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. Do Caramel Colors provide clean label benefits?
  6. Does Caramel Color have an ingredient list?
  7. Are Caramel Colors oil soluble?
  8. What are the Caramel Color classes?
  9. What is the caloric value of Caramel Color?
  10. What about GMO’s?
  11. Are Sethness Caramel Colors Kosher and Halal?
  12. Do Caramel Colors contain allergens such as peanuts, gluten, dairy, seafood, or soy?
  13. Do Caramel Colors contain sulfites?
  14. What are the most common test methods for Caramel Color?

Contact us if you have more questions about Caramel Color.


What is Caramel Color?

Caramel Color is the world’s most widely used food colorant. It is used largely to impart color in numerous foods and beverages including colas, soy sauce, seasonings, breads, pet foods, cereals, etc. It is also used in some cosmetic and non-food applications.

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 (21 CFR 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 GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) according to 21 CFR 182.1235.

Caramel Color’s most commonly-used carbohydrate source is high dextrose (glucose) corn syrup (HDCS); however, invert sugar and cane sugar (sucrose) are also used. High dextrose (glucose) corn syrup is the preferred carbohydrate since the resulting Caramel Color is more stable over time and less viscous. In addition, some of Sethness’ liquid Caramel Colors are spray dried to produce high quality powdered Caramel Colors.

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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”?

This is the most frequently-asked question we hear at Sethness, but there continues to be no legal definition of “natural” in the United States. There has been an industry shift to incorporating more Class I or Plain Caramel Colors, but any class of Caramel Color should simply be labeled “Caramel Color” or “Caramel” on product labels. Since Caramel Color is a single color additive, its compositional constituents need not be listed.

Unlike FD&C dyes, Caramel Color does not require certification. Caramel Color is GRAS and in the same category as other natural colorants such as annatto, beta carotene, beet juice, etc. Therefore, there is no “Natural Certificate” for Caramel Color.

Learn how the Canadian Food Inspection Agency categorizes Caramel Color as a Natural Color.

Sethness also manufactures one liquid and one powdered Certified Organic Caramel Color that are our most label-friendly Caramel Colors.

Download our Natural Status Statement (pdf)

Learn more about our clean-label Caramel Colors and Caramelized Sugar Syrups.

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Are Caramel Colors Safe?

Sethness has been safely manufacturing and marketing Caramel Color since 1880. Caramel Colors have undergone full regulatory review and are safely used throughout the world. All of our Caramel Colors adhere to the Standard of Identify for Caramel Color 21 CFR 73.85. They are likewise approved as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) for both food and feed under 21 CFR 182.1235 and 582.1235 respectively, and are approved for both drug and cosmetic use under 21 CFR 73.1085 (drugs) and 73.2085 (cosmetics).

Some people may be concerned with 4-MeI (4-Methylimidazole) which forms during the production of Class III and Class IV Caramel Colors. There is no evidence that 4-MeI causes cancer or poses any other health risks to humans. In addition, no health regulatory agency around the globe, including the FDA, has said that 4-MeI is a known human carcinogen. 4-MeI is virtually ubiquitous, found in trace amounts in a wide variety of foods and beverages. It forms naturally during the heating, roasting or cooking process of many foods.

Sethness Caramel Colors are produced according to 21 CFR 73.85 in which there are no solvents, or other non-food grade chemicals allowed. We use highly-refined food grade materials. Sethness is GFSI-certified (Global Food Safety Initiative) annually, meeting the requirements of BRC Global Standard of Food Safety. We also have HACCP programs for all of our liquid and powdered products and follow current GMP’s.

Download our Safety of Caramel Color Statement (pdf)

Visit the International Technical Caramel Color Association (ITCA) web site to learn more Caramel Color facts.

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Do Caramel Colors provide clean label benefits?

To address the consumer demand for clean labels and “Free From” ingredients, Sethness continues to expand its wide variety of Caramel Colors that meet the unique specifications of many of today’s food and beverage products. In addition to the diverse color spectrum of Sethness’ Class I to Class IV Caramel Colors, Sethness provides a multitude of clean-label options:

  • Gluten-free
  • Allergen-free
  • G.R.A.S.
  • Certified Organic
  • Minimally-processed
  • Non-GMO Project Verified
  • Vegan
  • Kosher
  • Halal

Sethness Caramel Colors are clean, consumer-friendly safe ingredients you can feel good about using. They should be simply labeled as “Caramel Color” or “Caramel.”

Learn more about our clean-label Caramel Colors and Caramelized Sugar Syrups.

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Does Caramel Color have an ingredient list?

No, Caramel Color does not have an “ingredient list” because it is a single color additive, and Sethness Caramel Colors are 100% Caramel Color.

Here is more helpful information about regulatory compliance, labeling and certification in regard to Caramel Color.

Regulatory Compliance
Sethness Caramel Color meets the requirements set forth in the color additive regulations defined in 21 CFR 73.85; The Food Chemicals Codex (FCC), current edition; and other international specifications. Caramel Color is GRAS as defined in 21 CFR 182.1235.

Labeling
If used as a color, Caramel Color is to be labeled as “Caramel Color” or “Caramel Color (100%)”. If it is used as a flavor, it is to be labeled as “Caramel” or “Caramel (100%)”.

Certification
The color additive Caramel Color is exempt from certification, so it does not require a certificate like FD&C colors. Since there is no regulatory definition of a “Natural” food color additive, there is no “Natural Certification” for a Caramel Color although FDA guidelines state that “all added colors result in artificially colored food”.

Download our Ingredient and Label Statement (pdf)

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Are Caramel Colors oil soluble?

Although all Caramel Colors are water soluble, use in oil-based systems is possible with the right treatment. Caramel Color can be dispersed in an oil system resulting in pastes or emulsions.

Our Recommendations on the Addition of Caramel Color in a Non-Aqueous (Fat) System

Our recommendations for anyone trying to disperse Caramel Color in a non-aqueous (fat) system are the following procedures:

Suggestion 1:

  1. Disperse any powdered or liquid Caramel Color in an equal weight of propylene glycol or glycerol. The dispersion will look like a paste; it can be thinned down by increasing the percentage of propylene glycol or glycerol.
  2. Disperse this mixture into the fat phase by using high shear mixing and a small amount of a nonionic surfactant such as Polysorbate 80 or Polysorbate 20 (less than 0.5%).

Suggestion 2:

  1. Disperse any powdered or liquid Caramel Color into lecithin.
  2. Disperse this mixture into the fat phase by using high shear mixing and a small amount of a nonionic surfactant such as Polysorbate 80 or Polysorbate 20 (less than 0.5%).

Suggestion 3:

  1. If the application contains a fondant blend, add the powdered or liquid Caramel Color to this material.
  2. Mix this fondant/Caramel Color blend in the (fat) phase by high shear mixing. Using one of the above techniques, a customer should be able to achieve a relatively stable emulsion of Caramel Color in a non-aqueous (fat) system.

Download our recommendations for the addition of Caramel Colors in a non-aqueous (fat) system (pdf)

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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 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 the most minimally processed of the four classes. The carbohydrate raw material is simply heated, and 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 raw material 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 by Sethness.

Class III, Ammonia Caramel Colors, or E150c. The carbohydrate raw material is heated 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 raw material 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 (glucose) corn syrup is the main component in the manufacture of the majority of Sethness Caramel Colors, the resulting material generally has a low caloric value. During the manufacturing process for Caramel Color, the carbohydrates polymerize with the reactants to form color bodies. The color components are virtually unabsorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and are not biologically available. The remaining caloric value of Caramel Colors can be attributed to unreacted sugars that remain after manufacture.

View the specific caloric values for each product on the Sethness Nutritional Composition Data sheets.

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What about GMO’s?

Sethness Caramel Colors, in their final form, do not contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), but depending upon the carbohydrate used to produce a specific Caramel Color, it should be referred to as either “derived from” or “not derived from” GMO’s.

Using only the highest quality food grade raw materials for the production of all our liquid and powdered Caramel Colors, Sethness produces Caramel Colors from the following carbohydrates:

  1. Highly-refined, high dextrose (glucose) corn syrup (HDCS) from non-segregated corn, therefore contains carbohydrate derived from genetically-engineered corn.
  2. Highly refined, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from non-segregated corn, therefore contains carbohydrate derived from genetically-engineered corn.
  3. Cane sugar (sucrose), not derived from genetically-engineered plants.
  4. Certified Organic raw cane sugar (sucrose), not derived from genetically-engineered plants.

Sethness Caramel Colors that are manufactured from corn syrups do not contain GMO’s, because HDCS and HFCS are refined only from the starch fraction of corn which does not contain any genetic material. The HDCS and HFCS are analyzed annually at a laboratory capable of detecting CaMV 35S promoter and the NOS terminator. The results have always been PCR Negative, indicating that they do not contain any genetic material.

Caramel Color is produced under high temperature, high pressure, and generally under acidic conditions. If any DNA was present in the starting carbohydrate, it would be degraded and hydrolyzed due to the processing conditions. Given the purity of our raw materials and our stringent processing conditions, Sethness can say with confidence that our liquid and powder Caramel Colors are free of any genetically-engineered (GE) material. These products would be considered “GMO-Free” by test or derived from GE corn, but do not contain GE material.

European Union (EU) regulations do not take into account that there is no GE material in the highly-refined corn syrup used for Caramel Color (E150) production. Therefore, these Caramel Colors are considered to be “derived from GMO (or GE) material” according to the present interpretation of 1829/2003/EC and 1830/2003/EC.

Download our Absence of GMO Statement (pdf)

Non-GMO Project Verified Caramel Colors
As part of our ongoing campaign to offer Non-GMO Project Verified products to its customers, Sethness Products Company has twelve of its Caramel Colors and Caramelized Sugar Syrups verified by the Non-GMO Project.

To date, the following Sethness products have received verification:

OC114 Class I Caramel Color (Liquid/Organic)
OC234 Class I Caramel Color (Powdered/Organic)
SB121 Class I Caramel Color (Liquid)
SSC300 Class I Caramel Color (Liquid)
SB245 Class I Caramel Color (Powdered)
CS1 Class I Caramelized Sugar Syrup
CS5 Class I Caramelized Sugar Syrup
CS30 Class I Caramelized Sugar Syrup
P285 Class III Caramel Color (Liquid)
SBDS Class IV Caramel Color (Liquid)
SB115 Class IV Caramel Color (Liquid)
SB702 Class IV Caramel Color (Powdered)

Download our Non-GMO Project Certificate of Compliance (pdf)

Learn more about our clean-label Caramel Colors and Caramelized Sugar Syrups.

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Are Sethness Caramel Colors Kosher and Halal?

All Sethness Caramel Colors are Kosher and Halal, and we produce small amounts of Kosher for Passover Caramel Color.

Download our Kosher Certification (pdf)

Download our Halal Certificate (pdf)

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

Sethness does not use any ingredients that contain protein allergens including milk, egg, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts or soybeans. Sethness also certifies that all of its Caramel Colors contain no gluten and meet the 21 CFR 101.91 gluten-free requirements by the FDA. Gluten is not present in corn or sugar cane based materials. Since Sethness Caramel Colors are exclusively manufactured from these two raw materials, they do not contain gluten.

However, some Caramel Color may contain traces of sulfites. (see Do Caramel Colors contain sulfites?)

Download our Absence of Allergen Statement (pdf)

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Do Caramel Colors contain sulfites?

Sethness Caramel Colors do not contain any post-manufacturing “sulfiting agents” typically added to food products to enhance the stability of the final product. Sulfiting agents used for stabilization are readily determined by both digestive and non-digestive methods.

Any sulfite found in Sethness Caramel Colors comes from one of two sources:

  1. When Caramel Color is tested to contain above 50 ppm of sulfite or greater, then sulfite is used as a necessary and allowed process reactant (as defined by 21 CFR 73.85) to assist in the formation of the colored bodies generated in the process of manufacturing Caramel Colors. These are Class II (E150b) Caramel Colors and Class IV (E150d) Caramel Colors. This sulfite is incorporated into the Caramel Color as a part of the polymer chains. When a Sethness Caramel Color is analyzed for free sulfite using a non-digestive method, the result is nil.
  2. When Caramel Color is tested to contain less than 50 ppm of sulfite, then the sulfite result is assumed to be from residual levels in the carbohydrate source. Also, the test for sulfite is such that it will not give a result that is conclusively free of sulfites. Therefore, Sethness has set our sulfite limits to be within the limit of detection and accuracy of the test and possible residual sulfites from the carbohydrate source. These are Class I (E150a) Caramel Colors and Class III (E150c) Caramel Colors.

Of the four types of Caramel Colors (as defined by JECFA), two are manufactured using sulfite (sulfur dioxide, SO2) as a reactant. The Class II (E150b) Caramel Colors, such as RT80, are “sulfite process” Caramel Colors. Class IV (E150d) Caramel Colors, such as DS400, are “sulfite ammonia process” Caramel Colors. Class I (E150a) and Class III (E150c) Caramel Colors do not use sulfite as a reactant and only have trace levels of sulfite.

As required by FDA, the sulfite content in Sethness Caramel Color is determined by the official FDA Modified/AOAC method (a digestive method) where the test material sample is heated in hydrochloric acid solution for 120 minutes under controlled conditions. The acid and heat used in this method break down (digest) the polymers releasing the sulfite. The sulfite range, or limit, is listed on the bottom of Sethness Caramel Color nutritional sheets.

View the sulfite level for each product on the Sethness Nutritional Composition Data sheets.

The FDA requires the labeling of sulfite on finished products ready for consumer use. The labeling requirement is only for finished products that contain 10 ppm of sulfite or more (as defined by 21 CFR 101.100 (a)(4)). Caramel Color is not a finished product; it is an intermediary ingredient. The usage level of Caramel Color must be taken into account to determine the possible final amount of sulfite in a finished product.

Download our Sulfite Statement (pdf)

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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 main laboratory tests to standardize a production lot of liquid 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”; for powdered Caramel Color, it is measured in a 1% solution in water

Several other parameters are important in the measurement of Caramel Color including, but not limited to: Viscosity, Hue Index, Resinification, Haze and Gel, Alcohol Solubility, Salt Stability, and Beer Test.

  • Viscosity is the flowability of a liquid. Thick products generally 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. Typical shelf life of Caramel Colors made from high dextrose corn syrup is two years from the date of manufacture.
  • Haze and Gel is a dual purpose test used to demonstrate the level of 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 to test for the compatibility of the Caramel Colors in differing levels of concentrations of solutions over time.
  • Beer Test measures the compatibility of a Caramel Color in beer.

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