Dyes Derived from Crude Oil Give Mac ’n’ Cheese Its Special Glow

A massive online petition calls for Kraft to nix Yellow Dyes #5 and #6 from its Macaroni & Cheese products.

Lisa Leake and Vani Hari demonstrate why Kraft's Macaroni & Cheese is just as good without the dangerous yellow dyes. (Photo: Youtube)

Mar 16, 2013· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Have you ever wondered how Kraft Macaroni & Cheese gets its electric orange-yellow glow? Let us introduce you to Yellow Dye #5 and Yellow Dye #6, two potentially harmful chemicals used in the North American versions of Kraft’s macaroni products.

Also known as Tartrazine and Sunset Yellow respectively, both yellow dyes are man-made chemicals derived from petroleum, a crude oil. These yellow dyes already been banned in countries like Norway and Austria and are linked to a host of disturbing side-effects like asthma, eczema and migraines, in addition to hyperactivity and learning impairments in children. The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that both dyes are also “contaminated with known carcinogens.”

That’s why Vani Hari of Food Babe and Lisa Leake of 100 Days of Real Food recently launched a Change.org petition calling on Kraft to remove yellow dyes #5 and #6 from its line of Macaroni & Cheese products.

The bloggers’ petition has already garnered almost a quarter of a million signatures.

According to the campaign, these dyes are conspicuously absent from Kraft’s U.K. versions of Macaroni & Cheese. Why? Because the Brits already revolted over their potentially harmful side-effects, demanding the company remove them. And now, Hari and Leake hope to pressure Kraft into doing the same for its North American customer base.

In their video, the bloggers ate both the Stateside and British versions, concluding they tasted and looked virtually the same. So it seems that Kraft found a safer way to elicit that orange-yellow glow and cheesy taste without using these chemicals on their British consumers, but continues to use them on their American ones.

It’s true that no one is forced to buy mac ’n’ cheese, and no one should expect it to be a “health food.” But if the company has already discovered a way to re-create an authentic taste and appearance with safer ingredients, doesn’t corporate responsibility dictate they do so? And aren’t the concerns of its American customers just as important as their British counterparts?

In response to the campaign, a Kraft spokeswoman released this public statement, “The safety and quality of our products is our highest priority and we take consumer concerns very seriously,” she said. “We carefully follow the laws and regulations in the countries where our products are sold. So in the U.S., we only use colors that are approved and deemed safe for food use by the FDA.”

Let’s take a closer look at that: First, FDA approval isn’t necessarily a stamp of safety. According to Hari and Leake’s recent appearance on the Dr. Oz Show, there are over 91 artificial dyes previously used in foods and cosmetics that were at one point “FDA-approved” but are now banned.

Second, in the U.K.’s Macaroni & Cheese products, yellow dyes #5 and #6 were easily replaced with paprika and beta carotene, two natural substances that don’t alter the look or taste of the food. Their only caveat: They’re more expensive to use.

Whatever Kraft’s reasoning, the company should take heed—online petitions are powerful weapons that can yield tremendous results in altering our food-system landscape. Recently, the makers of Gatorade acquiesced to a Change.org petition started by a 16-year-old student, who demanded the company forgo the use of brominated vegetable oil from its citrus-flavored drinks.

In addition to the online campaign and its overwhelming press coverage on news outlets like NBC and CNN, consumers have also taken to Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese Facebook page, inundating it with comments insisting the company change its recipe.

The food giant can dig in its heels all it wants, but considering the online popularity of bloggers Hari and Leake, and the determination of American moms to keep potentially dangerous chemicals out of their children’s mouths, it appears that Kraft is in for quite a fight. Buckle up.

Would you buy foods made with Yellow Dyes #5 and #6? Let us know in the Comments.