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Red No. 40: Why California Banned It and What to Use Instead

Artificial food coloring, with Red Number 40 (often referred to as Red 40), has become ubiquitous in the modern food industry, providing vibrant hues to an array of processed products. While artificial food coloring can enhance the visual appeal of foods, it also carries certain risks and health concerns. This article explores the dangers of artificial food coloring, with a particular focus on Red 40, and offers natural alternatives to achieve red hues in your food.

The Dangers of Artificial Food Coloring, Especially Red 40

  1. Hyperactivity and Behavioral Issues: Numerous studies have linked artificial food coloring, including Red 40, to hyperactivity, especially in children. The synthetic chemicals in these colorings can disrupt neurological functions and lead to irritability, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating.

  2. Allergic Reactions: Some individuals may experience allergic reactions to artificial food coloring. Red 40, in particular, has been associated with hives, itching, and gastrointestinal distress.

  3. Carcinogenic Concerns: Although there is ongoing debate, some studies have suggested that artificial food colorings, including Red 40, may pose carcinogenic risks. It's essential to minimize exposure to potentially harmful substances.

  4. Risk to Asthmatics: Red 40 has been associated with exacerbating symptoms in people with asthma, making it particularly concerning for individuals with respiratory conditions.

  5. Adverse Effects on Sensory Perception: Artificial food coloring can alter the taste and sensory experience of food, potentially contributing to unhealthy eating habits and overconsumption of processed, nutritionally poor foods.

Natural Alternatives to Food Coloring

Embracing natural alternatives to food coloring can help you enjoy the vibrant colors in your food while avoiding the potential risks associated with artificial colorings. Here are five natural options to color your food red:

  1. Hibiscus Flowers Steeped in Water: Hibiscus flowers, known for their deep red color, can be steeped in hot water until cooled to create a rich red hue. This natural infusion works well for beverages, desserts, and even savory dishes.

  2. Boiled Cranberries: Boiling cranberries can yield a beautiful red shade. The juice from boiled cranberries can be used in various recipes, from sauces to baked goods.

  3. Red Beet Juice: Red beet juice is an excellent natural food coloring. It's versatile and can be added to a wide range of recipes, such as soups, smoothies, and even homemade pasta.

  4. Red Beet Powder: Dehydrated and ground red beet powder is a convenient alternative that can be used in various recipes, such as red velvet cakes and colorful pasta dough.

  5. Pomegranate Juice: Pomegranate juice provides a delightful red color along with a unique flavor. It's a great choice for adding both color and a touch of sweetness to your dishes.

Buy Natural Red Food Colorings

Recipes for Red Foods

Now, let's explore a couple of recipes that utilize natural red food coloring alternatives:

Beetroot Powder Cake Recipe


For the Cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 cup beetroot powder

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 cup buttermilk

For the Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

  • 2 cups powdered sugar

  • 1/4 cup beetroot powder

  • 2-3 tablespoons milk

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Preheat your oven: Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.

  2. Sift Dry Ingredients: In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and beetroot powder. Set this dry mixture aside.

  3. Cream the Butter and Sugar: In a separate large mixing bowl, cream the softened butter and granulated sugar together until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.

  4. Add Eggs and Vanilla: Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract. Mix until well combined.

  5. Alternate Wet and Dry Ingredients: Gradually add the dry ingredient mixture to the wet ingredients, alternating with buttermilk. Begin and end with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined, being careful not to overmix.

  6. Bake: Divide the cake batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.

  7. Cool: Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.

  8. Prepare the Frosting: While the cakes are cooling, prepare the frosting. In a mixing bowl, beat together the softened butter, powdered sugar, beetroot powder, milk, and vanilla extract until you achieve a smooth and creamy consistency. Adjust the milk or sugar to achieve your desired thickness and sweetness.

  9. Frost the Cake: Once the cakes are completely cool, frost the top of one cake layer. Place the second cake layer on top and frost the top and sides of the entire cake.

  10. Serve: Slice, serve, and enjoy your homemade beetroot powder cake with a vibrant red color and a delightful, earthy flavor.

Beetroot Pasta


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 large eggs

  • 2 tablespoons red beet juice

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


  1. In a food processor, combine the flour and salt.

  2. Add the eggs and red beet juice to the flour mixture.

  3. Pulse until the dough forms a ball.

  4. Knead the dough for a few minutes on a floured surface.

  5. Roll out the dough, cut into your desired pasta shape, and cook until al dente.

  6. Serve with your favorite sauce or toppings for a vibrant and nutritious meal.

While artificial food coloring, especially Red 40, may pose health risks, you can still enjoy visually appealing and vibrant red foods by opting for natural alternatives. The dangers associated with artificial food coloring should encourage us to explore the beauty and benefits of natural food colorants like hibiscus, cranberries, beets, and pomegranates. By embracing these alternatives and incorporating them into your recipes, you can savor the colorful world of food without compromising your health.


Home Ec is your kitchen companion, where cooking transforms into a delightful journey. We're here to make your culinary adventures easy, enjoyable, and utterly delicious. Whether you're a novice in the kitchen or a seasoned home cook, Home Ec's cooking classes are designed to ignite your passion for food. We'll take you from the basics to gourmet masterpieces, all while sharing tips, tricks, and the joy of creating wonderful meals. So, roll up your sleeves, grab your apron, and let's embark on a culinary adventure together!


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