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What are Caramel Colors?

Food additives used in the manufacture of many foods, beverages, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics to impart colors ranging from brown to reddish hues.


Are Caramel Colors the same as caramels?

The term "caramel" is often used to describe confections and flavours made from caramelized sugar. The term "caramel color" only describes the color additive.

How are Caramel Colors made?

Caramel Colors are manufactured by the controlled heating of sugars or corn syrups in the presence of simple acids, alkalis, ammonia or sulphite salts. These substances, termed "reactants" act to promote the browning reaction in a process analogous to that which occurs when gravies are made or baked goods are browned.

Are all Caramel Colors the same?

No. There are four classes of Caramel Colors that are designated as Classes a to d (European convention) or Classes I to IV (American convention).


How do the different classes of Caramel Colors differ one from another?

The classes of Caramel Colors differ from each other primarily in terms of their functional properties. These functional properties are achieved by the use of specific reactants in the manufacture of each of the individual classes.

Is it necessary to have more than one class of Caramel Color?

Four classes of Caramel Color are required in order to provide the particular functional properties required in the variety of foods and beverages that are coloured with this additive. For example, the class of Caramel Color used in soft drinks is not compatible with beer, and the class used for beers is unsuitable for soft drinks. All the specific functional requirements of the market worldwide are provided by one or another of the four classes of Caramel Colors.


Are Caramel Colors standardized?

Caramel Colors are standardized on a worldwide basis to meet specifications which have been established by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the World Health Organization, Geneva, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome. Many national governments worldwide have established specifications for Caramel Color. The US Food Chemicals Codex contains a specification covering all four classes of Caramel Color.


How were the Caramel Color specifications developed?

Specifications for Caramel Colors were formulated on the basis of chemical characterization data for each of the classes of Caramel Color. These data were provided through a cooperative international research program sponsored by the manufacturers and users of Caramel Colors.

In the specifications for Caramel Color, some parameters are expressed in terms of total solids and others on the basis of color intensity. Why are both methods used? Are they both necessary?

In order to make Caramel Color specifications relevant and limit variation in the different components, it is necessary to express some components in terms of total solids content and others in terms of color intensity. Components with levels related strongly to color intensity are expressed on that basis; those components that are not, are expressed on a total solids basis.


What is the caloric value of Caramel Color?

Although sugars are the main component in the manufacture of Caramel Colors, these additives generally have a low caloric value. This is so because in the manufacturing process the sugars polymerize with the reactants to form color. The color components are virtually unabsorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and are thus not biologically available. The low caloric value of Caramel Colors can be attributed to unreacted sugars that remain after manufacture. The level of these sugars is low in most Caramel Colors.


How should the caloric value of Caramel Colors be determined?

The only meaningful method of determining the caloric value of Caramel Colors is by calculating the caloric value of the residual sugar content. Bomb calorimetry gives high caloric values for Caramel Colors that do not reflect biologically available calories, since the color components, although not absorbed, are carbohydrate in nature. Animal feeding tests for caloric value designed to test major food components are not sufficiently sensitive to test food additives such as Caramel Color.





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