Colorant is a notion that can be used as adjective or as noun. The word is formed with the verb color (to add color) and with the ending -nt (which allows the development of deverbal adjectives, alluding to the execution of the action expressed by the base).

A colorant, therefore, is a substance that serves to give Colour to something. In this way what the dye does is stain or paint.

Curcuma longa

Turmeric is a very popular coloring.

History of colorants

The human being has resorted to colorants since the prehistory. At first they were used minerals and elements of Animal origin Y vegetable for this purpose.

Thus, with Woodlouse (the insect with scientific name Dactylopius coccus), turmeric (the plant named Curcuma longa) and other resources, prehistoric man could paint his skin, color their clothing and decorate all kinds of objects for recreational or ritual use.

The synthetic colorants, meanwhile, arose from mid 19th century. The English Chemist William Henry Perkin, who to 18 year-old discovered by chance that the oxidation of the aniline gave rise to a tint, was the pioneer. This finding occurred in 1856.

Differentiation according to origin

As can be seen when reviewing the history Of the colorants, these substances can be divided into two large groups according to their origin.

When the colorants come from plants, animals or minerals, there is talk of natural dyes. Thanks to the development of various processes, leaves, roots, wood or even the body of insects, for example, can be used.


Different types of colorants are often used in the food industry.

Natural colorants, therefore, are organic. The synthetic or artificial colorants, instead, they are obtained in laboratories. They are generally produced quickly and at a low cost, which is why they are often used industrially over natural colorants.

Food coloring

Another classification can be made according to the application. The food or food coloring, as their name implies, they are used to modify the color of the food.

These colorants make up all of the additives: they are added to food to improve its qualities or even to give it characteristics that it does not have. Additives often lack nutritional value, aiming to alter organoleptic properties or increase shelf life.

Because color is one of the most important variables when establishing preferences for one or another food, food coloring is widely used by industrial producers. Color influences the perception of flavor, with which the colorants affect consumer satisfaction.

It is important to mention that food coloring can be natural or synthetics. Regarding synthetic colorants, there are studies that warn of the possible danger of some of them for the Health, as is the case with the erythrosine.

The carbonated drinks (known as soda, sodas or refreshments), the candies, the ice creams and the snacks (snack) are among the products that usually have colorants. To know the detailed composition of each industrially produced food, it is possible to read its ingredients on the packaging.