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What's in your soft drink? Safety of 'caramel colour' questioned Add to ...

Between the potassium benzoate and maltodextrin that fill up the ingredient list on cans of cola, at least the "caramel colour" rings of safety and familiarity, right?

The mind conjures up images of sugar heating up in a saucepan and changing from white to a rich brown shade. Commercially, that's not what happens.

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Behind the innocuous name are some serious health concerns, the Centre for Science in the Public Interest says. The group wants the FDA in the U.S. to ban the substance because two of its popular formulations (used in Coca-Cola and Pepsi) are made with ammonia or sulfites. A chemical reaction during the cooking process releases substances that, in studies, caused lung, liver and thyroid cancer as well as leukemia in rats and mice.

Caramel colouring isn't added to products to enhance taste, but simply to colour them. It now joins the ranks of Red 40, Yellow 5 and a host of other artificial colouring ingredients which are used in many popular types of processed food. The CSPI has gone after those dyes before, as they have also been linked with cancer in mice and rats, as well as hyperactivity in children.

But will the ban on such ingredients leave our food products looking like grey-tinted gruel?

Hardly. In the U.K. and EU, artificial colours have largely been phased out and replaced with plant-based dyes. Beetroot red, it turns out, is a pretty good stand-in for Red 40.

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