The more I learn about food additives, the more convinced I am that food manufacturers care nothing about people’s health and are only interested in selling their “food” to make money. One food additive widely used is caramel coloring. I never gave this substance much thought until I was reading the ingredients of some infant liquid vitamins recommended to us by our pediatrician for our baby. “Doesn’t caramel coloring cause cancer?” my husband asked. I had never heard that it does, but if it does, what is it doing in my baby’s vitamins that are supposed to help her grow healthy and strong? This warranted some research.
From this website http://members.aol.com/nosulfites/caramel.htm I found how caramel coloring began:
“In 1880, Charles Sethness, a 25 year old self-educated immigrant, started a flavor and syrup business in Chicago. Within a few years, he was heating sugar in iron kettles to produce caramel color for whiskey. Today, his grandsons and great grandsons run the Sethness Products Company, the world’s leading supplier of caramel color. Although the single largest use of caramel color is soft drinks, it is also used in an incredible number of other foods. Today, caramel color is manufactured by heating corn syrup, usually under pressure, in large stainless steel reactors.”
I also learned that there are four classes of caramel color based on chemical additives:
· Class I Caramel Color (no additives low sulfites)
· Class II Caramel Color (sulfite additives very high sulfites)
· Class III Caramel Color (ammonia additives low sulfites)
· Class IV Caramel Color (sulfite and ammonia very high sulfites)
It seems that some caramel colorings are worse than others, depending on their chemical additives. Manufacturers a required to list caramel coloring when they use it, but they are not required to list the class.
From a science website (http://sci-toys.com/ingredients/fdc_colors.html), I learned that different products require differently charged atoms of caramel coloring so the color will remain stable. It states that, “caramel color can be made with either positively or negatively charged particles. This allows manufacturers to use negative colloidal caramel in acidic soft drinks, and positive in beers and soy sauces. Beer has positively charged proteins suspended in it, and soy sauce has a high salt content that requires the more salt-tolerant positive caramel color. ” From this I assume that the caramel color class used depends on the type of product it is coloring.
I found 2 websites claiming caramel coloring to be cancer causing. The first website says, “Caramel coloring is burnt sugar. Ask any biologist about burnt sugar, and he will tell you that it is a carcinogen. Additionally, scientists have used caramel coloring in lab experiments on mice to interfere with leukocyte action (white cells). In other words, caramel coloring is immunosuppressive. The FDA knows this and insures that anything containing caramel coloring must note this on the label. Just luckily, this immunosuppressive property of caramel coloring drops away when you quit ingesting it.” http://www.mnwelldir.org/docs/misc/hidden_h.htm#Caramel Coloring
The other website says, “Cola drinks contain caramel coloring which, according to some researchers, has genetic effects and is a cancer-causing suspect. http://www.themuslimwoman.com/hertongue/SoftDrink.htm
I have yet to read the actual words of researchers who have found caramel coloring to cause cancer, but the claims stated above are reasonable. After all, it’s basic knowledge that burned food is carcinogenic and not healthy to eat. It makes sense that burnt sugar is no exception. It also makes sense to me that sugar, and thus caramel coloring which is derived from sugar, is immunosuppressive. That explains why I almost always got sick around the holidays when I was young – they were times when I ate a lot of candy and other sweet things.
As for genetic effects, it would not surprise me if it’s true, but I have no further evidence one way or the other at this time. I would love to see any research done on this subject.
I have come to the conclusion that caramel coloring may cause cancer and it may not. Perhaps it is used in small enough amounts that it doesn’t cause harm. I believe it may be a better food coloring than the coal tar/petroleum based ones, but because my philosphy is to stick with more natural products, I will try to avoid those that contain caramel coloring as well as all artificial colorings.