Sunday, February 9, 2014

How to avoid toxic food colouring

Avoid toxic food colouring buy using natural, plant basedl food colouring
Food colouring is toxic. Instead, choose natural, plant-based food colouring.

Christmas is the season of candy and colour. Brightly tinted cookies and colourful holiday candies seem to suit the season. They’re fun and festive. But if you do a little research on food colouring you start to wonder about how healthy it really is to be eating foods that are so unnaturally vibrant.

There have been a number of studies over the years pointing to an increase in hyperactivity in children who consume a diet high in artificial colorants. Granted, a lot of processed foods and high-sugar candies are also loaded with artificial colorants, but still the research begged the question: Is it the chemical makeup of the food colouring that was contributing to the ADHD symptoms?
Other questions have been raised about possible connections between cancer and artificial food colouring. In fact, over the years some food colouring has been banned in North America. However, there are still seven questionable food colours that are approved for use here, and banned in Europe.

In particular, Allura Red (Red No. 40), Tartrazine (Yellow No. 5) and Sunset Yellow (Yellow No. 6) are of most concern because they are the most widely used. These food colours are made from synthetic chemicals and there have not been studies to show if they’re truly safe for human consumption over the long term.

Tartrazine (Yellow No. 5) hit the radar last spring through an online petition asking Kraft to remove the chemical from its ubiquitous Kraft Dinner. Kraft Dinner sold in the U.K. is coloured with plant-based dyes because Yellow No. 5 is banned in Europe.

Red No. 40 is everywhere in candies and sugary drinks. A single recipe for red velvet cupcakes can include two to four tablespoons of red food colouring. Yikes.

If you want to avoid these particular artificial colours it’s isn’t as straight forward as  reading the ingredient label since manufacturers need only list “artificial colours” in the ingredient list.
However, manufacturers are pretty quick to list plant-based colourants on their labels so if you’re buying packaged foods look for plant and vegetable-based dyes and avoid or limit those that are artificially coloured.

If you’re a baker and like to tint frosting you have a couple of options:

You can buy plant-based food dyes (search online for the brands India House, Maggie’s Naturals) or you can make your own.

  • For red and pink you can use beet juice (grate a fresh beet and squeeze juice from the pulp), a few drops of pomegranate juice or some raspberries .
  • For yellow try the aromatic spice turmeric or a pinch of saffron. Blueberries (fresh or frozen) will give you’re a nice deep purple.
  • I have read that a concentrated spinach puree will give you a nice shade of green without affecting the flavour but I haven’t tried it.

In general, the colours will be less vibrant and, well, more natural, when you use natural food colouring to tint your baked goods and frosting. But they’ll still be delicious and festive looking.

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