What is Food Coloring Made of and Are Bugs on the Ingredient List?

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Food Coloring is Made From . . . ?

What is food coloring made of? The answer is not as simple or straightforward as one might hope due to the variables involved. The following are some of the different types of food colorings along with what they are made of.

Food Coloring for Home Use

Food coloring made for home use, such as from McCormick, can have a variety of ingredients in just one color. For example, their black food coloring contains “Water, FD&C Red #40, FD&C Blue #1, FD&C Yellow #5, Phosphoric Acid, And Sodium Benzoate (As A Preservative).”

Food Coloring Additives

As illustrated by the above example, there are many food coloring additives that can be used in foods. A few examples are FD&C Red #40, FD&C Yellow #5, and FD&C Blue #1. Other approved FD&C colors are FD&C Blue #2, FD&C Red #3, FD&C Green #3 and FD&C Yellow #6. From these colors an assortment of other colors can be created, as illustrated with McCormick’s black food coloring.

The FD&C stands for the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which regulates things such as food colorings, though the Food and Drug Act of 1906 is where food coloring certification began in the United States.

This regulation means that all man-made food coloring agents must be tested and proven not to cause harm when consumed. Then a petition to the US FDA must be submitted and approved before the coloring agent can be used. An approval may come with limitations as to what specific foods the coloring may be used in.

Natural Food Coloring

Natural food coloring is often used for things such as coloring Easter eggs. To make these natural dyes, certain foods are boiled, and the colored water is used to color the eggs or other items.

Yellow onion skins can be used to make a reddish orange color. Red beets can create pink and magenta hues. Turmeric can make yellow and orange shades. Red cabbage can make blues and purples.


What is food coloring made of? The answer to that question greatly depends upon the source and use of the food coloring, as explained above.

There is something else to consider when it comes to food colorings, however. In an ABC News/Health report, it was pointed out that some historical food colorings, such as crushed female cochineal beetles, are still in use today and are legal to use as a ‘natural’ food dye that does not need to be listed on labels. If included in an ingredients label, crushed female cochineal beetles may be listed as cochineal or carmine and not as crushed beetles.


Black Food Color. McCormick. https://www.mccormick.com/Products/Extracts-and-Food-Colors/Food-Colors/Black-Food-Color.aspx

Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (FDA). https://www.fda.gov/regulatoryinformation/legislation/federalfooddrugandcosmeticactfdcact/default.htm

Beetlejuice: Using Bugs as Food Dye is Legal and Common. January 27, 2006. ABC News/Health. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=1549583