Is annatto food coloring safe?

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I’d like to know if annato is helpful, harmful, or neutral…In general, do you know of natural food dyes? I think you mentioned that in place of using the dye from the cochineal beetle that cherries could be used. I have used spinach and mint for green, and beets for red and raspberries for pink. I think annato is used for the yellow-orange color. I did ruin one dish going for red coloring where the beet flavoring was too strong. I’ll try shaving the vegetables after cooking and then dehydrating and grinding to reduce the flavor.

bsmithson / Originally posted on Latest in Nutrition vol. 7 DVD now available (proceeds to charity)

Answer:

Annatto is a food dye derived from the seeds of the achiote tree. Although there have been case reports of severe allergic reactions and irritable bowel syndrome-type symptoms reported, there haven’t been any comprehensive studies done to date on humans. In fact data is so sparse that the World Health Organization just pulled their tentative Acceptable Daily Intake specifications. If I see anything new I’ll let you know. In the meanwhile, I find the WHO expert reports to be trustworthy when it comes to food additives, accessible at: http://www.who.int/foodsafety/chem/jecfa/publications/reports/en/index.html.

Bottom line, I’d try to stay away from artificial food colors (see my videos Artificial Coloring in FishAre Artificial Colors Harmful?, and Are Artificial Colors Bad for You?). And if you’re looking for a colorful health-promoting spice I’d suggest turmeric (see video here) or saffron:

Image credit: tonrulkens / Flickr

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