Facebook Twitter LinkedIn RSS Feed

See an unfamiliar ingredient

Soup Can Ingredients

Search the Be Food Smart database


Enter food additive or ingredient name

Select and eat smarter food

Caramel Color

Alternate Names

Caramel, Plain Caramel, Caustic Caramel, Spirit Caramel, Caramel Color II, Caramel Color III, Caramel Color IV


A food coloring which is made by heating or burning sugar (or other carbohydrate) and mixing it with an acid or alkali (ammonium, sulfites). There are four classes of Caramel Color - I, II, III, and IV. This food coloring is the most widely used food coloring and is found in the majority of processed foods that have a brownish color. It is also used as a flavoring agent due to its burnt sugar taste.

Caramel Color - Quick Stats

Caramel, Plain Caramel, Caustic Caramel, Spirit Caramel, Caramel Color II, Caramel Color III, Caramel Color IV

Allergy Information

FD&C Colors


Coloring, Flavoring


E150a, E150b, E150c, E150d

Additional Information

Caramel coloring can be made from a variety of carbohydrates including: dextrose (corn), invert sugar, malt syrup (barley), molasses, lactose (sugar in milk), starch hydrolysates (corn or wheat). Since the source of caramel color is generally not known, people with food allergies should avoid caramel coloring. Class I (Plain Caramel, Caustic Caramel or Spirit Caramel) has no ammonium or sulfites added. Class II (Caustic Sulfite Caramel) has sulfites, but no ammonium added. Caramel III contains ammonium, but no sulfites. Often used in baking, soy sauce, gravy and beer. Caramel IV (Sulfite Ammonium Caramel, Acid-Proof Caramel) contains both sulfites and ammonium compounds. It is most commonly used in soft drinks and colas.

Found In

used in thousands of processed foods including: beer, bread, pancakes, cola soft drinks, alcoholic beverages (rum, brandy, whiskey), cookies, baked goods, gravy, ice cream, sauces, dressings, vinegar, soy sauce, wine, chocolate, jam, candy, butterscotch, root beer, ginger ale

Possible Health Effects

There have been several human and animal studies conducted on caramel coloring. Some studies found that caramels produced with ammonium could: inhibit the metabolism of B6, reduce white blood cell count, or soften feces. In addition, animal studies showed possible carcinogenic effects (see In The News section for information on the CSPI petition).

Allergy Information

May cause allergic reaction in sensitive individuals, Corn, May be Genetically Engineered or Modified, May be of Animal Origin, Dairy (Lactose), Wheat (Gluten)

In The News

2/16/11 - Center for Science in the Public Interest formally petitions the US FDA to revoke sections of legislation: "... which authorize the use in foods of caramel colorings that are produced by means of an ammonia or ammonia-sulfite process and contain 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole, both of which are carcinogenic in animal studies... In addition, the FDA immediately should change the name 'caramel coloring' to 'chemically modified caramel coloring' or 'ammonia-sulfite process caramel coloring' ...and should not allow products to be labeled 'natural' if they contained any type of caramel coloring."

Researcher Comments

Caramel color originally received a C grade. However, when new information surfaced on ammonia-based caramel color, we downgraded it to a D grade. It is our hope that manufactures will begin differentiating between the different types of caramel colorings on the ingredient label so consumers will know if the coloring is ammonia based or not.

Online Resources/Related

Print Resources

Copyright May 20, 2010 Be Food Smart, Updated February 17, 2011

Simply click one of the grades below to get a listing of all ingredients with that grade

A Grade B Grade C Grade D Grade F Grade G Grade

Google-Translate-English to French Google-Translate-English to Spanish Google-Translate-English to German Google-Translate-English to Italian
Follow BeFoodSmart on Twitter

Most Viewed

High Fructose Corn Syrup
Acesulfame Potassium
FD&C Red No.40
Sodium Benzoate
Xanthan Gum
Agar Agar
Guar Gum
FD&C Colors
Caramel Color
Sodium Nitrate
Cellulose Gum
Carnauba Wax