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Caramel colouring


E 150a, 150b-d | Food colouring
Possible application of gene technology Labelling
Raw material GM maize possible
Enzymes, manufactured with the help of genetically modified micro-organisms no



Caramel colouring is a mixture of various brown-coloured substances. It is produced by heating starch- or sugar-containing foodstuffs, e.g. by baking or roasting. In the production of caramel colouring, this browning reaction is carried out under controlled heating.

  • There are several varieties in use: plain caramel (E 150a), caustic sulphite caramel (E 150b), ammonia caramel (E 150c), and sulphite ammonia caramel (E 150d)


Caramel colouring is approved as a brown colouring for foodstuffs in general; it is used for:

As a protection against deception, certain food are not allowed to be coloured with caramel. For example, it cannot be used in bread and bakery products (with certain exceptions), as a brown colour could be taken as indicating a non-existent proportion of wholemeal.

Gene technology

Caramel colouring can be produced from sugar or glucose. For products using sugar produced from starch, gene technological applications can be used:

  • glucose can be produced from plant starches. Maize starch can comprise a certain percentage of genetically modified maize, especially when the raw material is imported from the USA or Argentina. In the EU, a relatively small area is planted with GM maize, which is not used as a raw material for food products. This could change if significantly more GM maize is planted. In future also: starch from potatoes or wheat.
  • enzymes breakdown the plant starches and converting them to the required ingredients or additives. Many of these enzymes are produced with the help of genetically modified microorganisms, e.g. amylasen, glucose isomerase and pullulanase.
  • sugar may stem from genetically modified sugar beets. In the EU, food and feed are allowed that are derived from a GM sugar beet that is grown in North America. Commercial cultivation of GM sugar beets is not planned for the near future in the EU.
    Currently in the EU, sugar is won from conventional beets exclusively.

Labelling: if the caramel colouring is produced directly from plants that have been genetically modified (e.g. maize, sugar beet), this must be labelled as such. Usually, however, many processing steps are necessary to produce caramel colouring from starches, glucose or sugar. So that it is not legally clear whether it must be declared.


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