OCTOBER 21, 2014
It has recently come to the Co-op’s attention that some of the products on our shelves contain caramel color. While we are bringing in no new products that contain this ingredient, we are reviewing the products that are on our shelves to identify those that contain caramel coloring. It is the Co-op’s goal to be a trusted source of information for our customers, so we want to inform you about this ingredient, why you may want to avoid it, and which products you may find it in.
What is caramel color?
It is made by heating a sugar compound (usually high-dextrose corn syrup), often together with ammonium compounds, acids, or alkalis. Caramel coloring may be used to simulate the appearance of cocoa in baked goods, make meats and gravies look more attractive, and darken soft drinks and beer.
Why is it controversial?
There are four classes of caramel coloring used in food manufacturing; Class III and IV contain 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MEI, which in very high doses can have carcinogenic effects. Class I and II do not contain 4-MEI. Manufacturers are not required to identify which class of caramel color is used in their products, but there is a recent trend among food and beverage manufacturers to reduce levels of 4-MEI or remove it entirely by altering production methods.
Where is it found?
Caramel color is commonly found in colas and beer, and it can also be found in some surprising places. If you want to avoid it, be sure to read food labels; even organic foods allow this ingredient at this time. Zevia Soda, China Cola and Blue Sky Soda (both the natural and organic line); ice cream sandwiches from Julie’s Organic, Almond Dream and Three Twins, and Imagine Organic broths and gravies are a few products where caramel coloring is used to make the products a more appealing color. You may also find it in soy sauce; baked goods; cough drops, and potato chips, among other products. Reading food labels – even at the Co-op – is the best way for you to know what you are eating.