Is 150a vegan?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, ‘Is 150a vegan?’ and will discuss the safety concerns of 150a.

Is 150a vegan?

Yes, 150a is vegan. Carbohydrates are heated at a certain temperature and time to produce a dark-brown liquid or solid product. Carbohydrate to produce 150a is obtained sloley from plant sources, so it is vegan. 

There are four types of caramel colors used as food colorings: E150a (Class I), E150b (Class II), E150c (Class III) and E150d (Class IV). The caramel colors are a complex mixture of compounds produced by heating carbohydrates under controlled heat and chemical processing conditions (1). 

E150 is the European food additive number for caramel color, often known as caramel coloring. It is one of the oldest and most widely used food and beverage colorings. When added to food, it may produce a rainbow of hues, ranging from a light yellow to an amber brown. 

According to studies, the economic value of natural colors surpassed certified colors, which also estimated a global color market equivalent to $1.45 billion per year in 2009, an increase from the $1.2 billion in 2007. In the same year, 31% of the market was attributed to colors from natural sources at a 5% annual growth, while certified colors grew by only 1%. The global market for natural colors increased by almost 35% from 2005 to 2009, led by the EU marketplace at 36% and followed by the United States with an increase of 28% (4).

What is Caramel Color made up of, exactly?

Polysaccharides and reactants are two of the basic components needed to produce this hue. 

All four caramel classes are prepared by the heat treatment (caramelisation) of carbohydrates. The reaction is controlled with respect to temperature and pressure, but no information was provided about the actual temperature or pressure used. In all cases the carbohydrate raw materials are commercially available food grade nutritive sweeteners consisting of glucose, fructose, invert sugar and/or polymers thereof (e.g. glucose syrups, sucrose or invert sugars, and dextrose). To promote caramelisation and hence produce greater color intensity, food-grade acids, alkalis or salts may be used (1).

·         Different sources of carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are found in food-grade nutritive sweeteners, such as glucose syrups, sucrose, and/or invert syrups, and dextrose.

·         Reactants

Acids, alkalis, salts, ammonium, and sulfite are among the authorized reactants that are used to enhance caramelization.

Varieties of caramel color

There are four distinct kinds of food additives that have been categorized by the FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) based on the various reactants (catalysts) used in the production process (1).

First-class: E150a.

It does not include ammonium or sulfuric acid. Caramel color is sometimes known as caustic or simple caramel. An ADI of “not specified” was allocated for Class I caramel. Plain Caramel) could be considered as a natural constituent of the diet, and that a toxicological discrimination between caramel produced by cooking or heating sugars (burnt sugar caramel) and caramel colors commercially produced (1).

Second class: E150b

No ammonium in the reaction. Caustic sulphite caramel is also known as caustic sulfite. Sodium sulfite, potassium sulfite, sodium bisulfite, and sulfurous acid are the only ammonium compounds employed in the sulfite compounds. An ADI of 160 mg/ kg bw was established for Class II caramel color. The volume of production of Class II caramel color represented less than 1% of all the total production of caramel colors, and mainly used in distilled spirits (2).

Third class: E150c

Sulfite is absent from the ammonium reactant. Ammonia caramel is another name for it. There are no sulfite compounds utilized when ammonium compounds (ammonium hydroxide, ammonium carbonate, ammonium hydrogen carbonate) are present. 2-acetyl-4(5)-tetrahydroxybutylimidazole (THI), a reaction product formed in Class III ammonia caramel. THI was found to induce lymphocytopenia in rats, according to studies (2).

Fourth class: E150d

A mixture of sulfite and ammonia as a sulfite ammonia caramel, it is also known as Sulfite and ammonium compounds are present. 4-methylimidazole, which is considered toxic and can lead to cancer, can be formed by the interaction of ammonia with reducing sugars. It can be formed during the production of Class III and IV caramel colors and in products containing these colors such as soy sauce, wine, dark beers, soft drinks and other foods and from the production processes used in some products such as coffee, breads and baked goods (2).

 Caramel Color’s ingredients

Caramel color is a combination because caramelization is a complicated and poorly understood process that creates hundreds of chemical compounds.

Cooking causes sugar to caramelize, resulting in a darker color. Temperature and type of carbohydrate influence the degree of incomplete decomposition, dehydration, and polymerization that occurs throughout the process.

At 160°C, sucrose breaks down into glucose and fructan. When the temperature rises over 200 degrees Fahrenheit, the isotope may be polymerized into a caramel alkane (C24H36O18)n and a caramel olefin (C36H50O25).

After caramelization, the final product is a combination of the dehydrated polymers mentioned.

During the production process, a number of chemical reactions take place, some which are responsible for the formation of high molecular weight constituents responsible for the distinctive colors associated with caramel colors, but others that result in the formation of low molecular weight  substances such as 4-MeI, THI, 5-hydroxymethylfurfual  and furan; low levels of residual sulfites are also found in some caramel colors. The choice of ingredients and production conditions (e.g., temperature, pressure, time, pH) impact the chemical and physical properties including color shade and intensity associated with the high molecular weight constituents and the type and quantity of low molecular weight substances formed (2).



Solids or liquids have a burned sugar odor that is dark brown to black.

Strength of color

Caramel color is described by its color intensity or tinctorial powder.

It is defined as the absorbance of a 0.1 percent weight/volume solution measured at 560 nanometers using a high-quality spectrophotometer, which is a 1 cm light path through the solution. The deeper the Caramel Color, the greater the Tinctorial Power, K0.560.

Color intensity

The absorbance of a 0.1 percent (w/v) solution of caramel color solids in water at 610 nm is characterized as color intensity.

The color index

Caramel color may be measured in terms of its hue index. It is determined by the absorbance at 510 and 610-nanometer wavelengths. An increase in this indicator indicates that the caramel hue is becoming more reddish in appearance. The correlation relates a certain amount of absorbance of a 0.1% (w/v) caramel color solution at 610 nm for each class of caramel to 20,000 EBC units. For Class I, for example, 0.053 absorbance units correlates to 20,000 EBC; the correlation for Class III is 0.076 absorbance units; and the correlation for Class IV is 0.085 absorbance units. Experience has shown that the correlation value for a double-strength Class IV (color intensity 0.200–0.270) caramel color should be 0.104 (3).

·         Yellow to red-brown tones make up the majority of Class I.

·         From extremely yellow to dark red-brown colors are included in Class II.

·         Light browns to dark red-browns make up Class III.

·         In this class IV, the color ranges from light brown to black.

Charged Ions

A caramel hue may have positive, negative, or neutral ionic (electrochemical) colloidal charges depending on the production procedure. Negatively charged caramel color accounts for the majority of the color ingested today. The ionic charge is the most common factor in the application (3).


Powdered and liquid forms are both water-soluble. A paste or emulsion is formed as a consequence of dispersing in an oil system.

Whether caramel color is safe to consume?

Yes, the FDA, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), and other agencies have confirmed its safety as a food additive.

However, there is a recommended ADI for the safe consumption of these colorings, specially caramel III and IV. The JECFA has established an acceptable daily intake of 200 mg/kg/day for caramel Color III. The safety of caramel Color III has been questioned during recent years following feeding studies in rats that were associated with reduced white cell and lymphocyte counts. These effects have been attributed to the presence of 2-acetyl-4(5)-tetrahydroxybutylimidazole in this class of caramel color (3).

In addition, caramel classes III and IV contain 4-Methylimidazole (4-MeI). The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified 4-MeI as a group 2B human carcinogen – “possibly carcinogenic to humans” – based on sufficient evidence in experimental animals (2). 


Good manufacturing practices are required to ensure that it is safe to use.


According to the European Union’s Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 on food additives, EFSA caramel colors are permitted as food additives in compliance with Annex II and Annex III (1). 

Reassessment in 2011 of safety

E 150c (Class III Ammonia Caramel) has an individual ADI (acceptable daily intake) of 100 mg/kg BW/day due to the immunotoxicity of one of its constituents, which was established by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2011 following a study on genotoxicity, carcinogenicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and other factors.

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In this brief guide, we answered the query, ‘Is 150a vegan?’ and discussed the safety concerns of 150a.


  1. EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS). Scientific opinion on the re‐evaluation of caramel colours (E 150 a, b, c, d) as food additives. EFSA J, 2011, 9, 2004.
  2. Vollmuth, Thomas A. Caramel color safety–an update. Food chem toxicol, 2018, 111, 578-596.
  3. Sengar, G., Sharma, H.K. Food caramels: a review. J Food Sci Technol, 2014, 51, 1686–1696. 
  4. Simon, James E., et al. Establishing standards on colors from natural sources. J food sci, 2017, 82, 2539-2553.