Turmeric is a spice commonly found in curry.

Although the food industry considers it to be a spice, regulating agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration classify it as a food dye. Turmeric provides a bright yellow colour to food.


The turmeric plant is related to ginger.  Both plants are rhizomes.  Rhizomes are underground plant stems that may produce roots and shoots for a new plant.

Most turmeric is produced in India.  There are two major types, Madras and Alleppey.  Each is named for the region in India where it is produced.  In North America, turmeric is predominantly the Alleppey form.  Alleppey turmeric contains about 3.5% to 5.5% volatile oils, and 4.0% to 7.0% curcumin.  Madra turmeric, on the other hand, contains only about 2.0% volatile oils and 2.0% curcumin.1

The volatile oils give turmeric it’s flavour while curcumin is responsible for the yellow colour.  Once the curcumin is extracted from the turmeric, it is often further purified to a crystalline material that can be used in products where the turmeric flavor is undesirable, such as cheese, ice cream, beverages and baked products.  Curcumin has similar color characteristics to the synthetic food dye tartrazine.  Unfortunately it is highly sensitive to light and alkaline pH.  It is also degraded by heat and chemical oxidants.  This means that it is not easy to use in food processes or products destined to long-term storage.  That means that tartrazine may still be the preferred food dye.

Common Uses

When used as a colouring agent, turmeric is often suspended in vegetable oil or it is emulsified in different carriers, such as polysorbate 80 or propylene glycol.

Turmeric is commonly used as a dye in foods such as:

Curry Powder
Curry Powder

Health Issues / Side Effects

Turmeric has both anti-oxident and anti-inflammatory properties.2  Since ancient times, turmeric has been used as a medicine to treat a variety of conditions including inflammatory skin conditions, stomach pain, and headaches.

Phytochemicals are the chemicals found in plants are are responsible for the smell and colour.  The phytochemicals found in turmeric may be beneficial, and are being investigated for potential uses against diseases such as cancer and arthritis.3

Consuming turmeric, especially quantities found in processed foods for colouring purposes, is unlikely to have any side effects.  Eating larger amounts may cause problems if you have gallbladder problems.  Turmeric may make these problems worse. It can also slow down blood clotting which may be an issue if you are scheduled for surgery.4

E Number

Turmeric has an E Number of 100.

Other yellow food dyes include:


  1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  2. Clinical Trials Studying Affects of Curcumin on Various Conditions
  3. US National Library of Medicine – Medicine Plus
  4. Oregon State Univesity – Linus Pauling Institute



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