Red Square labelled Amaranth

Amaranth is the name of an artificial red food dye

What is Amaranth?

Amaranth is an artificial food dye also known as red dye #2.  It gets its name because the colour is similar to that of the plant named Amaranth.


Amaranth is an azo dye similar to allura red.

In 1974 amaranth was banned in the United States. Allura Red was meant to be its replacement.  Initially, the amaranth dye was made from coal tar, but nowadays most synthetic dyes are more likely to be made from petroleum byproducts.

As mentioned elsewhere, 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.

Common Uses:

Amaranth can be found as a food colouring in alcoholic beverages, red soft drinks, cake mixes, ice cream, jams, jellies, and many other processed foods.

Amaranth dye is also used in France and Italy in the production of caviar.

Side Effects / Health Issues:

The amaranth dye has been banned in the United States since 1974 because it is a suspected carcinogen.  It is still acceptable for use in other countries, including Canada.1

Other health issues are similar to those of other azo dyes.  People who have a salicylate intolerance (aspirin is the most common salicylate drug) may have similar reactions to the amaranth dye.  Additionally, it is a histamine liberator, and may intensify symptoms of asthma.

There have also been many recent studies asserting links between hyperactivity in children and the consumption of artificial food dyes and preservatives.2

E number:

Additives that have an E number between 100 and 199 are used to colour food.  The E Number of amaranth is 123.

Other artificial red dyes include:


Personal Notes:

There are no benefits from artificial food dyes other than making food a more pleasing colour.  On the other hand, here could be many risks.

What’s your opinion?  Do you avoid synthetic food dyes?  Please leave a comment.


1. Food Additives Permitted for Use in Canada.

2. The Lancet – Food additives and Hyperactive Behaviour

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Posted in Colour, Food Additives

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