Why should I be worried about natural colour annatto?

Annatto Seeds

Annatto Seeds

I was surprised recently to discover that a popular brand of frozen fries uses food colouring – natural colour annatto. There’s something wonderfully reassuring about ‘natural’ when it’s marketing products despite how ambiguous it is; nature is full of things, from lions to mushrooms, that will kill us with ease.

What is annatto?

Pungent red seeds from the annatto tree are used to provide a golden colour and tangy flavour in many processed foods; it can also be used as a colouring agent in cosmetics. This colouring is often referred to as natural colour (annatto), annatto extract, or colour E160b.

They are also used in Mexican, Latin, and Carribbean cooking as a culinary spice, to make achiote oil, and to make adobe paste.

What are its benefits?

The seeds have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years in Caribbean and Latin American cultures. It’s believed that they can have a number of benefits including helping digestion, eye health, bone health, and aging.

Why should I be concerned?

Annatto as a colouring agent can have just as much of an adverse effect on children as artificial food colours. As a parent you might keep a watchful eye to see if artificial red colouring will make your child hyperactive but most of us won’t be aware that a natural colour, that can be found in everything from butter spreads to fries, can cause just as strong an adverse reaction (across the spectrum from neurotypical to autistic). It can also be tricky to become aware of the link between food and behaviour because there can be a time delay, of a few hours to next day, before a normally bright, bubbly, sociable child becomes a  screaming, angry, yelling, defiant and hysterical one. It’s particularly useful to be aware of if you have an atopic family where food sensitivities, allergies, and eczema are a issue.

Families with children sensitive to annatto have reported side effects such as:

  • Irritability
  • Grumpiness
  • Headaches
  • Headbanging
  • Hyperactivity
  • Oppositional behaviour
  • Extreme mood swings (that are out of character)
  • Irritable bowel symptoms
  • Hives / Rashes
  • Asthma
  • Severe allergic reactions

 

Where can I find more information?

I started looking into annatto while reading Sue Dengate’s Fed Up; the most useful online source that I found was a Fact Sheet from the Food Intolerance Network which includes references to scientific studies and personal experiences from a number of affected families.

Make your own rainbow crayons!

Making rainbow crayons.jpg

Making rainbow crayons

Have you ever seen those PinInterest posts where they talk about how easy it is to make your own crayons? They tell the truth! These are a great idea for a special & personalized gift, or as favours in homemade christmas crackers (bonbons), or just because it’s a rainy day!

Ingredients

  • Silicon mould tray
    • Be careful to choose one that can go in the oven.
  • Crayons
    • This can be a great way to use up spare crayons or crayon ends.
  • Optional: glitter & sparkles!

Directions

  1. Break your crayons into small pieces (i.e. adult thumb nail); you may need to use a knife.
  2. Pop them into the silicon mould. Have a think about what kind of colours you want (i.e. rainbow? ocean theme with various shades of blue & green?)
  3. Add sparkles & glitter shapes if you want.
  4. Bake in the oven at 200’C. Keep a close eye on them as you only need it in there until the crayon has melted into a thick liquid (i.e. you’re not trying to get it to bubble & boil).
  5. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  6. Pop out of the moulds and have fun!
Rainbow heart crayons.jpg

Rainbow heart crayons

Hint: Wondering what to use the silicon mould tray for afterwards? It’ll probably need to get relegated to your arts & crafts box (rather than cooking in the kitchen). The good news is that it’s great for paint!

Silicon moulds as artists easel.jpg

Silicon moulds as artists easel

Sometimes it’s all a matter of perspective

Annoying mess or modern art?

Buttons are great for playing and learning (once toddlers are old enough not to put them in their mouths).

I emptied my Bag of Buttons into a wooden tray and we practiced counting, colours, sorting (by colour), shapes, and sizes (big/small). She also just had fun moving them around.

Inevitably some ended up on the floor and I joined in the game. Not only did this make her joyfully delighted but I’d carefully chosen an afternoon when we weren’t in a hurry and dinner was cooked (leftovers). The floor being covered in food / colouring pencils / toys etc isn’t uncommon as a parent. It can be incredibly frustrating and it’s nice to have a change of perspective and see it as art instead.

Then we played treasure hunt. We collected the buttons into our treasure chest. She was surprisingly focussed and I found it surprisingly peaceful. It was fun finding buttons with flowers on them, or admiring different shades of colours, or unusual shapes.