, such as smoothies, cakes, donuts, frostings, cookies, etc. Always shake the jar before using as separation will occur. I will be using these dyes I created in many of the recipes in the book I am writing.

*Though I have not included it in the official recipes, you can make orange colored dye by mixing the beet color with the turmeric color until you get a satisfactory shade of orange. It may be easier to mix into the food item you are making rather than in a jar, as the colors appear darker than they will in the food you are mixing them into.

Vegan Friendly Natural Food Dye Recipes

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Red

  • ½ cup hot water
  • ¼ tsp agar agar powder (optional, you could use cornstarch or arrowroot if you do not have it)
  • ¾ tsp beet powder

Yellow

  • ½ cup hot water
  • ¼ tsp agar agar powder (optional)
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric

Green

  • ½ cup hot water
  • ¼ tsp agar agar powder (optional)
  • ½ tsp spirulina powder

Blue

  • ½ cup hot water
  • ¼ tsp agar agar powder
  • ½ tsp butterfly pea tea powder

Purple

  • ½ cup hot water
  • ¼ tsp agar agar powder
  • ¼ tsp butterfly pea tea powder
  • ¼ tsp beet powder

IMG_3695Here is a picture of some cookie dough I colored using red, purple, yellow, and green dye I made.

 

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Vegan MoFo day #13 Post #10: Kitchen tour time and recipe for yellow rice

Hey,

Today’s Vegan MoFo post prompt is: It’s kitchen tour time!

Technically “my” kitchen is actually my mom’s kitchen. I am very lucky to live with my parents right now because they have a really awesome kitchen. I’ll miss it when I move out.

The pictures I will post at the end will show that the kitchen a bit messy, and that’s because I took them right after I made an elaborate dinner. My mom is always complaining about the messes I make. I really can be a bit of a hurricane when I cook.

Tonight’s dinner was from the cookbook Great Gluten-Free Vegan Eats From Around the World by Allyson Kramer. It was the Peanut Mole soy curls, although I’m not sure why it’s called that, since there are no peanuts in it. In addition to that, I decided to make a yellow rice recipe, which wasn’t in the book, but somehow came out looking almost exactly like the rice that was pictured in the recipe.

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The mole may not be exactly attractive, but let me tell you, anything that has a whole bar of melted chocolate in it is worth making!

Here is the recipe for the rice I made:

Yellow Rice Makes about 4 cups cooked

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 4 cups veggie broth
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dried minced onion
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste
  • 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup defrosted frozen peas

Directions:

  1. I recommend using a rice cooker for this as it’s easier and I love rice cookers! Place all the ingredients except the peas and tomatoes into the pot of the rice cooker and stir before turning on.
  2. If using a rice cooker, set to cook and leave it alone until it switches to warming. If you prefer not to use a rice cooker, cook on the stove as you would any other rice (you probably know better how to do that than me at this point, since I’ve grown reliant on rice cookers.)
  3. Once cooked, transfer into a large bowl and fold in the tomatoes and peas.
  4. Serve as a delicious side.

And now, what you’ve been waiting for: the kitchen tour!

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This is the area where the stove, oven, fruit basket, utensils, and blender reside. You can also see my rice cooker and the mole I just made when this was taken.

IMG_5234

This is the corner where my new juicer resides that I am loving and endlessly intrigued by.

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This is the sink area. You can also see on the left hand side (sorta, it isn’t clear) some pencils, pens, and paper that we keep there along with my parents’ actual landline phone. It is a mess of dirty dishes in this picture AHHHH! I cleaned them up right after eating.

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This is where a lot of the cups and glasses are stored above and where I often prepare food but am not really supposed to because my mom likes it as clean as possible. My hot water heater is currently on the top of the counter top. My cat Neko often jumps up onto this counter to get his food (since we prepare it on there), which we’ve tried to discourage him from because it’s gross, but we haven’t been consistent enough with correcting the behavior so he’s still doing it. In the background you can see the eating area where my brother is eating the Mole dish as well (he’s not a vegan but likes the food I make and eats it happily).

IMG_5237

The pantry area, spice rack, microwave, toaster oven, Mrs. Pots Cookie jar, etc. You can also see the cupcakes left over from the bbq I told you about that I made for Saturday, my Vega One shake, some random ingredients such as gluten free vegan breadcrumbs and buckwheat flour, and other cluttery stuff. Check out my mom’s alphabetized spice rack…we have a bit of an overgrowth of spices, as the overflow is housed in the cabinet above.

That’s all for tonight, it was fun showing you the kitchen!

Mango Cashew Thai Yellow Curry

Tonight I made this really good dinner for my brother and I! He said it tasted like it was from a restaurant. It was surprisingly easy though. I had bought this curry paste, pictured below, at Market Basket:

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Which eventually became this:

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Note: the curry paste is not mild in spiciness. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 can organic full fat coconut milk
  • 1 package Kanokwan yellow curry paste
  • 1 lb extra firm tofu, cubed
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 14 oz chopped stir fry veggies of choice
  • 1 champagne mango, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • Cooked rice, for serving

Directions:

  1. Mix together the full can of coconut milk and curry paste. Heat on medium low heat and stir until oily on top.
  2. Add in cubed tofu. Stir and allow to cook for a few minutes.
  3. Pour in vegetable broth and stir. Increase heat to medium, and add veggies, mango, and cashews.
  4. Heat until veggies are cooked.
  5. Serve over rice.
  6. Deliciously simple!

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice and Father’s Day! I wish it wasn’t supposed to rain…:(