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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 25 Aug 2017 05:34 PM and ends Sat 19 Aug 2017 06:29 PM

Colour my world ... Kosher

ט"ו חשון ה' אלפים תשס"ט

A recent talkback radio segment was the forum for a debate on whether the ANZFSC (Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council) should further regulate or even prohibit the use of artificial/synthetic colours in the food industry, in line with other countries, such as the UK.

The Government body is at present resisting this call, arguing that there is only anecdotal evidence regarding the deleterious effects of these colours. However the program was swamped with callers describing very difficult health and behavioural issues with their young children, which were significantly improved by the removal of foods containing these colours from their diets. To them it wasn’t “just” anecdotal, but very real.

Moving to natural colours represents a ‘challenge’ for Kosher manufacturers. Natural colours are extracted from plants, animals or minerals, or are created by processing foods. For example, caramel colour (food additive 150) can be made by the burning of sugar.

Most colours derived from plant extracts are inherently kosher. However, there are some exceptions. There is a commonly used class of natural colours called anthocyanins (additive 163), usually imparting a red or purple colour. These are derived from foods such as red cabbage, plums and grapes. In the latter case, the red skins are collected from grape crushers as a by product of the manufacture of non kosher wine, and processed into a commercial colouring agent. Normative Kosher requirements do not allow such grape skin extracts.

There is yet another type of red colour, which is widely used in the food industry, which poses concerns. Cochineal or carmine (additive 120) is extracted and processed from the skin of the Cochineal insect, a scale insect found in Mexico and Central America. The insects are thoroughly dried before obtaining the red colour. While some opinions permit the use of the colour as it can be considered dust, the normative approach is to reject carmine.

However, red colouring need not be problematic. Natural and kosher red colour can still be sourced from cabbage, plum, beets, red carrots, elderberry and paprika.

Chlorophyll (additive 140), an all-natural green colour, can be sourced from Mulberry leaves via the digestive activity of the silk worm. This creates another insect related Kashrut problem. Some authorities view insect excreta as total inedible waste, and therefore there is room for permitting it. A final halachic ruling has not been reached, or a consensus as to whether consumers would find it acceptable, generally.

The processing of natural colours can also create Kashrut concerns even if the source material is not a problem. For example, beta carotene (160a) which often used to colour margarine as well as at the same time providing Vitamin A, can be produced through yeast fermentation, or extracted from algae. These processes have potential kosher pitfalls, and must be investigated to assess their kosher status.

Oleoresins are extracted from the oily portions of plants and are suspended in oil as a carrier. The oil itself needs to be checked for acceptability. The latter issue rears its head even with synthetic pigments.

Colouring additives can occur in two forms, dyes and pigments. Dyes are colours that dissolve in water. Pigments are made by fixing a dye onto another chemical, so that it becomes insoluble, and colours by dispersion. Pigments are used when the colour needs to be fixed. For instance, the blue colour of blueberry bits should not turn the whole muffin blue. The carriers for pigments may be oils, glycerine, emulsifiers or gums, all needing to be assessed for kosher acceptability.

In summary, colour additives, in the same way as all other ingredients, need to be assessed by a Kosher authority to establish their kosher status for use in kosher products.

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