What is Caramel Color (E150) in food? Uses, Safety, Side effects

What is Caramel Color (E150) in food? Uses, Safety, Side effects


Table of Contents

Caramel Color is a water-soluble product extracted from the mixture of sugars produced by heating sugar and water to the degree that promotes browning. Food manufacturers typically use caramel color as a stabilizer or pigment because it helps prevent food discoloration, thereby extending shelf life and appearance. This additive is often found in soft drinks, candies, dried fruits, desserts and other foods.

In this article, it mainly introduces what is tert-butylhydroquinone, and its uses, safety and side effects and other related contents.

What is caramel color?

Caramel color definition

Caramel color is a brown food coloring made from the concentrated liquid in heated sugar. Caramel color is used in many foods and beverages, including breads, cakes, cookies, candy and colas.

Caramel color can also be used as a natural dye for fabric and paper.

Caramel color is the edible by-product of caramelization, which is the process of heating carbohydrates (sugars) to produce a wide range of sweet aromas and flavors. Caramelization occurs when sugars are heated to their melting point and then heated further to produce a brown or black liquid with a sweet smell.

Caramelization occurs in both dry heat cooking methods such as roasting or grilling, as well as wet heat cooking methods such as boiling or steaming.

Caramel color code

Caramel color code is a numerical number that indicates the content of caramel in a food. The code is used by food manufacturers to identify foods with added caramel color and provide consumers with information about the product’s nutritional value.

Caramel color code is E150a.

Caramel color ingredient

The term caramel refers to a large group of materials with similar properties and appearance. These may be produced from sugars by heat treatment or by hydrolysis. They are used in food as coloring agents (E150a), antioxidants (E150c), flavorings (E150d), glazing agents (E150e) and emulsifiers (E150f). Caramel is also used in cosmetics as a UV absorber and opacifier.

What is caramel color made of?

Caramel color is a food additive that is made by heating carbohydrates, such as sucrose, in large amounts of water. The color can be paler or darker according to the amount of heat used and the time it is cooked at high temperatures. The liquid caramel produced is called caramel syrup, which contains both water and sugar.

Caramel color can be used as a replacement for many different types of food coloring. It can also be used as an inexpensive way to add flavor and color to foods.

What is caramel color made from?

The raw materials for manufacturing this color fall into two categories, carbohydrates and reactants.

1. Sources of carbohydrates

The sources of carbohydrates are food grade sweeteners derived from glucose and fructose monomers or polymers thereof. Examples include glucose syrups, sucrose syrups, invert syrups, and dextrose syrups.

2. Reactants

In order to promote caramelization, acids, alkalis, salts, ammonium, and sulfite are approved reactants.

How to make caramel color?

All four types of this color are produced by carefully controlling the heat treatment of food grade carbohydrates, whether they contain food grade reactants or not. This process is also called caramelization.

4 Types of Caramel Color

As per the joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), it is divided into four classes based on the reactants (catalysts) in the manufacturing process, simply named class I, II, III, and IV, with the corresponding E number E150a, 150b, 150c, and 150d.

1. Class I: E150a

This is prepared by heating sucrose with sulfur dioxide to produce a dark brown syrup. It is used in cola drinks, soft drinks, beer, fruit drinks and canned fruits. These colors are stable under acidic conditions but unstable under alkaline conditions.

2. Class II: E150b

This is prepared by heating sucrose with ammonia to form an amide linkage between the glucose molecule and another nitrogen atom extracted from ammonia (NH3). It gives a dark red or brown color which can be used as a food coloring agent for baked goods, ice cream, beverages and confectionery products.

3. Class III: E150c

This is prepared by heating sucrose with ammonia to form an amide linkage between two nitrogen atoms extracted from ammonia (NH3). It gives a bright yellow color which can be used as a food coloring agent for baked goods

4. Class IV: E150d

Sulfite and ammonia are both reactants. Also known as sulfite ammonia caramel. Both sulfite and ammonium compounds are present.





An odor of burnt sugar emanates from dark brown to black liquids or solids.

Caramel color highlights

Color strength

Intensity of color of caramel or tinctorial powder are terms used to describe its intensity.

Tinctorial power, K0.560: An absorbance of a 0.1% weight/volume solution measured through a 1 cm light path at a wavelength of 560 nanometers is known as a spectrophotometer absorbance.

In general, the higher the Tinctorial Power, K0.560, the darker the Caramel Color will be.

Color intensity: In a 1-cm cell, it is defined as the absorbance of a solution containing 0.1% (w/v) caramel color solids in water at 610 nm.

Hue index

The hue index measures the redness of caramel color. Measured at wavelengths 510 and 610 nanometers, it is a function of absorbance. This index is inversely proportional to the amount of red or caramel color.

  • Class I: hues range from yellow to red-brown
  • Class II: hues range from very yellow to dark red-brown
  • Class III: hues range from a light brown to dark red-brown.
  • Class IV: a light brown to deep black-brown.

Ionic charge

Caramel color carries colloidal ionic charges, which may be positive, negative, or neutral depending on how it is manufactured. The majority of caramel color consumed today is negatively charged. In general, the application involves ionic charges.


  • In water: It is soluble in either liquid or powder form.
  • In oil:   The particles disperse in an oil system to produce pastes or emulsions.

What is caramel colour used for?

Caramel color is a food additive that gives foods a golden brown color. It’s been used in food for more than 200 years. It is used for a variety of purposes, including as an ingredient in soft drinks, confectionery, baked goods and desserts. It can also be used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Caramel color in food

Caramel colouring agents are used extensively in the food industry for both health and non-health applications. It can be used in soft drinks, baked goods, ice cream, candy, chewing gum, dairy products and other food products (e.g., pickles). The caramel colouring agents may also be used during production of beer or wine to achieve a darker coloration.

Let’s take a look at the common uses of its different food grades.

  1. Class I (E150a), Contains a slight negative colloidal charge. There are no 4-MeI or sulfites in it, which are generally used in breads, spirits, dairy products, beverages, and confections.
  2. Class II (E150b), Has a negative colloidal charge and is free of 4-MeI. It is commonly found in tea, whiskey, and brandy.
  3. Class III (E150c), Contains a positive colloidal charge and is used for coloring soy sauce and beer.
  4. Class IV (E150d), It has a strong negative charge over a wide pH range, and is widely used in soft drinks.

The specific application is complicated, and normally, there are several classes that can be used.

Caramel color in beverage

In beverage manufacturing applications, caramel colouring agents are used as a natural coloring agent while maintaining its flavor profile with low bitterness levels that do not interfere with taste perception.

Caramel color in soda

Caramel color has been used in soda since the 1870s as an ingredient that makes the beverage sweet and appealing to consumers. Most soda companies use caramel color because it has become a staple ingredient in our culture and reminds us of childhood memories like eating ice cream on hot summer days or slurping down a bottle of root beer while camping with friends.

Caramel color in coke

Coke uses caramel color because it adds a rich brown hue to its famous beverages and makes them instantly recognizable by consumers throughout the world. In fact, the Coca-Cola Company uses more caramel than any other soft drink brand because it makes Coca-Cola look so good!

Caramel color in beer

Caramel colouring is added to beer to give it a rich, dark color. This process is called caramelization and happens when certain sugars are heated to high temperatures and then cooled down quickly. Caramelization gives off carbon dioxide gas, which makes the bubbles in the beer larger than normal. This increases the foaminess of the beer and makes it taste sweeter. The caramelization process can also change the flavor of the beer by adding a nutty or burnt flavor to it.

Caramel color in cosmetics

caramel color skin

Caramel color is also used as an additive in cosmetics such as shampoo, conditioner, eye shadow and lipstick because it adds color to these products without changing their other properties too much.

Caramel color in pharmaceutical

Caramel color is used by pharmaceutical companies in the production of medicines to give it a golden brown color similar to honey or molasses. This makes it easier for patients to take the medicine because they can see it better than if it was clear or white in color. The FDA has approved this use for caramel color since 1958 when it was first put into use by pharmaceutical companies.

Caramel color paint

Caramel colors are used in paints because they give the paint a rich, deep brown hue that makes everything look more attractive than if it were just plain white or light gray paint on an object like a wall or piece of furniture or even an old car that needs repainting after years of neglecting its appearance through neglect or lack of proper maintenance by its owners.

Is caramel color safe to eat?

Certainly, it is safe for use as a food additive and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), as well as other authorities.


When used in accordance with good manufacturing practices, it is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).


In accordance with Annex II and Annex III to Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 on food additives, caramel colours are colored substances that are approved to be used as food additives in the European Union (EU).

Safety revaluation in 2011

Following a study of genotoxicity, carcinogenicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and others, EFSA established a group ADI (acceptable daily intake) of 300 mg/kg body weight/day for four caramel colours (E 150a, E 150b, E 150c, E 150d), and an individual ADI of 100 mg/kg body weight/day for E 150c (Class III Ammonia Caramel) in 2011 because of immunotoxicity caused by a constituent of the product.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand approve this ingredient as caramel I, II, III, and IV with the corresponding code numbers 150a/b/c/d.


Functional class: Food additives and color.

What are the benefits of caramel color?

Caramel color is a type of food coloring. It is made from sugar that has been heated to a high temperature. Caramel color is used in many foods to give them a golden brown color, such as colas and root beer. It is also used in pet food to give it a rich, dark brown color.

Caramel color can be made from both natural and artificial ingredients, but the chemicals that make up caramel color are different depending on the source. In general, natural caramel colors are considered safe for human consumption, while artificial caramel colors are not.

Benefits of caramel color

Caramel color has many benefits for the foods we eat:

  • It makes food look more appetizing and appealing to consumers.
  • It provides nutrition in foods that would otherwise have little or no nutritional value (such as colas).
  • It stabilizes foods so they don’t spoil easily during storage or shipping.
  • It helps preserve vitamins A and E in some foods like cereal and dry mixes so they stay fresher longer.

Caramel color health effects

Caramel color contains 4-methylimidazole, which is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Caramel color levels have been reduced in many products due to concerns about cancer risk, although caramel color has not been directly linked to cancer.

What are the side effects of caramel color?

Caramel color is a food additive that’s added to foods and beverages for its color. It’s been used for centuries and is generally considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Caramel color side effects

But there are some side effects of caramel color. The most common ones are:

Does caramel color cause cancer?

Caramel color cancer

Caramel color contains 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), a chemical that may cause cancer in animals. In 2013, the FDA said that 4-MEI could be present at high levels in some soft drinks made with caramel coloring, which could increase your risk of cancer. However, there’s no evidence that people who consume foods with caramel coloring have higher rates of cancer than people who don’t eat these foods.

Caramel color allergy

caramel color allergy symptoms

A small percentage of people experience allergic reactions to caramel coloring, including hives and itching. The reaction may be severe enough to require medical attention from an allergist/immunologist or other specialist.

Pregnant and breastfeeding

Pregnant women should avoid consuming foods with caramel color because it may cause hyperactivity in children. There are no studies linking caramel coloring to any negative effects during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Is caramel color toxic?

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued their opinion on the safety of 4-methylimidazole in May 2010 after a review of the scientific literature. They concluded that “the daily intake of 4-methylimidazole from all sources should be below 0.1 μg/kg body weight (bw), corresponding to a total daily intake of 0.43 mg/kg bw for an adult weighing 70 kg” . EFSA also found no evidence that 4-methylimidazole was genotoxic or carcinogenic at levels detected in foodstuffs.

Other side effects may also occur

  • Mild diarrhea
  • Associated with reduced food and fluid intake is reduced body weight gain
  • Pigmentation of mesenteric lymph nodes
  • Enlargement of the caecum
  • A reduction in urine output is associated with a rise in urine specific gravity
  • Increases in caecal, kidney weights

Is caramel color bad for you?

Caramel color is used in many foods and beverages as a food coloring. It is made by heating sugar mixture until it reaches a certain temperature and becomes a deep brown color.

Caramel color is safe to use in foods, but it can be harmful if ingested in large amounts. The most common side effect of caramel ingestion is diarrhea, which usually occurs within 24 hours of consumption. Other possible side effects include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and headache.

The amount of the chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) found in caramel color has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers.

If you’re concerned about your exposure to 4-MEI or other chemicals found in caramel color, speak with your doctor or healthcare provider about ways to reduce your risk.

Where to buy caramel color?

There are a lot of places you can buy caramel color, but we’d like to share the most convenient way to get it.

You can buy caramel color from Amazon at a great price and with free shipping for Prime members.

Frequently asked questions

Is caramel color natural or artificial?

Caramel color is a food additive that is used to give foods a deep, rich brown color. It is made from the reaction of sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high temperatures.

Natural caramel colors are produced by heating sugar. Artificial caramel colors are produced by heating sugars with chemicals that mimic the natural process.

Most caramel colors found in foods are artificial.

Is caramel color vegan?

Yes, caramel color is vegan.

Caramel color is a food additive that’s made from sugar and has been used for hundreds of years in everything from candies to sauces. As far as caramel color goes, this particular one is made with water and ammonia, which means it’s not animal-based.

Is caramel color halal?

Yes, caramel color is halal because it is made with a combination of corn, sugar, and water.

Is caramel color kosher?

Yes. Caramel color is made from corn syrup, which is a kosher-approved ingredient.

Is caramel color gluten free?

Yes, most caramel color is gluten-free, but it depends on the manufacturer.

Many caramel color manufacturers make products that are both gluten-free and vegan. However, some caramel color manufacturers use wheat-based ingredients in their products. The only way to know for sure if a product is gluten-free is to check its ingredient list.

Does caramel color have dairy?

No, caramel color is a food additive made from corn syrup, which is derived from corn. Caramel color contains no dairy, and therefore is safe for people who are allergic to dairy products to consume.

What are caramel color substitutes?

Caramel color substitutes are flavoring compounds that can be used in place of caramel color. Caramel color is produced by heating carbohydrates, such as corn syrup and sucrose, in an alkaline solution. These compounds have a distinctive flavor and coloring properties, making them ideal for use in foods such as ice cream and baked goods.

The most common substitute for caramel color is burnt sugar syrup, a byproduct of the process used to make caramelized sugar. This syrup is made by heating sugar and water until it caramelizes. The result is a dark brown liquid that has a similar flavor and coloring properties as caramelized sugar.

Is there caramel color in coffee?

Yes, there is caramel color in coffee.

The FDA considers caramel color to be safe for consumption, but this doesn’t mean it’s necessary or even good for you.

Can caramel color be organic?

Yes, caramel color can be organic.

Caramel color is made from a process that involves heating sugar. In the United States, it is possible to produce caramel color with an organic process, but it must be certified by the USDA and labeled as such.

Is caramel color the same as caramel?

No, caramel color is not the same as caramel.

Caramel color is a food additive made from ammonia and sulfites. It is used in foods to give them a brown color and to enhance their flavor. It is not a natural product, and it has no nutritional value.

Caramel, on the other hand, is made by cooking sugar until it turns into a thick syrup that smells like burnt sugar. Caramel can be made from any type of sugar (white or brown) but most commonly comes from brown sugar or molasses. Caramel can be used as a flavoring for many different kinds of baked goods or it can be eaten as candy on its own.


Over the last two decades, annual production of caramel color has declined from a high of more than 5,000 tons in the mid-1970s to about 1,300 tons in 2007. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration acknowledges that some people experience migraines or develop urticaria (hives) after ingesting large amounts of caramel color. However, these effects are lessened when only small amounts of caramel color are added to foods. For example, even though a 12-ounce can of cola contains 38 mg of caramel color and more than 250 mg could elicit an allergic reaction from an extremely sensitive person, the amount ingested would be quite small and unlikely to produce any adverse effects. Since it produces no significant adverse health effects at expected levels of consumption, the FDA has determined that caramel color is safe for use in food products.

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng is the author of gradechemical.com, she is the co-founder of the grade chemical network. She has been in grade chemical company since 2017, with a working knowledge of food chemical .

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