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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 ROQUETTE’ liquid Caramel Colors are spray dried to produce high quality powdered Caramel Colors.
“Caramel Color” is one of the oldest and most widely used food colorings for enhancing naturally occurring colors, correcting natural variations in color, and protecting colors that could be lost to light degradation during food processing and storage. The use of Caramel Color as a food additive in the brewing industry in the 19th century is the first recorded instance of it being manufactured and used on an industrial scale. Today, Caramel Color is found in many commercially produced foods and beverages.
Often, consumers ask whether Caramel Color is the same as caramel. The term “caramel” is often used to describe confections and flavors made from caramelized sugar. The term “Caramel Color” only describes the color additive, but its name comes from the caramelization process involved in manufacturing it.
The caramelization reaction is the browning of sugar during the cooking process. Simply heating sugar without any other reactants, such as when heating sugar on a stove top, results in a deep brown syrupy solution, typically known as “caramel.” To make Caramel Color, one can choose from sucrose or other types of sugar, such as dextrose, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, or starch hydrolysates or fractions thereof. The process to generate Caramel Color is a combination of caramelization and the more complicated Maillard reaction, which typically involves amino acids (a nitrogen source) and a baking, roasting, or searing type of cooking.
There are four classes of Caramel Colors. Each class uses different raw materials added to the carbohydrate base to generate the color bodies when heated. Industrial Caramel Colors are rated by their color strength, and they also have different chemical properties. Class I Caramel Colors, or plain caramels, which use an acid or base to help generate the color, are useful in alcohols, seasoning sauces (especially in the Asian market), and baking applications; they typically have the lightest color shades. Class II Caramel Colors, or sulfite caramels, which use a sulfite salt as a reactant as well as high temperatures and pressures to develop their color, are commonly used in spirits and have midrange colors. Class III Caramel Colors, which use ammonia compounds to generate color, are used in beers and have midrange colors. Class IV Caramel Colors, which use both sulfite and ammonia compounds, contain the richest color of all the Caramel Colors and are used in carbonated soft drinks (CSD). These are simply a few examples where Caramel Color ingredients may be useful.
Caramel Colors are manufactured by two different technologies — a non-pressurized system or one that adds pressure. The atmospheric, or non-pressurized, system only applies heat up to around 340 °F (somewhat less than what you need to cook a turkey) and, along with the reactants listed above, generates the color bodies formed during the caramelization reaction. These Caramel Colors tend to have higher viscosities and thickness and are made in small batches. Pressure-style reactors use both heat and pressure to create lower viscosity, water-like Caramel Colors in larger batches. A finished liquid Caramel Color can then be dried to form a powdered Caramel Color that can be used in dry applications.
Caramel Colors have an almost infinite range of uses. They are often used to color colas, spirits, cereals, sauces, spices, and even pet foods. They also impart different hues to the application, from bright yellow to reddish hues, all the way to gunpowder black. Caramel Colors help consumers enjoy a predictable appearance in their packaged foods and beverages, which allows for a consistent visual experience while consuming their favorite products.
The term “caramel” is often used to describe confections and flavors made from caramelized sugar. The term “Caramel Color” only describes the color additive.
This is the most frequently-asked question we hear at SETHNESS ROQUETTE, 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 (Plain) or Non GMO Project Verified Caramel Colors, which are often preferred in new product development. Depending on its use, our various caramel offerings 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. SETHNESS ROQUETTE also manufactures one liquid and one powdered Certified Organic Caramel Color that are our most label-friendly Caramel Colors.
SETHNESS ROQUETTE 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 ROQUETTE 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 ROQUETTE 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.
Visit the International Technical Caramel Color Association (ITCA) web site to learn more Caramel Color facts.
To address the consumer demand for clean labels and “Free From” ingredients, SETHNESS ROQUETTE 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 ROQUETTE’ Class I to Class IV Caramel Colors, SETHNESS ROQUETTE provides a multitude of clean-label options:
SETHNESS ROQUETTE Caramel Colors are clean, consumer-friendly safe ingredients you can feel good about using. They should be simply labeled as “Caramel Color” or “Caramel.”
No, Caramel Color does not have an “ingredient list” because it is a single color additive, and SETHNESS ROQUETTE Caramel Colors are 100% Caramel Color.
Here is more helpful information about regulatory compliance, labeling and certification in regard to Caramel Color.
SETHNESS ROQUETTE 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.
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%)”.
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”.
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:
Domestically, the Food Chemical Codex (FCC) divides Caramel Colors into four classes depending on if or what food grade reactants are used in manufacture, as well as other characteristics. International regulations such as the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) designate Caramel Color classes, per their definitions, with INS 150a, b, c, or d. Europe uses E150a, b, c, or d per their definitions. The Product Specification and Technical Data sheets state the E150 numbers for those Caramel Colors that are compliant to the European regulation. 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, are comparable to 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, are comparable to 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 SETHNESS ROQUETTE Liquid Caramel Color.
Class III, Ammonia Caramel Colors, are comparable to 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, are comparable to E150d. The carbohydrate raw material is heated in the presence of both sulfite and ammonium compounds. The resulting Caramel Color carries a negative.
Although high dextrose (glucose) corn syrup is the main component in the manufacture of the majority of SETHNESS ROQUETTE 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.
SETHNESS ROQUETTE 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 ROQUETTE produces Caramel Colors from the following carbohydrates:
SETHNESS ROQUETTE 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 ROQUETTE 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.
Non-GMO Project Verified Caramel Colors (Colours)
As part of our ongoing campaign to offer Non-GMO Project Verified products to its customers, SETHNESS ROQUETTE Products Company has 13 Caramel Colors and Caramelized Sugar Syrups verified by the Non-GMO Project. You can find our most current list of Non-GMO Project Verified products on this webpage.
All SETHNESS ROQUETTE Caramel Colors are Kosher and Halal, and we produce small amounts of Kosher for Passover Caramel Color.
SETHNESS ROQUETTE does not use any ingredients that contain protein allergens including milk, egg, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts or soybeans. SETHNESS ROQUETTE 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 ROQUETTE 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?)
SETHNESS ROQUETTE 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 ROQUETTE Caramel Colors comes from one of two sources:
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 ROQUETTE 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 ROQUETTE Caramel Color nutritional 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.
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:
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.