Technical facts

Euteca position papers

Providing a forum for debate for its members, EUTECA evaluates ideas and issues, often in the context of food legislation and regulation, to agree upon industry statements on pressing topics, such as the labelling of caramel colours or the distinction between Class I caramel (also known as “plain caramel” or E 150 a) and burnt sugar.

Caramel colour : natural or artificial colours ?

The European legislation applicable to food additives does not provide for a definition of “natural” and this has triggered questions on how to characterise and label caramel colours on final foods. In this context, EUTECA states that, given its manufacturing process and properties, caramel colour is neither artificial nor natural.

Click here for the the latest position paper on labelling from EUTECA:


Burnt sugars : used for taste or colour ?

The purpose of this decision-tree, which was last updated in December 2017, is to distinguish the food additive colour “plain caramel” (E150a) and aromatic foodstuffs (Burnt sugars) by a simple yes/no decision cascade. The tree should increase legal certainty regarding that decision for the manufacturer/marketer of the material and for those food producers, who use the material primarily as an ingredient to colour (food colour additive) or to give primarily taste to a certain composed food.

Click here for the the EUTECA decision-tree to distinguish E150 a/Burnt sugar:


Questions & answers

Caramel colours are among the most used food colours in the world. Producers have known about them and used them for a very long time.

The use of food colours is widely accepted and implemented, in order to give certain products their characteristic colours or to make more uniform the colour of food products that already have colour of their own.

Caramel colours (E150) are food additives. They are used in solid or liquid form, are water-soluble, and give food products a colour that ranges from light yellow to dark brown, depending on the type of caramel used and the dose.

They are produced by applying controlled heat to food sugars (e.g. glucose syrup and/or syrups of inverted sugars, etc.), in the presence of compounds that promote caramelisation. The choice of those compounds defines four categories of caramel colours (E150a, E150b, E150c, and E150d), the intensity of colour, the hue and the technological properties of which will determine their uses.

Indeed, caramel colour being used in a wide range of foods and drinks, its producers have developed these four different categories of caramels – which the sector calls “classes”. These are tailored for specific products and recipes. For example, Class III caramel (E150c) is typically used in beers and Class IV caramel (E150d) is often used in soft drinks.

The key steps of the manufacturing process of caramel colours are summarised in the chart below.

As with all food additives, caramel colours are strictly regulated by legislations in Europe and worldwide that define their physical properties, their conditions of use, their daily admissible doses and their purity criteria.

See the chart

Caramel Colour is used in a wide range of food products, including but not limited to soft drinks, beers, spirits, bakery wares, cereals, sauces and gravies and spice blends. In addition, caramel colour is used in pharmaceutical, cosmetics and feed applications.

The approved food uses of caramel colours in the European market are listed in the European database on food additives, which was developed by the European Commission on the basis of the legislation in force. The database is available at the following link:


As food additives authorised and used for over 100 years, the technological advantage of caramel colours in end products has been recognised by end users and confirmed by regulatory bodies.

As responsible manufacturers, caramel colour producers monitor carefully the regulatory and scientific developments surrounding their products, to make sure that they are safe and in line with the regulations in force.

The safety of caramel colours has been assessed at EU level by EU independent scientific committees and kept under close observation since 1975, with a series of safety reviews conducted between the 1970’s and the 1990’s. Stringent safety rules and maximum limits for certain compounds present in caramel colours were fixed subsequently.

Furthermore, the EU legislation requires that food additives must be kept under continuous observation and must be re-evaluated whenever necessary. In that context, all food additives which were permitted before 20th January 2009 shall be subject to a new risk assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In this context, EFSA re-evaluated caramel colours and confirmed their long history of safe use in foods and drinks. Furthermore, the composition and purity of the additives – which are known as “specifications” – are also legally set at European level. Caramel colours are indeed in line with these strict identity and safety criteria.

According to the EU Regulation 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers (Annex VII, Part C), food additives like caramel colours must be mentioned in the list of ingredients with the names of the categories to which they belong (“colour”, in the case of caramels) followed by their specific names or EC numbers (E 150 a, b, c or d when it comes to caramel colours).

4-MeI (4-methylimidazole) is a component that can be formed when certain food ingredients are cooked. The reaction, in which this component is formed, is similar to the Maillard reaction, also known as the “browning reaction”. Traces of 4-MeI can thus be found in certain foodstuffs that were cooked, roasted or grilled at home as well as in Classes III (E150c) and IV (E150d) caramel colours as a result of their manufacturing process.

To ensure that their use is safe and to protect the European consumers, the EU legislation has set strict limits for the concentrations of these compounds in caramel colours. These limits are provided in the EU Regulation 231/2012 laying down specifications for authorised additives. As responsible manufacturers, EUTECA members have always considered safety as their top priority and strictly adhere to these regulatory limits.

EU Regulation 231/2012

Industry links

Brewers of Europe


EU Specialty Food Ingredients


Les champs de l’amidon


European institutions

European Commission (DG SANTE)

DG SANTE Food Additives Database


International bodies

Codex Alimentarius