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Are Natural Food Colorings Better for People with Allergies?


Updated November 20, 2008

Question: Are Natural Food Colorings Better for People with Allergies?
Answer: Maybe not. While many people have reported allergic reactions to synthetic food colorings, allergic reactions to natural food colorings are also possible, and probably better understood. Many natural food colorings can be added to foods, and include carmine, annatto, saffron, carotene, turmeric, paprika, beet extract and grape skin extract. Reactions to carmine, annatto and saffron are the best understood natural food colorings that cause allergic reactions.

Carmine. Carmine is a red food coloring made from a dried insect called Dactylopius coccus Costa, which can be found on prickly pear cactus plants. This coloring is also found in various cosmetics, drinks, red yogurt and popsicles. A report of a child experiencing urticaria after drinking Kool Aid found that carmine caused the allergic reaction, and was listed under the designation “E120” on the ingredient list.

Annatto. Annatto is a yellow food coloring made from the seeds of a South American tree, Bixia orellana. This additive has been found to cause allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis and urticaria.

Saffron. This yellow food coloring, obtained from the flower of the Crocus sativa plant, has been reported as a cause of anaphylaxis.

Learn more about allergic reactions to food additives.


Wilson BG, Bahna SL. Adverse Reactions of Food Additives. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2005; 95:499-507.

Bush RK, Taylor SL, Hefle SL. Adverse Reactions to Food and Drug Additives. In: Adkinson NF, Yunginger JW, Busse WW, et al, eds. Middleton’s Allergy Principles and Practice. 6th edition. Philadelphia: Mosby Publishing; 2003:1645-1663.

Dunlap W, Sanders G. Kool Aid-Induced Urticaria in a Pediatric Patient with Carmine Allergy: Beware of the Bugs in “Bug Juice”. Presented at the 2008 American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Accessed November 11, 2008.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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