During the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day it’s common to observe the holiday by eating green eggs and ham and drinking green beer. But what actually gives your food that color, and is it safe? Institute of Food Technologists member Kantha Shelke, PhD, CFS, dispels the mystery behind green St. Patrick’s Day foods and shares facts about natural food dyes.

Q: Where do natural dyes come from?
A: Natural dyes are derived from all the active ingredients responsible for colors found in nature – like the plants, fruits and vegetables we’ve actually been eating for a long time. They come from plants, insects, and minerals. These are compounds that we’ve been eating for more than 5,000 years. The ancient Chinese, Indians, and Egyptians all used these methods.

Q: What are some examples of plants, insects and minerals that are used for certain colors?
A: Saffron gives a beautiful yellow to orange color to rice, like in Paella. Turmeric, is a bright yellow color; beet is a beautiful red color; and spinach, that’s where we get our green from!

Q: What is the difference between a natural dye and an organic dye?
A: The only difference between a regular natural dye and an organic dye is that the organic dye is certified as organic whereas a natural dye may be the same structurally as the organic dye, but just has not been certified organic by the USDA.

Q: So what’s making my beer green?
A: Spinach! It’s used to color your food and it’s safe, delicious and healthy! The chlorophyll in leafy greens are a terrific way to color your foods while making your favorite foods even more healthful.

Source: Kantha Shelke, Phd, CFS, IFT member
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives and Colors

In This Article

  1. Food Chemistry

More Food Facts

What is CRISPR?

CRISPR is a defining feature of the bacterial genetic code and its immune system, functioning as a defense system that bacteria use to protect themselves against attacks from viruses. The acronym “CRISPR” stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.

Biotechnology, Genetic Engineering, and “GMOs:” Why all the Controversy?

Biotechnology, and the newer methods of genetic modification—genetic engineering and recombinant (r) deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques and technologies can be very useful in pursuing important improvements in food production and the food supply and doing so much more readily and effectively than previously possible.

The Potential of Blockchain Technology Application in the Food System

The popularity of Bitcoin and other blockchain technologies reached new heights in 2017. Bitcoin is the most prominent in a new type of currency, called cryptocurrency, where transactions are made without an established intermediary (i.e. banks).

More from IFT right arrow

A Piña Colada Tastes Better on a (Virtual) Beach

During IFT19, an interactive event allowed participants to be immersed in a virtual environment to test whether their surroundings would alter their liking of beverages.

New Bioprocesses May Reduce Cost to Produce Low-Calorie Sweetener

Separate research from the University of Illinois and Tufts University have examined new bioprocesses for producing tagatose in a more cost-effective manner.

Food Architecture: Building A Better Food Supply

Food scientists are using structural design principles to improve the healthiness, sustainability, and quality of the modern food system.

2019 Food Technology Subject and Author Indexes

The 2019 Food Technology Subject & Author Indexes are guides to content published in the magazine during calendar year 2019.

IFTNEXT

A new approach to reducing salt while maintaining taste

The dangers of a high-sodium diet have been well documented, but a new technology devised by scientists from Washington State University could help reduce sodium in processed foods while retaining taste and texture.

Sucralose–carbohydrate combo may affect insulin sensitivity

A study found that people who drank beverages that contained the low-calorie sweetener sucralose did experience metabolic problems and issues with neural responses but only when the beverage was formulated with both sucralose and a tasteless sugar (maltodextrin).

Manipulating photosynthesis for food security

British scientists have gained new insights into the compound in plants that plays a vital role in the natural process through which plants grow.