Additive Review – Annatto 160b

In Australia, 160b is commonly used in butter, margarine, cereals, snack foods, dairy foods including yoghurts, ice-creams and cheeses, snack foods, soft drinks, pastry (sausage rolls, pies), smoked fish and battered seafood. It can also be used in conjunction with E100 in cheese, flavoured instant mashed potato, meat balls, mayonnaise, sponge cakes, pudding custards and yoghurt. Annatto is the cheese industries preferred natural colour. It can provide from light yellow for Cheddar, to an orange for a Double Gloucester, to a red for a Red Leicester.

Annatto is a widely used food colouring obtained from the seeds of a tropical shrub. Its hue is yellow to orange usually soft, but hard and brittle when dry. Unfortunately, natural does not always mean acceptable for consumption. Annatto causes hives in some people. In fact, allergic reactions to annatto appear to be more common than reactions to commonly used synthetic food dyes. Adverse reactions to Annatto can include skin irritations, gastrointestinal, airways and central nervous system reactions, linked to behaviour and learning problems as well as head banging in young children, irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance in children and adults as well as arthritis.  This additive is not recommended for children especially those with ADD, ADHD or anyone with known chemical sensitivities. People with asthma, pregnant and breastfeeding women may wish to avoid and it is recommended that if you are scheduled for surgery within two weeks to also avoid Annatto. Annatto might raise blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, check your blood sugar levels. Further research is needed on its long-term health effects. Through our own personal research and experience our team will not recommend this additive.

Annatto dye also called as poor man’s saffron. A Safe Alternative to Annatto is Beta-carotene (160a) is a safe alternative. Although the adverse effects of annatto are recognised by FSANZ, our national food standards authority, their view is that beta-carotene 160a is too difficult and expensive to use. Since 160a is used widely all over Europe instead of annatto, it would seem that European food companies are more concerned about the welfare of their consumers than their Australian counterparts. For example, Australia is the only country in the world where Magnum ice-creams contain annatto colouring.

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