Decoding Purple Dyes in Foods: Industry Names, Identification, and Restaurant Inquiries

artificial food coloring purple candies piled - Culinary Solvent

Getting to Know the Purple Dye

Purple dye used in food is not typically a singular substance but a combination of two or more dyes. The most common formulation includes Red No. 3 (Erythrosine) and Blue No. 1 (Brilliant Blue FCF). Erythrosine is a cherry-pink synthetic, coal tar-derived compound, while Brilliant Blue FCF is a synthetic blue dye made from aromatic hydrocarbons from petroleum. Combined, they produce the purple hue found in many foods and beverages.

Identification in Food Ingredients

Understanding how to identify these dyes in food ingredients is an important step towards making informed food choices. Here are a few tips to help:

  1. Look for Numbers: Most food dyes are listed with their FD&C number. For instance, you might see "Red No. 3" or "Blue No. 1" on the ingredient list.
  2. Look for Names: In some cases, the dyes may be listed by their scientific names – "Erythrosine" or "Brilliant Blue FCF."
  3. Check for General Terms: Occasionally, food manufacturers might list these dyes under a more general term such as "artificial color," "color added," or even "colored with vegetable juice." While these are less specific, they indicate the presence of added colors.

Asking at Restaurants

If you are dining out and need to avoid artificial food coloring, it can feel challenging. Here's how to approach the subject at a restaurant:

  1. Ask Directly: The most straightforward approach is to ask your server if the dish contains artificial coloring. They may need to check with the kitchen, but they should be able to provide an answer.
  2. Request Allergen Information: Many restaurants have allergen menus or ingredient lists available upon request, which can help you identify if a dish contains artificial coloring.
  3. Choose Less Processed Foods: Foods that are less processed are less likely to contain artificial colors. Opt for dishes that feature whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

The topic of artificial dyes in food can be confusing and even overwhelming, but by understanding the industry names and learning how to identify these additives in food, you can make choices that align with your dietary needs and preferences.