Alkannin, A Red Food Dye

Alkanet / Alkannin


Alkanet or alkannin is a food dye.  It gives a red colour to foods, clothing, and cosmetics.


Alkannin is the name of the food colouring made from the Alkanent plant.  In fact, several related plants in the borage family share the common name Alkanet.  Alkanna tinctoria (also called Dyer’s Bugloss) is the most common variety.  Alkannin is the name of the food colouring made from Alkanent.  It is soluble in oil and alcohol, but not water.

Alkanet has blue flowers and a dark red root that appears to be almost black on the outside. Inside, the root has blue-red colour, with a whitish core. The root produces the red dye.

Alkanet grows in the Mediterrean (including the south of France and parts of Lebannon).

Alkannin is made from the plant alkanna tinctoria
CC BY-SA 3.0, Alkannin is made from the plant alkanna tinctoria


Common Uses:

Alkanet is traditionally used in Indian food under the name “Ratan Jot”, and lends its red colour to some versions of the curry dish Rogan Josh. In Australia alkanet is approved for use as a food colouring, but in the European Union it is not.


Other Uses:

It dyes cloth and colours food. Cosmetics may also get colour from alkannin.

Alkannin can also be used as an acid indicator. It is red at pH 6.8, changing to purple at pH 8.8 and finally, blue at pH 10.

The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral. A pH less than 7 is acidic.

In the past, It has been used to color wine to make it look more appealing, or to color the corks so it looks more aged.

Side Effects / Health Issues:

So far, I have not found any references that indicate potential health issues or side effects resulting from the consumption of foods colored with alkannin.

There is some evidence that alkanna tinctoria can have wound healing and anti-inflammatory effects.1

E Number:

The E Number of alkanet or alkannin is E103.  However, it is no longer approved for use in Europe.  It is also not listed in the FDA’s list of food colours approved in the the USA.  It is still allowed in other countries such as Canada.


  1. The Chemistry and Biology of Alkannin, Shikonin, and Related
    Naphthazarin Natural Products
  2. Sharmilazkitchen – Ratan Jot
  3. Health Canada List of Permitted Food Colouring Agents
  4. FDA Color Additives Listed for Use in Food

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Posted in Colour, Food Additives, Ingredients

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