Hypersensitivity reactions to food colours with special reference to the natural colour annatto extract (butter colour)

Arch Toxicol Suppl. 1978;(1):141-3. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-66896-8_16.


It is well known that synthetic food colours especially some azo dyes can provoke hypersensitivity reactions such as urticaria, angioneurotic oedema, and astma (Michaëlsson and Juhlin, 1973, Granholt and Thune, 1975). Natural food colours are scarcely investigated with respect to potential allergic properties. Annatto extract, a commonly used food colour in edible fats e.g. butter, has been tested in patients. Among 61 consecutive patients suffereing from chornic urticaria and/or angioneurotic oedema 56 patients were orally provoked by annatto extract during elimination diet. Challenge was performed with a dose equivalent to the amount used in 25 grammes of butter. Twentysix per cent of the patients reacted to this colour 4 hours (SD: 2,6) after intake. Similar challenges with synthetic dyes showed the following results: Tartrazine 11%, Sunset Yellow FCF 17%, Food Red 17 16%, Amaranth 9%, Ponceau 4 R 15%, Erythrosine 12% and Brillant Blue FCF 14%. The present study indicates that natural food colours may induce hypersensitivity reactions as frequent as synthetic dyes.

MeSH terms

  • Angioedema / chemically induced
  • Butter
  • Drug Eruptions / etiology
  • Drug Hypersensitivity / etiology*
  • Female
  • Food Coloring Agents / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects*
  • Urticaria / chemically induced


  • Food Coloring Agents
  • Plant Extracts
  • Butter