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 from IFT right arrow

Tiny Organisms, Huge Potential

Microbial fermentation is establishing itself as a true third pillar of the alternative protein industry, on par with—and enabling—parallel advances in plant-based proteins and cultivated meat.

Trend predictions for 2021; Is breadfruit the new superfood?

News about food science research, food companies, food regulations, and consumer/marketplace trends.

Packaging for Sweet Treats

This column addresses some history and dynamics of candy packaging, focusing on packaging of chocolate bars, chewing gum and mints, and specialty candy.

How Radical Innovation Will Shape the Future of Food

Whether it’s cultivating protein from a primeval microorganism or 3-D printing alternative meat, forward-thinking entrepreneurs are boldly reimagining the way food is made.