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Caramel color [E150] seen on the right rim of artificial soy sauce fill line

Caramel color or caramel coloring is a soluble food coloring. It is made by a carefully controlled heat treatment of carbohydrates, generally in the presence of acids, alkalis, or salts, in a process called caramelization. It is more fully oxidized than caramel candy and has an odor of burnt sugar and a somewhat bitter taste. Its color ranges from pale yellow to amber to dark brown (see Color, below).

Contents

Caramel color is one of the oldest and most widely-used food colorings, and is found in almost every kind of industrially produced food, including: batters, beer, brown bread, buns, chocolate, cookies, cough drops, dark liquor such as brandy, rum, beer and whisky, chocolate-flavored flour-based confectionery, coatings, custards, decorations, fillings and toppings, potato chips, dessert mixes, doughnuts, fish and shellfish spreads, frozen desserts, Fruit preserves, glucose tablets, gravy browning, ice cream, pickles, sauces and dressings, soft drinks (especially colas), sweets, vinegar, and wines.

Production

Caramel color is made by the controlled heat treatment of carbohydrates (nutritive sweeteners which are the monomers glucose and fructose or their polymers, e.g. glucose syrups, sucrose, invert syrups, and dextrose, generally in the presence of food-grade acids, alkalis, and salts, in a process called caramelization. Antifoaming agents may be used as processing aids during its manufacture. Unlike caramel candy, it tends towards maximum oxidation of the sugar to produce a caramel concentrate that has an odor of burnt sugar and a somewhat bitter taste in its raw liquid form. Its color ranges from pale yellow to amber to dark brown.

Caramel color molecules carry either a positive or negative charge depending upon the reactants used in their manufacture. Problems such as precipitation, flocculation or migration can be eliminated with the use of a properly charged caramel color for the intended application.

Classification

Internationally, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) recognizes four classes of caramel color, differing by intended application and in the reactants used in their manufacture, each with its own INS and E number, listed in the table below.

Class INS No. E Number Description Restrictions on preparation Used in
I 150a E150a Plain caramel, caustic caramel, spirit caramel No ammonium or sulfite compounds can be used Whiskey among many
II 150b E150b Caustic sulfite caramel In the presence of sulfite compounds but no ammonium compounds can be used
III 150c E150c Ammonia caramel, baker's caramel, confectioner's caramel, beer caramel In the presence of ammonium compounds but no sulfite compounds can be used Beer, synthetic soy sauce, and confectionery
IV 150d E150d Sulfite ammonia caramel, acid-proof caramel, soft-drink caramel In the presence of both sulfite and ammonium compounds Acidic environments such as soft drinks

Color

Cola is usually colored dark brown using caramel color

Color strength (Tinctorial Power) is defined as the absorbance of a 0.1% solution (weight/volume) in water, measured using a 1 cm light path at a wavelength of 560 nanometers.[1]

The color tone of the caramel color is also important. This is defined by the Linner Hue Index, which is the measure of the color hue or red characteristics of the caramel color. It is a function of the absorbance of light of wavelengths 510 and 610 nm. Generally, the higher the Tinctorial Power, KO.56, the lower the Hue Index and the lower the red tones.[2]

Various other indices are in use around the world and there are conversion factors between them.[3][4]

Physical properties

Caramel color is a colloid. Although the primary function of caramel color is for coloring, it also serves additional functions. In soft drinks, it functions as an emulsifier to help retard the formation of certain types of "floc" and its light protective quality can aid in preventing oxidation of the flavoring components in bottled beverages.

Toxicology

Internationally, JECFA has set the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of Class I caramel color as "not specified"; that of Class II as 0-160 mg/kg body weight; that of Class III as 0-200 mg/kg body weight; and that of Class IV as 0-200 mg/kg body weight.

The United States Food and Drug Administration classifies and regulates caramel color in 21 CFR 73.85 as a color additive exempt from certification. Unless a food has a standard of identity, caramel color may be safely used in foods generally at levels consistent with good manufacturing practice.

The International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) has concluded that commercially-produced caramel color has the same toxicological properties as caramel produced by cooking or heating sucrose, except for those prepared using ammonium (Class III and IV). Despite some claims that caramel is toxic or carcinogenic, or leads to intestinal problems,[5] the IPCS has found no evidence of carcinogenicity or mutagenicity in its extensive studies.

Caramel color has excellent microbiological stability. Since it is manufactured under very high temperature, high acidity, high pressure, and high specific gravity, it is essentially sterile as it will not support microbial growth unless in a dilute solution.

Since caramel can be produced from maize, which may be genetically modified, there is a possibility that it will contain genetically-modified material that cannot be detected by a Polymerase chain reaction.[6] Many carbohydrates that are not derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be used to develop non-GM caramel color.

When reacted with sulfites, caramel color may retain traces of sulfite after processing. However, in finished food products, labeling is usually only required for sulfite levels above 10 ppm.

References

  1. ^ FAQ - What are the most common test methods for caramel color?, Sethness Caramel Color, http://www.sethness.com/dsp_faq.cfm#test, retrieved 2009-04-26 
  2. ^ Physical and Chemical Properties of Caramel Color, Sethness-Roquette Caramel Color, http://www.sethness-roquette.com/properties.cfm#properties, retrieved 2009-04-26 
  3. ^ What is Caramel Color?, DD Williamson, http://www.caramel.com/155-What-is-Caramel-Color.aspx, retrieved 2009-04-26 
  4. ^ Grover, D. W. (1968), "The measurement and character of caramel colour", Journal of Food Technology (Institute of Food Science and Technology) 3 (4): 311–323, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2621.1968.tb01472.x 
  5. ^ E150 Caramel, Wageningen University, http://www.food-info.net/uk/e/e150.htm, retrieved 2006-04-26 
  6. ^ E150d Sulphite ammonia caramel, La Leva di Archimedie (Archimedes' Lever) - Association for freedom of choice, http://www.laleva.cc/food/enumbers/E141-E160.html#Anchor-E150d-9880, retrieved 2006-04-26 
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