Erythrosine is a synthetic red dye used primarily to color food. Since dyes and additives must be listed on packaging in many countries, consumers may note that it can also be called FD&C No. Red 3, E 127, Red 14, or by its chemical name, disodium 2 (2,4,5,7-tetraiodo- 3-oxido- 6- oxoxanthen-9-yl) benzoate monohydrate. Although it is allowed in many countries, there are often reservations about its safety.
Erythrosine most commonly is used to color food. Jarred cherries, such as maraschino cherries, are often colored with erythrosine. Other foods that are colored with this synthetic dye include cake icing, colored pistachio shells, lunch meat, hot dogs, pâté, and salmon spread. It is also used in dental tablets that leave a red residue behind on teeth to indicate areas of plaque build-up. In addition, it is often used by the printing industry for some varieties of red or cherry-pink inks.
There are two sets of thought when it comes to erythrosine: it should be used or it should not be used. People who claim that erythrosine is beneficial say that it colors items better than other red dyes. Consequently, it takes less erythrosine to develop a richly colored product than it would take of other red dyes. The theory continues that less dye is better, so erythrosine is better. In addition, proponents may point out that it is one of the few kosher red dyes. Others point out that it may cause negative side effects. Specifically, research studies have shown it may have a negative effect on the thyroid gland in animals, and it may create sensitivity to light. In addition, dyes in food have been linked to hyperactivity in children.
Each country is handling the dye in a different manner. In Australia and New Zealand, the chemical traditionally was only used in preserved cherries; however, there was a large push to allow its use in candies and cookies. The debate is on-going in those countries. In South Africa, it was used in Strawberry Nesquick™, but those products were removed from the stores in the 1990s and the dye can now only be used in meats, preserved cherries, and icing. In the United Kingdom, retailer ASDA announced in 2007 that it would remove the dye from its private label products.
Consumers generally can find out if foods contain erythrosine, or more commonly FD&C No. Red 3, by reading the label on the foods they purchase. Some countries have banned its use or limited it to a few products. There are certain countries, however, such as China and India, which have few regulations on dyes and additives.