Does Caramel Color Cause Cancer?

Used as a coloring agent in products ranging from colas and beer to gravies and soy sauce, caramel coloring may be the world’s most widely consumed food coloring. It helps grocery stores sell more than a billion servings of food and beverages a day. Unfortunately, the manufacturing of certain artificial caramel colorings can lead to the formation of carcinogens, such as 4-methylimidazole, which causes cancer in mice but not rats (or at least, not male rats). However, “it is unclear whether humans are more like mice or rats in terms of their response to the carcinogen.”

To be safe, California officially listed it as a carcinogen and started requiring warning labels on soft drinks containing more than 29 micrograms per serving (355 ml). The soft drink industry was unsuccessful in opposing the action, so they were forced to reduce carcinogen levels in their products—but only in California. Buy Coke anywhere else, and it may have up to five times the limit.

There’s another class of additives that the soda industry uses to make its soda brown (see Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola). There are other harmful additives in soda as well (Is Sodium Benzoate Harmful? and Diet Soda and Preterm Birth).

The junk food industry uses titanium dioxide to whiten processed foods (Titanium Dioxide & Inflammatory Bowel Disease).

The meat industry has also used potentially toxic additives for cosmetic purposes such as arsenic-containing drugs (Arsenic in Chicken) and phosphate additives in chicken to make poultry pink. Carbon monoxide is used to keep red meat red, and acanthoxanthins keep salmon pink (Artificial Coloring in Fish).

It’s amazing the risks the food industry will take to alter appearances.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

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Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson4 years ago

Everything causes cancer. Know your strengths and weaknesses.

JL A4 years ago

good to know

Denise Halbe
Denise Halbe4 years ago

As with so food and beverages the proliferation of added chemical concoctions such as caramel coloring are just not in anyone's best interest-- except the chemical companies and corps selling the products.

LMj Sunshine
James merritt jr4 years ago

Thank you.

Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M4 years ago

TYFS caramel isn't my preference

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga4 years ago


ERIKA S4 years ago

noted,thank you

Anne K.
Anne K4 years ago

Thank you!

Bryon S.
Bryon S4 years ago

@ Alan l "is there anything that doesn't cause cancer?"

Yes Alan. Unprocessed organic foods.

Christine W.
Christine W4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.