Despite the wealth of resources we have in modern times, there are still many elements of cooking that can be a mystery to us.
One such mystery is food coloring, and whether or not it can go bad or expire like other forms of ingredients and food.
So this begs the question: can food coloring expire?
What Is Food Coloring?
Also known as food additives, food coloring is a blanket term for any dye or coloring agent that is used to change the appearance or color of food.
Such coloring agents have long been used within the manufacture of food, baked goods, and confectionery, and have been a source of contention and controversy throughout the 20th century for the purported negative side effects associated with their inclusion in the food we eat.
Food coloring can come in numerous forms – ranging from powders, liquids, and gels – and despite the degrees to which other food groups have been regulated in recent years, they still remain one of the least regulated ingredients on the market, making them a target for concern amongst nutritionists and scientists alike.
What Is Food Coloring Used For?
There are also many different uses for food coloring within numerous industries.
Mass Food Production
In many cases, food coloring is most commonly used within the mass production of commercial food products – usually as a way of making the products appear more eye-catching and appealing visually.
Some of the most common uses for food coloring are in things like meat and fish – wherein they are made to appear more pink in color to appear fresher.
This is of course a fallacy, as the color of meat and fish is by no means a clear indication of freshness.
Baking & Confectionery
Food coloring is also widely used in baking and confectionery – wherein it is used to make candy and treats appear more brightly colored and appealing to customers – particularly children.
This often includes unnatural primary colors that are seldom found in natural, ‘real’ food, and has also been a source of contention amongst health experts around the world.
Surprisingly, food colorings are also used in a number of non-food related products. These include home craft products, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and medical devices.
One example is to change the color of pills to make them appear more striking, noticeable, and perhaps appealing. They are also used to make more unnatural makeup colors – such as primary colored makeup.
Can Food Coloring Go Bad?
This is a somewhat complicated question, and comes with an equally complicated answer.
While food coloring can go ‘bad’ – in the sense that it becomes less bright, effective, and has a less appealing consistency – it does not expire in the same way that perishable food does.
While it probably won’t make you sick, there are still some signs that can be indications that it is not at its best – some of which can be seen below.
Changes In Color
One of the most notable signs that food coloring has ‘expired’ is when the color has changed. This will generally be when the color goes fainter and appears less vibrant than it once did.
While it might still be okay to use – depending on the degree to which it has perished – it is probably best to avoid using it.
Changes In Consistency
There might also be some changes to the consistency of the food coloring.
This could be in terms of feel – i.e. the substance becoming thinner or thicker (and sticky) – or it could be that the food coloring separates within the container.
In either sense, you are probably better off not using it in food you are going to eat.
Change In State
If you have gel food coloring, then one sign that it has gone bad is when it becomes harder, powdery, or otherwise changes from its gel-like state.
In either case, it is best to avoid using the food coloring on food.
How To Make It Last Longer?
There are of course many ways to make the food coloring last longer between uses.
Seal It Correctly
As with any sealed ingredient or food, you need to make sure that the container is sealed tightly and securely between uses.
This is the best way to stop oxygen from entering the container, and to keep the food coloring good for longer.
Keep Out Of Sunlight
You should also keep food coloring containers out of direct sunlight – instead keeping them inside cupboards or pantries – as this will stop the sun from fading the color, warping the texture, or making it go bad.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about food coloring, and whether or not it can expire.
It is certainly true that, within the world of food and cooking, there are many things that we know nothing about – with the life span of food coloring being one of them.
So if you want to know more about food coloring, then be sure to refer to this handy guide. Something tells me you won’t be disappointed!
Frequently Asked Questions
Now that we know a little more about food coloring, and whether or not it can expire or go bad, it is now time for us to answer some frequently asked questions that you might be interested in.
Is Food Coloring Unhealthy?
Quite surprisingly, food coloring can be bad for you. This is due to the various chemicals and artificial ingredients that are present within.
Are Natural Food Colorings Better?
If you want to change the color of your food – be it for cooking or baking – then there are a variety of natural food coloring agents out there that are much healthier and better nutritionally.