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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 128-136

Identification and Prevalence of Food Colors in Candies Commonly Consumed by Children in Muscat, Oman

Department of Pharmacology and Biological Sciences, College of Pharmacy, National University of Science and Technology, Muscat, Oman

Date of Submission14-Jan-2021
Date of Decision10-Feb-2021
Date of Acceptance18-Feb-2021
Date of Web Publication22-Apr-2021

Correspondence Address:
Majed AbuKhader
College of Pharmacy, National University of Science and Technology, Muscat
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijnpnd.ijnpnd_2_21

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Background: A food color, or a color additive, is any dye, pigment, or a chemical substance that imparts colors to food. There have been several concerns about the safety of food colors reported in the literature that require further evaluation. Purpose: The aim of this study was to identify the type, synthetic and natural, frequency, and prevalence of food colors in candy confectionary items commonly consumed by children. Methods: A random cross-sectional product survey approach was followed in selected supermarkets and convenience stores in Muscat, Oman. The ingredient label was utilized as a reliable source of information about food colors used in the selected candy confectionery items. Results: A greater variety of natural food colors were used in candy confectionery when compared with the synthetic ones. It seems, however, that synthetic food colors were more frequently used. Brilliant Blue FCF (E133) and Allura Red AC (E129) are synthetic food colors used more frequently in the studied sample. Although a general observation of the collected data highlights some variation in the frequency of food colors used in candy confectionery sold in supermarkets and convenience stores, statistical analysis has revealed an insignificant correlation. Conclusion: Both synthetic and natural food colors were found to be used in the studied sample. There was no correlation between the type of food colors used in candies and the outlets where these items were sold. This research encourages further exploration of consumption patterns among young children and the actual levels of food colors in food items including candy confectionery marketed in Oman.

Keywords: Allura Red AC, Brilliant Blue FCF, candy confectionary, food colors, food safety

How to cite this article:
AbuKhader M, UM D, Nazmi A. Identification and Prevalence of Food Colors in Candies Commonly Consumed by Children in Muscat, Oman. Int J Nutr Pharmacol Neurol Dis 2021;11:128-36

How to cite this URL:
AbuKhader M, UM D, Nazmi A. Identification and Prevalence of Food Colors in Candies Commonly Consumed by Children in Muscat, Oman. Int J Nutr Pharmacol Neurol Dis [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Dec 5];11:128-36. Available from:

   Introduction Top

There is a very long history of coloring agents being added to food and drink.[1] It has long been recognized that color constitutes one of the most salient of visual cues concerning the sensory properties such as the taste and flavor of what we are about to eat or drink. Over the last 50 years or so, research has demonstrated that adding more coloring agents to a food item can lead to more intense taste and flavor. This concludes that the addition of food coloring influences the sensory thresholds for certain basic tastes and ultimately exerts and impacts over the mind and behavior of the consumer toward a food item.[2]

The use of food colors traces back to ancient Egypt and Medieval Europe when the brilliant yellow of saffron, the reddish hue of Saunders (powdered sandalwood), green spinach, and parsley juice were added to food preparations to enhance their color and provide a pleasant appearance.[3] In 1856, the first synthetic color (mauveine) was developed by Sir William Henry Perkin and by the turn of the century unmonitored color additives had spread throughout the USA and Europe almost in all sorts of popular foods. Although coloring agents from natural sources were still in use, manufacturers had strong economic incentives to phase them out since chemically synthesized colors were easier to produce, less expensive, and superior in coloring properties as only tiny amounts were required.[1]

In the past few decades, techniques were developed to determine the presence and to report the amount of food colors (especially synthetic colors) in various food items. The most useful and common technique was the high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and to a lesser extent capillary electrophoresis and spectrophotometry.[4],[5] This helped in the health risk assessments of food colors completed by various research groups throughout the world which have revealed the potential genotoxic, carcinogenic, and neurotoxic effects of these agents.[6],[7] As a consequence, numerous regulations were introduced throughout the world in the USA and Europe and in some other countries to regulate the use of these agents in the food industry.[8] This resulted in the lack of uniform regulations worldwide. Food importation and exportation further complicated this inconsistency as the same food color that is legal in one country can be illegal in another. However, these strict regulations encouraged the international food industry to stop adding synthetic colors to food and forced them to use more safer natural colors options.[1],[4]

Regulating the use of food colors as food additives was first started in 1956. This is when a “Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives,” governed jointly by the FAO and WHO, was established and has since provided an extensive review of approximately 1500 substances, including food colors, setting the standards for safety assessment globally. This was followed by the introduction of the federal color additive regulation in the USA in 1960, which is based on the US Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and its amendments, namely, the Food Additive and the Color Additive Amendment, also known as the “Delaney Clause.” In Europe, the completion of the European legislative harmonization exercise in 2008 was considered as a declaration of the birth date of the EU food legislative framework. This legislative framework was monitored by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and was reviewed in 2011, 2012, and 2015 to accommodate the advancements in the use of food colors in food industry.[3],[9] Oman, which is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that also includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, follows the regulations and standards issued by the GCC Standardization Organization (GSO). The GSO has adopted the rules and regulations issued by the FAO’s Codex Alimentary in order to remain in line with international practices. The Gulf standard (GS 23/1998) entitled “Coloring Matter Used in Foodstuffs” was approved and published by the GSO in September 1998 and was reviewed in 2015 (GS 2500/2015).[3],[10],[11] Nine synthetic food colors are permitted in Oman to be used by food manufacturers. They are Tartrazine (E102), Sunset Yellow FCF (E110), Allura Red AC (E129), Carmoisine (E122), Indogotine (E132), Brilliant Blue FCF (133), Fast Green FCF (E143), Brilliant Black PN (E151), and Brown HT (E155).

Candy has played an important role in cultural traditions and celebrations for thousands of years and continues to be enjoyed by most people as an occasional treat. Although candy confectionery is considered as a treat and consumed by children of different age groups with joy, research has shown that these sugary items hide a potential health risk represented by food color additives.[12],[13],[14] Therefore, the aim of this study was to collect details of candy confectionary (hard candy, soft candy, jelly, Jelly beans, gummies, marshmallow, lollipops and chewing gums) from supermarkets and convenience stores in Muscat through product survey approach and to identify the type of synthetic and natural food colors in this food category. It was hypothesized that there will be variation in prevalence (i.e., presence) and frequency (i.e., the number of times recorded in a single item) of food colors in candy confectionary sold in supermarkets and convenience stores. Children of young ages tend to visit convenience stores without parental supervision, which implies more exposure to candy on display in such outlets. The outcome of this research work can be utilized in educational campaigns targeting parents. This can empower parents to properly guide their children regarding candy confectionery access and consumption.


The concept and design of this study were adopted from existing research.[15],[16] This cross-sectional product survey was carried out from June to September 2020. The ingredient label on the selected products was used to collect information to identify food colors as well as their prevalence and frequency. An assortment of candy confectionery (hard candy, soft candy, jelly, Jelly beans, gummies, marshmallow, lollipops, and chewing gums) were collected from convenience stores and supermarkets. The inclusion criteria set for the selling outlet were based on the space size, the number of cashiers, and outlet brand name in the market. Consequently, convenience stores were identified as a small marketplace with a maximum two cashiers and is a nonmarket brand. Supermarkets are larger in size, with more than two cashiers, are a market brand, and have several branches throughout Oman, such as Carefour, LuLu, KM trading, Millennium, and Al-Meera. Furthermore, convenience stores are located in small neighborhoods where children can visit to buy sweets and snacks without the parental supervision, while supermarkets are designed for family shopping. Based on that, it is possible to assume that there are likely differences in the quality and type of candy confectionery sold in both places and hence explain the cheaper prices offered to children in convenience stores. A total of 192 items were collected: 98 items from supermarkets and 94 items from convenience stores. A systematic and random selection of these products was made based on two main inclusion criteria: (1) items were selected that display on the outer package the term “candy” and classified as candy confectionery and (2) items with a clear ingredient label that display either the “E number/ FD&C” code of food colors or food color name or both in Arabic and English languages. Items that did not display the above criteria were excluded. Permission was obtained from store managers and the person in charge of supermarkets and convenience stores to take 360° camera snapshot of the outer package of the selected products including the ingredient label for further study and analysis. The information collected from the items included: the code and name of food colors used, prevalence of synthetic and natural food colors and their frequencies, number and combination of food colors in each item and record any special warning statements related to consumption of food colors.

Statistical analysis

The statistical analysis of the results was conducted by using SPSS 23.0 package program. The independent Student t test and Welch t test were used to correlate between food color frequency of use and the selling outlets of supermarkets and convenience stores. A criterion P < 0.05 was used to determine the statistical significance.

   Results Top

Upon analysis of the data collected obtained from 192 products, 26 types of food colors (natural and synthetic) were recorded, namely, Curcumin/Turmeric, Riboflavin, Tartrazine, Quinoline Yellow, Sunset yellow FCF, Carmine, Azorubine, Ponceau 4R, Allura Red AC, Indigotine, Erythrosine, Brilliant Blue FCF, Chlorophylls, Copper complexes of Chlorophyll, Green S, Caramel, Carbon, Brilliant Black PN, Carotene derivatives, Brown HT, Paprika (capsicum) extract, Lutein, Beet root extract, Anthocyanins, Calcium carbonate, and Titanium dioxide. The prevalence and frequency of these food colors in the selected products based on the outlet type (convenience stores or supermarkets) are shown in [Figure 1]. Unique food colors were recorded only in a few candy items sold in supermarkets, for example, Erythrosine (E127) and Green S (E142), and a few sold in convenience stores, for example, Quinoline Yellow (E104), Ponceau 4R (E124), Brilliant Black (E151), and Brown HT (E155). [Table 1] summarizes the number of observations extracted from the overall data of samples collected from both supermarkets and convenience stores.
Figure 1 The prevalence of food colors, synthetic in red and natural in green columns, and frequency of use in the selected products based on outlet type (supermarkets, convenience stores, and in both).

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Table 1 List of observations recorded of the data collected from 192 candy products; 98 candies sold in supermarkets and 94 candies sold in convenience stores

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Generally speaking, the prevalence of natural food colors (14 colors) in candy confectionery was more than the synthetic food colors. Having said that, it seems the frequency of use of synthetic food color was more evident as Brilliant Blue FCF (E133) and Allura red AC (E129) were used more frequently in the studied sample. Around 60% of candy confectionery in the sample contain three or less food colors per product and the most common food color combinations were Brilliant Blue FCF (E133) + Allura Red AC (E129) followed by Carotene derivative (E160) + Anthocyanins (E163) and Sunset yellow FCF (E110) + Tartrazine (E102). It was really interesting to note that there was a variation between the candy confectionery sold in supermarkets and convenience stores in terms of the natural and synthetic food color content. A total of 39 products (39.8%) displayed in supermarkets contained 100% natural colors, while in the convenience stores displayed 100% synthetic colors in 40 products (42.6%). Although an overview of the collected data highlights some variation in the frequency of use of food colors in candy confectionery sold in supermarkets and convenience stores, statistical analysis using independent Student t test and Welch t test revealed an insignificant correlation.

   Discussion Top

The provision of food labeling on prepackaged foods has long been recognized as being one means of empowering consumers to make healthier food choices.[17] Food label, also known as ingredient label, is meant to provide consumers with information, which may influence their purchasing decisions. Before the 1990s, food manufacturers could simply affix the mysterious “food additive” tag to a product without actually having to specify the additive used. Consumer perception of color additives has continually been one of wariness. Foods with bright or strange coloration are seen as unnatural and alien, creating a sense of suspicion that anything so strange is probably harmful. This practice of labeling food colors provoked consumer concern and a desire to be better informed about the potential health implications of the use and consumption of such additives. In 1993, the US FDA issued new labeling guidelines mandated by the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act of 1990. These US FDA rules required food colors (especially synthetic colors) to be individually listed on product labels. This enforced detailed, honest, and accurate labeling to inform the consumer about the exact nature and characteristics of the food product content, enabling them to make a more informed choice.[17],[18],[19] Labeling provisions of food colors are based on the regulations followed in the market of import. For example, in Oman, the OS 58/1995 and Oman Ministerial Decree No. 74/2000 define Oman’s labeling requirements. It states that: “Labels must be in Arabic or can be bilingual, if one language is Arabic. If a consignment arrives without an Arabic label, the Ministry of Commerce may waive this requirement on a one-time basis or it may request the importer to add Arabic language stickers on the package before releasing the product. The required information must appear on the original label or primary packaging and the type of color additive must be declared clearly using either the common name or E-number code or both.” As the appearance of food labels on food items such as candy confectionery are regulated in Oman, it is therefore logical to consider and extract information about food colors exhibited on the food label of the selected products for research.[20]

General Observations

This study results revealed interesting observations about the use of food colors, either natural or synthetic types, in candy confectionery [see [Table 1] and [Figure 1]. In the sample of 192 candy confectionery items, the prevalence of natural and synthetic food colors was almost in a ratio of 1:1, but when it comes to the frequency of use of these colors, synthetic food colors such as Brilliant Blue FCF (E133) and Allura Red AC (E129) were used more and seen in most of the items in the collected sample. The variation in food color content whether natural or synthetic in the candy confectionery sold in supermarkets or convenience stores is worth highlighting. Items sold in supermarkets were found to contain four food colors that were frequently used: two were of a natural origin, Carotene derivatives (E160) and Anthocyanins (E163), and two were synthetic colors, Brilliant Blue FCF (E133) and Allura Red AC (E129). Meanwhile, in convenience stores, the four food colors were Brilliant Blue FCF (E133), Allura Red AC (E129), and Sunset yellow FCF (E110), which are synthetic colors, and Titanium dioxide (E171), which is a natural food color. Several studies were carried out in various countries to identify and quantify the presence of food colors in various food categories including sweets such as candy confectionery using analytical and product survey approaches and [Table 2] summarizes the most frequently used food colors recorded in these countries. The synthetic colors Tartrazine (E102), Sunset yellow FCF (E110), Allura Red AC (E129) and Brilliant Blue FCF (E133) appeared to be commonly used.[14],[16],[21],[22],[23],[24],[25],[26],[27],[28],[29],[30],[31],[32],[33],[34],[35]
Table 2 Reported food colors (natural and synthetic) commonly used in candy confectionary (hard candy, soft candy, jelly, jelly beans, gummies, marshmallow, lollipops and chewing gums) in different countries

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Although in our study synthetic food colors were encountered in many candy items, natural food colors such as Carotene derivatives (E160a) and Titanium dioxide (E171) as well as Anthocyanins (E163) were also in use. A similar observation was also reported by Diouf et al. in which Annatto (E160b), a carotenoid derivative, was the only natural food color reported along with other synthetic food colors, such as Tartrazine (E102), Ponceau 4R (E124), and Allura Red AC (E129) used in sweets.[25] The outcome presented in [Table 2] clearly shows the worldwide utilization of synthetic food colors as primary coloring agents in candy confectionery production. As candy confectionary are heavily consumed by children, health concerns were raised in relation to the effect of these synthetic food colors on children.[36],[37],[38] This created a pressure on the food industry to put more efforts into meeting public demand to use natural food colors, and hence the observations presented in our study could provide a sign of change.

Comparison of food colors used in candies sold in supermarkets and convenience stores

As given in [Table 1], items sold in supermarkets that contained 100% synthetic colors were 29 items (29.6%), while 40 items (42.6%) that contained 100% synthetic colors were sold in convenience stores. This variation can be explained, at least in part, by the nature of the outlets selling such items, which are marketed for children to consume. Supermarkets are large outlets governed by guidelines and restrictive regulations in relation to items sold in them. Furthermore, such outlets are designed for family shopping and rarely receive unaccompanied children, individually or as a group as customers. High quality and price of candy items sold in supermarkets could be, but not necessarily, associated with healthy choices. While convenience stores are accessible by children of different age groups and are not strictly regulated, candy items can be more affordable to children and hence could be, but not necessarily, associated with unhealthy choices. Although a variation in prevalence and frequency of food color used in candy confectionery sold in supermarkets and convenience stores can be noticed in numbers, statistical analysis using Student t test and Welch t test to correlate between the type of outlet and the mean frequency of use of food colors in candy revealed to be insignificant (P > 0.05) [Table 3].
Table 3 This table shows: A- Prevalence and frequency of natural and synthetic colors in the sample, and B- Statistical outcome of Student’s t-test and Welch’s t-test of various combinations between the type of outlet (supermarkets and convenience stores) and the frequency (f) of use of food colors (natural and synthetic) in candy confectionery.

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In a study done by Al-Harthy et al.,[39] it was reported that food additives such as emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, antioxidant and acidity regulators, taste enhancers, and preservatives were excessively used as 63.9% of food items typically consumed by children such as biscuits, crisps, and fruit juices contain more than three types of food additives per product. In our study, food colors appeared to be used in more controlled way in candy confectionery as the number of items sold in both supermarkets and convenience stores that contain more than three types of food colors were 35 (35.7%) and 36 (38.3%), respectively. The most common color combination was Brilliant Blue FCF (E133) and Allura Red AC (E129) and in lesser extent the combination between Tartrazine (E102) and Sunset yellow FCF (E110). Several combinations of food colors were reported in various studies, which include combinations of Brilliant Blue FCF (E129) and Tartrazine (E102), Tartrazine (E102) and Sunset Yellow FCF (110), and Erythrosine (E127) and Sunset yellow FCF (E110).[13],[15],[29],[40] Therefore, it is considered as a new finding to report the combination of two natural food colors Carotene derivatives (E160) and Anthocyanins (E163) in candy confectionery [Table 1].

Toxicology of food colors and pattern of consumption in children

Many reviews have discussed the health effects of synthetic and natural colors in food. Over the past century, it became evident that food colors have been found to cause more harm than any other category of food additives. Food colors may be associated with various complications, such as asthma, urticaria, abortion, hyperactivity of children, carcinogenicity, decreased IQ of children, anaphylactic reactions, idiosyncrasy, weakening of the immune system, decreased WBC and lymphocyte count, and vitamin B6 deficiency.[7],[36],[41],[42] As a result of such reports about food color safety concerns, several studies were conducted to investigate the consumption pattern of food that may contain food colors marketed for children such as candy confectionery and sweets.[13],[14],[22],[25],[32],[43],[44],[45] These studies provided useful information about the level of exposure of children to food colors and can contribute to the improvement of food regulator’s ability to monitor and regulate the use of specific food colors that might cause harm to children’s health and safety. Such research is lacking in Oman; however, a study done in Oman by Kilani et al.[46] showed that approximately 50% and more of students in secondary schools consume sweets. Consequently, our study could offer a rough prediction about children’s exposure to food colors. It is highly likely that children are at high risk of exposure to Tartrazine (E102), Sunset Yellow FCF (E110), Allura Red AC (E129), and Brilliant Blue FCF (E133) when they consume candy confectionery sold in supermarkets and convenience stores, and needless to say this prediction must be supported by further research. As some of these colors may have adverse effects on children, one-third of candy confectionery items carried a warning statement on the outer package stating: “E129, E110, E133, E102, E122 may have a negative effect on the activity and attention of children.” [Table 4] summarise the profile of the food colors reported in this research.[47],[48] Two natural food colors were commonly encountered in candy confectionery items, namely, Carotene derivatives (β-carotene, E160a) and Titanium dioxide (E171).
Table 4 Profile of the common food colors reported in the selected candy items sold in both supermarkets and convenience stores.[47],[48]

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There is ongoing debate regarding the safety of using Titanium dioxide (TiO2) as a food additive.[49] This white powder is used as a whitening and brightening agent in confectionery and these properties depend on the crystal phase, size, and shape of its particles. Therefore, TiO2 can be found to be as microparticles or as nanoparticles (NPs). The food-grade TiO2 was approved by US FDA in 2003 and by the EU in 2008 as a food additive and it has polydisperse microscale particle distribution. Since TiO2 NPs have better properties over the microparticles coarse food-grade TiO2, many manufacturers in food industry have started to use TiO2 NPs in food to improve the quality of their products. The popular use of TiO2 NPs in food industry raised questions regarding the safe use of such substance and encouraged revisiting their toxicokinetics of this food additive. To date, there has been limited research on toxicokinetics of TiO2 NPs after oral exposure and initial data suggest that the toxicokinetics of orally ingested TiO2 NPs was dose and time dependent.[50] Based on the limited data available, France decided to suspend the use of TiO2 NPs in food industry starting from January 1, 2020 for 1 year until more data are generated as well as reassessment to be issued by EFSA.[49],[51]

   Conclusion Top

Synthetic food colors such as Allura Red AC (E129) and Brilliant Blue FCF (E133) were reported in candy confectionery sold in Muscat, Oman. This research has also identified natural food colors such as Carotene derivatives (E160) and Titanium dioxide (E171) which were rarely reported in similar studies conducted in several countries as synthetic colors were predominant in candy confectionery and sweets. The prevalence of natural food colors in candy confectionery (14 colors) would indicate the successful impact of strict control and regulation in the use of food colors by authorities as well as the pressure from consumers on the candy confectionery industry. Although frequency of use of synthetic colors in candy confectionery sold in convenience stores was comparatively more than that recorded in supermarkets, statistical analysis revealed an insignificant correlation (P > 0.05) between the type of food color used in candy and the outlets where these items are sold.

   Study Limitations Top

Ingredient label found on the outer pack of the product is considered as an essential tool for communication with the consumer in relation to the food product content. As discussed in the methodology part, all the desired information were extracted from the ingredient label, which can be considered as accurate and reliable and allow for a logical research conclusion. Based on the above argument, an analytical investigation of food colors in candy confectionery was not performed otherwise it would support the conclusion drawn in this study. Therefore, it is an invitation for investigators to use a suitable analytical approach to identify and measure the content of food colors in candy confectionery sold in various outlets in Oman.


The authors appreciate the help of Ms Ruthmae I Brown for the critical reading of the manuscript. The authors also would like to thank the National University of Science and Technology for facilitating the publication of this work.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]

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