Allura Red


Allura red (also known as red dye 40) is an artificial dye used to colour foods, medications, and cosmetics.


Byproducts of the petroleum industry are used to produce allura red.  In fact, many organic compounds used in food additives and pharmaceuticals come from petroleum products.

It looks like a dark red powder.

When you look it up, you often see allura red described as an azo dye.  So, what does that even mean?

Very simply put, an azo dye is a chemical compound where two hydrocarbon groups (A hydrocarbon is an organic compound made entirely from hydrogen and carbon atoms.  There are many different kinds of hydrocarbons) are joined by two nitrogen atoms.  The letters azo are derived from the french word for nitrogen, azote.

Azo dyes account for roughly 60 to 70% of all dyes used in the food and textile industries.  The reason they are so popular is that azo dyes are cheap to produce and are more stable than most natural food dyes.

allura red is an azo dye. this picture shows an azo molecule
azo compound

Allura Red is banned in many European countries including Denmark, Belgium, France and Switzerland.  It is approved by the European Union and has been assigned an E number.  However, the local laws in EU countries take precedence.  It is also approved in the United States and Canada.  In the US, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been calling for the FDA to ban Allura Red.

Common Uses:

Allura red is commonly used in many processed foods including baked goods, candy, cereal, dairy products, drinks, sauces, and snacks.1

Side Effects / Health Issues:

On it’s own, allura red is not particularly toxic.  You would have to eat many kilograms of a food coloured with allura red in a single day to receive a lethal dose.2

People who have a salicylate intolerance (aspirin is the most common salicylate drug) may have similar reactions to allura red.

Additionally, it is a histamine liberator, and may intensify symptoms of asthma. One of its degradation products causes bladder cancer in animals when present in high concentrations.

Recent studies have also found links between hyperactivity in children and the consumption of artificial food dyes and preservatives.3

E Number:

The E number of allura red is E 129.

Other red food colourings include:

Other Web Sites:

  1. UK Food Guide


  1. Red Dye Food List
  2. Food-Info
  3. The Lancet – Food additives and Hyperactive Behaviour



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