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Tartrazine, also commonly referred to as yellow dye #5, is a dye used to give foods a bright lemon yellow colour. It can also be used in combination with blue and green dyes to colour food various shades of green.

Some reports indicate that Tartrazine is the second most commonly used food dye after Allura Red (Red 40).1


Tartrazine is known as an azo dye and has the chemical formula of C16H9N4Na3O9S2.

What is an azo dye?

In chemistry, a hydrocarbon is an organic compound made entirely from hydrogen and carbon atoms, and there are many many different kinds of hydrocarbons.  Now, an azo dye is a chemical compound where two hydrocarbon groups 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.

Looking at the chemical formula for tartrazine, we can see that there are other elements besides nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen present.  Specifically, tartrazine also contains sodium (Na), oxygen (O), and sulfur (S).

Sometimes you may find a reference that says tartrazine is made from coal tar.  This is not completely accurate.  The organic compounds used to make tartrazine can be extracted from coal tar.  In 1884 when H. Zeigler first discovered it, he was likely working with coal tar.  Today, the compounds are produced as byproducts of the petroleum industry.  This shouldn’t be as scary as it sounds.  Once the organic compounds have been extracted, the source isn’t important.

Common Uses

Tartrazine can be found in a wide variety of foods including desserts and candies, soft drinks, condiments, and breakfast cereals.  The following list provides some specific examples of foods containing tartrazine:

If you have other examples of products that contain tartrazine, let me know by leaving a comment.

Health Issues / Side Effects

Allergic Reactions / Intolerance

Some people, particularly those with asthma or aspirin intolerance may also have an intolerance to tartrazine.2 Symptoms can include hives and swelling. It seems the possibility of tartrazine triggering an asthma attack is quite low.4

Reactions to tartrazine can range from mild to very servere. If anybody has had personal experience with a tartrazine allergy, please leave us a comment.


When combined with the preservative sodium benzoate, certain food colourings including tartrazine, may be linked to hyperactivity in children.

E Number

The E number of Tartrazine is 102.  Other yellow dyes include:


Besides being used in food, tartrazine can also be found in medications (think cough drops) and in cosmetics.

In Canada, manufacturers do not have to specifically state what types of colour they have added to food.  It is okay for the ingredient label to use the generic term “colour”.  However, because of possible allergies or intolerance, U.S manufacturers are required to declare the use of tartrazine. Because Canadians share so many products with the United States, we do see tartrazine on many of our food labels.


  1. Food Dyes – Center for Science in the Public Interest
  2. Canadian Medical Association Journal – Tartrazine: A Potentially Hazardous Dye in Canadian Drugs
  3. European Food Safety Authority
  4. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

Further Reading / Resources

Canadian Food Additive Dictionary

FDA Food Additive Status List

UK Foods Standards Agency, Approved Food Additives

Food Standards – Australia and New Zealand

Tartrazine Intolerance – Allergy Mate

Food Additive Allergy, Tartrazine – Rightdiagnosis.com

FD & C Yellow No. 5 – Drugs.com

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20 Comments on “Tartrazine

  1. You have some really common foods in your list, I’m sure most Americans get a fair amount of this dye. The more natural alternative to M&M’s, Sunspire SunDrops, uses beta carotene for coloring. It would be nice if manufacturers used turmeric more often for a yellow-orange color, since turmeric has lots of phytochemicals and is actively good for us. I suppose the taste wouldn’t always work, though it doesn’t take much to give a dish a nice color.

  2. Yesterday I purchased ready made potato salad at a grocery store, and had some for supper, During last night I awoke a few hours after falling asleep, with a dull headache and was restless and could not go back to sleep. I have noticed these very same symptoms before but didn’t relate it to tartrazine coloring until reading about it here.

    • Severe allergies come in more forms than the common skin reactions or asthma. Central nervous system reactions involve brain swelling. The blood/brain barrier is permeable to certain small molecules like aspirin which acts centrally. Yellow dye #5 is related to aspirin and causes allergic brain swelling in susceptible individuals, think “effects of head trauma.” When someone suffers a mild concussion they have a headache. More severe swelling in the brain leads to paranoid behavior and personality changes.

      For instance, the sweet little girl suddenly throws a major temper tantrum after being fed orange, yellow or green lollipops and yellow dye #5 laced jello. This happens every time and the parents are clueless that it is caused by yellow dye #5. That little girl was me, and it took me over 20 years to find out that I was that severely allergic to yellow dye #5 and all sulfosalicylate-based drugs (NSAIDS) and acetaminophen. The reactions vary depending on the drug, but hives and asthma are just as bad as central nervous system reactions and require immediate emergency treatment. Avoidance of yellow dye #5 is the treatment that works. Failing to list it on the label is playing Russian roulette with the lives of people who are severely allergic to this chemical.

      Very few in the medical profession are aware of the central nervous system type of allergic reaction. They have been taught that the blood/brain barrier prevents all but the smallest of molecules from crossing. Yet they still learn about mind altering drugs as if those drugs do not cross the blood/brain barrier. So there are still a lot of disconnects in the training that the medical staff are receiving. Any small molecule that has an affinity for fatty tissue can cross over into the brain. The other chemical entities that are absorbed into the brain include mercury and lead ions, to name a few other bad things that can cross the blood/brain barrier.

      Sorry if my comments opens up a can of worms from the medical profession, but they need to think deeper than the huge amount of rote memorization they go through to get to be a practicing physician. After helping to teach labs by providing lab materials to medical students at Duke University Medical School, I realized that they just received a smattering of what they needed to know even at this highly prestigious school. As a medical technologist I already had two full years of in-depth study of clinical laboratory methods and they only received 6 to 8 weeks total for all areas of specialty in the lab. There is too much information for any one of them to know it all. So, it is a miracle that they do as well as they do in diagnosing and treating illnesses.

  3. um so shocked about this tatrazine,just after reading about it and i’ve already quited soft drinks,and other energy drinks..this shows me that,if u like fast foods u’ll die very fast just like the name of the foods…this message must be spread to every human being,because this is very u healthy/poisonous…um from Zimbabwe…Africa…um studying on healthy foods,and i’am a proud vegetarian.

  4. Thank you for this post, it was very helpful as I am doing a report for school. Most of the information on the internet is not very comprehensive so I find it hard to separate fact from angry tirades 🙂

  5. I just started a med that has tartrazine dye in it. The pill is almost black. Why use this colour dye if it has possible medical problems, or color or taste is not important – swallowed whole?

  6. I am experiencing a mild rash (hives) and after listing the things I consumed today I reached the conclusion that the only new (or unusual) thing I had today was a green mint syrup in my 7-up. Could it contain Tartrazine? And could this be the cause of the hives?

    • Amy, I suppose it is possible that green syrup may contain tartrazine since it is often combined with blue dyes to produce a green colour. If you are in the US, tartrazine should be listed on the ingredient label.

      Unfortunately, I’m not a doctor. I don’t know if the tartrazine is the cause of your hives.

      Thanks for the comment, and I hope you feel better soon.

  7. I can’t be sure but I suspect the tartrazine that is present in a common dry chicken noodle soup mix has stained my teeth. Just enough and sudden enough to notice. I had not used this type of mix until now and of course will not continue.

  8. A year ago, my husband gave a sip of his Italian liqueur called Mille Fiore which is yellow. I took a sip and started gagging. We then googled tartrazine and discovered that I was allergic to it. Now I have discovered that Tylenol for arthritis which has a yellow strip on each pill has tartrazine. Red and white wines have tartaric acid in them. Some dill pickles, stir fry mixes and candies like jujubs and jellybeans have it as well. I get hives and very itchy skin, eyes, nose and throat. The best I have found for these reactions is Aerius which lasts for 24hrs with no other side effects for me. On food labels beware of caramel color which is mostly yellow. Take care. Eat fresh.

    • Thanks for the comment. One thing to note is that when you see caramel colour on a food label it probably refers to a specific food dye that’s described here. It wouldn’t normally contain tartrazine.

  9. Came to this article after reading the label on a bag of Hawkins Cheezies. (Canadian) Today must be the day of learning about all the terrible things that are put in our foods as I also googled “TBHQ” after finding it in some cookies given to me by a friend. No wonder everyone is sick these days.

  10. My husband is so allergic to yellow #5 and Tartrazine that he goes right into anaphylactic shock. I have less than 2 minutes to give him an Epi Pen. His throat closes shut in 60-90 seconds.

  11. Can I get a list of what this is in as we have a girl that is very allergic to this dye and we are needing a list so we know what she can and cannot eat.

6 Pings/Trackbacks for "Tartrazine"
  1. […] What is Yellow 5 or Tartrazine? Tartrazine is an azobenzene artificial dye that has two hydrocarbon groups bonded together by two nitrogen atoms, consisting of sodium, sulfur and oxygen in its structure. It is produced as a by-product of processing petroleum and is used in the food industry for its affordability and stability [7]. […]

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