What is Annatto Extract and how does it differ to E160b Annatto Extract?
Annatto extract is a natural colouring agent derived from the seeds of the achiote tree (Bixa orellana), commonly used in various cuisines around the world. These seeds contain pigments known as bixin and norbixin, which impart a vibrant reddish-orange to yellow colour to foods and cosmetics. Annatto extract is typically flavourless, and therefore doesn't affect the taste of food. Its versatility allows it to be incorporated into various culinary applications, it adds colour to cheese, butter, and rice, among others. The pulp from annatto seeds was traditionally used by indigenous people to enhance lip colour .
However, you might also come across the term "E160b Annatto Extract" on food labels. E160b Annatto Extract is a food additive that serves as a synthetic colourant, particularly in processed foods. It's one of several substances classified as "Annatto Extract" but is not derived from the natural source, instead created through chemical processes.
Purported Health Implications of both natural annatto extract and E160b annatto extract
Annatto Extract (Natural):
Generally Safe and Tolerated: Annatto extract has received scientific interest mainly due to its high biodegradability, low toxicity, and compatibility with the environment. Natural annatto extract is generally regarded as safe by the FDA (US Food and Drugs Association) for use in food and drinks .
Antioxidant Properties: The pigments (bixin, a carotenoid) in natural annatto extract have antioxidant properties associated with the scavenging of harmful free radicals in the body, which may help combat oxidative stress and toxicity of body tissues [1,2,3].
Allergy to contaminated seed proteins: It should be noted that natural annatto seed extract may be contaminated with different proteins that are found naturally in the seed. These proteins may cause hypersensitivity or allergic reactions in individuals that are allergic to them .
E160b Annatto Extract (Synthetic):
Allergic Reactions: Some individuals may be sensitive or allergic to synthetic food colourants like E160b Annatto Extract, potentially experiencing skin rashes, swelling beneath the skin, or symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) . The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) notes that while synthetic annatto extracts (E160b) are widely found in foods, anaphylactic reactions were only reported in two cases (prior to 2016), therefore this event should be regarded as rare .
Recommendations for Safe Consumption
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had not established a specific Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for annatto extract as a food additive. As of 2019, the EFSA concluded that annatto extract does not raise concern for genotoxicity (damage to DNA) . EFSA concluded that the current level of exposure of annatto extract to the population does not pose a health concern .
Read Food Labels: When purchasing food products, check the ingredient list for the type of annatto extract used. Choose products that use natural annatto extract if possible.
Moderation: As with any food additive, including synthetic colourants like E160b Annatto Extract, moderation is key. Consume such products in reasonable amounts, especially if you or your children have a history of sensitivities.
Choose Natural Alternatives: Whenever possible, choose products that use natural food colourings or those that do not contain synthetic dyes. Natural alternatives, such as fruit and vegetable juices, can provide colour without the use of synthetic additives. Maintaining a diverse and balanced diet that includes a variety of foods, both with and without food colourings will help reduce the risk of overexposure to any specific additive.
Shahid-ul-Islam, Rather LJ, Mohammad F. Phytochemistry, biological activities and potential of annatto in natural colorant production for industrial applications – A review. Journal of Advanced Research [Internet]. 2016 May;7(3):499–514. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4856788/
Cardarelli CR, Benassi M de T, Mercadante AZ. Characterization of different annatto extracts based on antioxidant and colour properties. LWT - Food Science and Technology. 2008 Nov;41(9):1689–93.
Souza LF, Medeiros N da S, Santos PCP dos, Pagno CH, Nora CD, de Jong EV, et al. Antioxidants from Annatto Seeds as Possible Inhibitory Agents of the Hepatotoxicity Induced by the Antitumor Agent Cisplatin. Natural Product Communications. 2016 Sep;11(9):1934578X1601100.25.
Lis K, Zbigniew Bartuzi. Plant Food Dyes with Antioxidant Properties and Allergies—Friend or Enemy? Antioxidants [Internet]. 2023 Jun 28 [cited 2023 Oct 5];12(7):1357–7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10376437/
European Food Safety Authority. The safety of annatto extracts (E 160b) as a food additive. EFSA Journal. 2016 Aug;14(8).26.
European Food Safety Authority. Safety of annatto E and the exposure to the annatto colouring principles bixin and norbixin (E 160b) when used as a food additive | EFSA [Internet]. www.efsa.europa.eu. 2019 [cited 2023 Oct 5]. Available from: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/5626
We do our best to source robust information from a number of credible sources. There is, however, a large amount of information on various aspects of nutritional elements along with claims in terms of their contribution to helping in body health which may contradict the above.