Is Red 40 Vegan?

Red 40 is an artificial flavor that frequently finds its way onto the label of many confectionary items, as well as beverages. As a vegan, this is likely to make you curious to know more, and rightly so. 

With this in mind, many people want to know if Red 40 is vegan? The answer isn’t so simple, so we are going to take a closer look. 

What Is Red 40 Used For?

A controversial food dye that is one of the world’s most common, Red 40 is a sensitive subject for many vegans. 

You will find it as an additive in almost every kind of food imaginable, from sports drinks, to ice cream, dressings, red frosting, cereals, popsicles, pickles, and even health-style beverages such as herbal teas. 

It can even be mixed with yellow food colors to make the likes of peanut butter a more desirable caramel color. 


This synthetic color additive is made from petroleum byproducts or coal tar. This should mean that it is plant-based, right?

The truth is that this ingredient is not tested on animals and therefore could be considered vegan if it wasn’t for its chequered history (and present) of animal testing. 

It is made by mixing ingredients in a certain order, creating molecules from petroleum. It is an “azo dye” (the name derives from nitrogen atoms) and is used in clothing and food coloring. To see if it is safe for human consumption. It has been tested on animals.

This is why many vegans will not buy products with Red 40 on the ingredient list.

Is Red 40 Tested On Animals?

Food dyes are forever going to be controversial, especially for a vegan. As someone who follows a plant-based diet, you tend to have a conscience that doesn’t let you off the hook when it comes to animal cruelty.

Some food dyes were tested on animals long ago, but Red 40 is still being used in trials. In the EU, it has been tested within the last few years by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

In this time, Red 40 was tested on cows and rats, with the former being euthanized after so further tests could be conducted on their organs. For some, they were forced to digest large quantities of Red 40 to the point where they perished.

The fact that they are still testing the ingredient is concerning in itself. If they are still unsure as to whether it should be consumed, why is it still found in food? 

Health Risks In Animals

So these studies have been heinous, especially when considering the results of forcing animals to digest large quantities of Red 40.

It wasn’t long ago that research found that some animals recorded allergic reactions, and consuming Red 40 damaged the reproductive systems of rats. There were also reports of tumors in mice.

Is Red 40 Made From Bugs?

It is not made from bugs, but the confusion is understandable. This is because there is another dye called Red 4 that is made from cochineal bugs and is known as carmine or carminic acid.

There are vegans that will still consume products made from this, but generally, most will avoid Red 4.

To save you from confusion, Red 40 is not made from bugs. 

Does Red 40 Have Other Names?

Yes, look out for the following on food labels to be sure you know what you are consuming:

  • Allura Red AC
  • FD&C Red 40
  • Red 40 Lake
  • Red 40 Aluminum Lake
  • CI Food Red 17
  • INS No. 129
  • E129

It goes by different names depending on where it has been produced and sold, so be careful when buying imported foods and goods.

Almost every red-colored food in the US will use Red 40 to make their product look this way.

Red 40 Health Concerns

Studies have linked Red 40 to causing hyperactivity. This is the tip of the iceberg as there has also been research conducted to see if it increases the risk of cancer. The same research has been carried out for artificial colors Yellow 5 and Yellow 6.

Does Avoiding Products Tested On Animals Help?

This is a hot topic that will divide any table, vegan or not. 

As someone who follows a plant-based diet, it is a matter of principle, and everyone has different standards. Living a cruelty-free life will mean it should be avoided, but things are never that simple.

As a widely used ingredient, it could be said that boycotting such an ingredient is unlikely to have the desired effect. 

But having an impact is not always about the big numbers, it is about taking a personal stand. With testing likely to continue, it might feel like a lost cause for some vegans, but following this plant-based diet is much more than that, so we commend anyone who sticks to their guns on this one.

Where Is Red 40 Banned?

There are always rumpus floating around that this ingredient has been banned in X country, so far, this has not been the case. 

The EU has had some words of warning for consumers that Red 40 could have an effect on the activity and attention of children. The fact that it is still being tested on animals shows that governing bodies are still concerned. 

This is enough for many people to avoid it altogether. 

What Is The Vegan Alternative To Red 40?

Some brands are waking up to the fat that using Red 40 (as well as other dyes) is cruel. To make your homemade foods red but using natural, plant-based alternatives, here are some options that are cruelty-free:

  • Beet juice
  • Pomegranate juice
  • Raspberry juice
  • Cherry juice

This will all provide vibrant red color to your foods.

Final Word

One of the saddest things about Red 40 is that it is completely pointless. All it does is turn food a different color. It has no impact on the flavor or texture of a product. 

You don’t have to be a strict vegan to want to avoid all products containing Red 40. This ingredient shows that it always pays to read the label and do a little research.

Featured Image: Startaq, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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