Until 1976, amaranth was a popular food coloring in the United States and many countries around the world. It was used to make processed foods appear fresh or more cosmetically appealing to consumers. The FDA in the United States has since banned amaranth and it is also banned in Russia, Norway and Austria. Accept for use in caviar, this synthetic colorant is also restricted in France and Italy.
The ban on amaranth in the United States and several other countries is the result of numerous studies citing links to cancer in laboratory animals as well as birth defects, stillbirths, sterility and early foetal death. Amaranth has also been found to cause female rodents to reabsorb some of their own fetuses.
Because amaranth is an azo dye, it has been proven to provoke asthma, eczema and hyperactivity as well as allergic reactions, similar to nettle rash, among asthmatics and individuals who are sensitive to aspirin. Amaranth is not recommended for consumption by children and is considered very dangerous as it increases hyperactivity in affected children.
In the early 80s, amaranth was replaced by another additive/coloring called “allura red.” Allura red is an orange-red synthetic azo dye believed to produce a slightly less severe reaction by asthmatics and individuals who are intolerant to aspirin, however, allura red has also been linked to cancer in laboratory animals and the substance has been banned in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. Individuals with skin sensitivities are advised to avoid allura red.
Allura red is used as an additive/coloring in sweets, dairy, confections, biscuits, gelatin, condiments, beverages, puddings, cake mixes and fruit flavored fillings. The substitute is also used in drugs and cosmetics.