“Colouring Foods” are food ingredients used by the food industry for the primary purpose of imparting colour to food and beverage products. They are manufactured from fruits, vegetables, flowers, spices, algae and/or other edible source materials.

The criteria for a food extract with colouring properties to be classified as “Colouring Foods” (and not as food colour additive) are:

  • the primary extract is added during the manufacturing of compound foods with the primary effect to deliver colour to the compound food. If the primary extract is used because of its aromatic, sapid or nutritive properties together with a secondary colouring effect, the primary extract is either a food or a flavouring;
  • the source material must be a food or a characteristic ingredient of food which is normally consumed as such within the EU; and
  • the pigments present in the source material must NOT undergo selective, physical and/or chemical extraction relative to the nutritive and aromatic constituents.

These criteria are defined in the EU Guidance notes on the classification of food extracts with colouring properties (29.11.2013, Version 1), which was adopted by the European Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. The Guidance Notes provide a working tool for business operators and enforcement authorities to consider whether a substance is a food colour additive or a “Colouring Food”. The EU Guidance Notes include a decision tree (Annex I) and a checklist (Annex II) to facilitate the classification. The reference values for the source materials (Annex III) remain to be completed and NATCOL continues to support this work.

Labelling of “Colouring Foods” has to be in accordance with Food Information Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011. The labelling needs to be clear and understandable to the consumer and should not be misleading. However, the labelling must be assessed case-by-case by the food manufacturer. Possible labelling on the ingredient list of the final food within the EU are for example “colouring food (carrot concentrate)” or “red beet concentrate”. “Colouring Foods” do not need to be designated like food colour additives, i.e. by the name of their category “Colour” and an E-number.

“Colouring Foods” are an alternative to food colour additives in case food producers/customers want a food product which is based on ingredients that consumers can easily relate to.

For additional information, please refer to the following links:

  • EU Guidance notes on the classification of food extracts with colouring properties
    Guidance notes on food colouring-29-11-13
    DISCLAIMER: This document was removed in November 2018 from the EC website as it is currently being reviewed by the Commission services.
  •   NATCOL’s Position on the SCoPAFF Opinion on plant extracts with a technological function in relation to “Colouring Foods”
    NATCOL position paper

Information on the current legal review by the Commission services:

The EU Guidance Notes on the classification of food extracts with colouring properties (29.11.2013) has presently been removed from the Commission website. The website now mentions that “The guidance document is currently being reviewed by the Commission services.” We are advised that this is part of a general legal review of all Commission Guidance Notes. Even if currently not publicly available through the Commission website, the Regulation that these Guidance Notes are based on is unchanged. Therefore, the content and purpose of the Guidance Notes remain valid and in effect throughout this legal review process. Thus, our members and wider food industry continue to operate according to this Guidance Notes.

Please also read NATCOL related article:
Legal review of the EU Guidance Notes on Colouring Foods