Frequently Asked Questions About Caramel Color


  1. What is Caramel Color?
  2. Are Caramel Colors the same as caramels?
  3. Are Caramel Colors "Natural"?
  4. Are Caramel Colors safe?
  5. Does Caramel Color have an ingredient list?
  6. Are Caramel Colors oil soluble?
  7. What are the Caramel Color Classes?
  8. What is the caloric value of Caramel Color?
  9. What about GMO's?
  10. Are Sethness Caramel Colors Kosher and Halal?
  11. Do Caramel Colors contain allergens such as peanuts, gluten, dairy, seafood, or soy?
  12. Do Caramel Colors contain sulfites?
  13. What are the most common test methods for Caramel Color?


What is Caramel Color?

Caramel Color is the world's most widely used food colorant. It is used to impart color in numerous foods and beverages including colas, soy sauce, seasonings, breads, pet foods, cereals etc.

Caramel Color is not a flavor but simply a coloring agent. When Caramel Color is used at the usual low concentrations required in most food coloring applications, it generally has no significant effect on the flavor profile of the finished product.

Caramel Color, according to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR 21 73.85)' is the dark-brown liquid or solid resulting from the carefully controlled heat treatment of food grade carbohydrate. Certain food-grade acids, alkalis and salts may be employed to assist the caramelization of the carbohydrate. The resulting Caramel Colors are very safe additives, and are GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) according to 21 CFR 182.1235.

Caramel Color's most commonly used carbohydrate is High Dextrose Corn Syrup; however invert sugar and sucrose are also starting materials. High Dextrose Corn Syrup is the preferred carbohydrate, as the resulting Caramel Color is more stable over time and less viscous. In addition, Sethness Liquid Caramel Color is spray dried to produce a high quality Powdered Caramel Color.

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Are Caramel Colors the same as caramels?

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

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Are Caramel Colors "Natural"?

Numerous Sethness customers, including some of the world's largest food companies, utilize our Caramel Colors to color their "all natural" products, but Caramel Color can be labeled simply as Caramel Color. There is still no legal definition of "natural", which makes this a difficult topic to address.

Natural Status Statement

Unlike FD&C dyes, Caramel Color does not require certification. Caramel Color is in the same category as other "natural colorants" such as annatto, beta carotene, beet juice, etc. Therefore, technically speaking, Caramel Color is considered "natural".

In addition, Sethness produces various Certified Organic Caramel Colors that meet the most stringent "natural" requirements.

Learn more about how the FDA refers to Caramel Color as a "Natural" food coloring.

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Are Caramel Colors Safe?

Learn more about the safety of Caramel Color


Does Caramel Color have an ingredient list?

Caramel Color does not have an "ingredient list" because it is a single color additive. Sethness Caramel Color is 100% Caramel Color.
Ingredient and Label Statement

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Are Caramel Colors oil soluble?

All Caramel Colors are water soluble, but there is no such thing as oil-soluble Caramel Color. However, all Caramel Color can be dispersed in an oil system resulting in pastes or emulsions.

Learn how to disperse Caramel Colors in a non-aqueous (fat) system

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What are the Caramel Color Classes?

Internationally the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has divided Caramel Color into four classes depending on if the food grade reactants are used in its manufacturing. Tests on all of these classes have supported the safety of the product, and all classes of Caramel Color are GRAS.

Class I, or Plain Caramel Colors, carry the European designation E150a. Class I Caramel Colors are often considered the most "natural" of the four classes. The carbohydrate is heated simply, and approved food-grade acids or bases may be used in the process. No ammonium or sulfite compounds are allowed in Class I production. The resulting Caramel Color carries a neutral to slightly negative ionic charge.

Class II, Caustic Sulfite Caramel Colors, or E150b. The carbohydrate is heated in the presence of sulfite compounds. The resulting Caramel Color carries a negative ionic charge. RT80 is the only Class II Liquid Caramel Color produced in the United States.

Class III, Ammonia Caramel Colors, or E150c. The carbohydrate is heated with or without acids or alkalis in the presence of ammonia compounds. The resulting low-sulfite Caramel Color carries a positive ionic charge.

Class IV, Sulfite Ammonia Caramel Colors, or E150d. The carbohydrate is heated in the presence of both sulfite and ammonium compounds. The resulting Caramel Color carries a negative ionic charge. These are the most widely produced Caramel Colors.

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What is the caloric value of Caramel Color?

Although high dextrose corn syrup is the main component in the manufacture of Caramel Colors, the resulting material generally has a low caloric value. This is so because during the manufacturing process the dextrose polymerize with the reactants to form color. The color components are virtually unabsorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and are thus not biologically available. The remaining caloric value of Caramel Colors can be attributed to unreacted sugars that remain after manufacture.

Specific caloric values are listed on the Sethness Nutritional Composition Data sheets.

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What about GMO's?

Absence of GMOs

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Are Sethness Caramel Colors Kosher and Halal?

All of Sethness Caramel Colors are Kosher and Halal, and we produce small amounts of Kosher for Passover Caramel Color. Our Kosher and Halal statements can be found at:

Kosher Certification Letter

Halal Certificate

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Do Caramel Colors contain allergens such as peanuts, gluten, dairy, seafood, or soy?

No, those ingredients are not allowed in Caramel Colors manufacturing. However, some Caramel Color may contain traces of sulfites (see Do Caramel Colors contain sulfites?)

Absence of Allergen Statement

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Do Caramel Colors contain sulfites?

Sulfite Statement

Sulfite is used along with ammonia as reactants in making Class IV Caramel Colors. The sulfite gives the Class II and Class IV products their negative charge. The combination of the two reactants allows Class IV products to generate much higher color strengths while maintaining lower viscosity. The higher color strength means more color strength per pound and therefore lower total cost for equivalent color. The lower viscosity allows for easier handling and for longer shelf life. Sulfite in Caramel Color is reacted into the polymer and is therefore not "free sulfite."

"Free" sulfite is a preservative that acts as an oxygen scavenger and is often used for this purpose on foods such as lettuce in salad bars. Sulfite scavenges the oxygen and keeps the lettuce green and slows down wilting. The negative aspect of sulfite is that it is a sensitizing agent. Some people can become sick when exposed to sulfite. Some countries include sulfite on the allergens list. While sulfite is not a true allergen, it is a sensitizing agent.

"Free" sulfite also means that the sulfite does not react with the food, but remains as the free sulfite and it is available to react with oxygen from the air. In Caramel Color the sulfite is a reactant. It actually combines with the various molecules and become an integral part of the polymer that makes up the color bodies in Carmel Color. When we have analyzed Class II or IV Caramel Colors in the past for free sulfite, we found the level is almost undetectable. However, the FDA requires that Caramel Colors be analyzed using the Monier Williams test. This test requires boiling the Caramel Color in a strong acid for 110 minutes. The strong acidic condition and high temperature breaks down the polymer and releases the sulfite.

The FDA considers a sulfite level of less than 10 ppm to be insignificant (21CFR.101.100 (a)(4)) Typically we recommend that our customers use the maximum level when calculating the final level in their product. For example: Assuming your use level of RT240 is 1.0% then the sulfite from the Caramel Color would amount to 0.01 X 1500 ppm = 15 ppm. This would exceed the 10 ppm limit, and the product would be labeled as containing sulfite. If the usage level was 0.1% the calculation would be 0.01 X 1500 ppm = 1.5 ppm. This product is under the 10 ppm limit and the sulfite would not have to be reported. Please note that the above calculation assumes that the Caramel Color is the only source of sulfite.

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What are the most common test methods for Caramel Color?

Caramel Color undergoes strict laboratory testing to assure product quality. The three major laboratory tests to standardize a production lot of Caramel Color are:

  1. Color Strength (Tinctorial Power): defined as the absorbance of a 0.1% solution (weight/volume) in water, measured using a 1 cm light path at a wavelength of 560 nanometers.
  2. Baumé: measures density or specific gravity at a given temperature.
  3. pH: for Liquid Caramel Color it is measured on an "as is basis", and for Powdered Caramel Color is measured on a 1% basis.

Several other parameters are important in the measurement of Caramel Color including Viscosity, Hue Index, Resinification, Haze & Gel, Alcohol Solubility, Salt Stability, and Beer Test.

  • Viscosity is the flow ability of a liquid. Thick products carry a high viscosity. This often reflects the quality and the shelf life of a Caramel Color but is not related to a Caramel Color's Color Strength.
  • Hue Index is a measure of Caramel Color's red tones, and is calculated as a function of the absorbance of two wavelengths, 510 and 610 nanometers. Higher hue index products are generally more reddish.
  • Resinification is an accelerated stability test. The Caramel Color is sealed in an airtight ampule and heated at 100°C. Time in hours is measured until the material no longer flows. One hour is said to represent approximately one month of shelf life. The normal shelf life of Caramel Color made from High Dextrose Corn Syrup is usually 2 years from the date of manufacture.
  • Haze and Gel test is used to demonstrate the product stability in strong phosphoric acid solutions. This test is mainly for the soft drink industry.
  • Alcohol Stability as well as Salt Stability Tests are designed for the compatibility of the Caramel Color in different concentrated solutions.
  • The Beer Test measures the compatibility of a Caramel Color in beer.

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