E151 – Brilliant Black BN

E151 Brilliant Black BN consumer protection

What is the food additive E151 ?

E151, also known as Brilliant Black BN, is a synthetic food additive from the category of colorants. It provides a black color and it is approved for use in any type of food. Despite its widespread use, E151 has been the subject of much debate and analysis due to concerns about safety and potential health effects.

E151 is an azo dye, which means it contains a functional group characterized by a double nitrogen bond (N=N). The chemical structure of E151 includes complex aromatic compounds that give it a distinct black color. This dye is highly soluble in water, making it versatile for various food and beverage applications, and has the molecular formula C28H17N5Na4O14S4.

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What is the recommended daily dose ?

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that E151 is safe for use in the European Union, with a maximum acceptable daily intake (ADI) set at 1 mg/kg body weight per day. Some studies have suggested potential adverse effects, such as allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children.

The use of E151 varies globally; for example, it is banned in the United States, Canada, Japan, and Norway for safety reasons.

As a consumer, you can make informed choices about the foods you consume. Although E151 is approved in the European Union, you can choose products that do not contain it by checking ingredient labels for “E151”.

In which foods is the food additive E151 found ?

E151 is mainly used in the food and beverage industry to enhance the visual appeal of products. Brilliant Black BN (E151) is used in:

  • Jellies, brown sauces, and blackcurrant cake mixes.
  • Confections and candies to give a black or dark hue.
  • Soft drinks and flavored waters.
  • Bakery products, for coloring icing and decorations.
  • Ice cream, especially in flavors like licorice or blackberry.
  • Processed foods such as sauces and snacks to achieve a dark color.
  • Fish-based products, such as fish paste and semi-prepared shellfish, smoked fish.

Apart from food, E151 is also found in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and certain types of inks.

Read also – E141 food additive – copper complexes of chlorophylls


Contraindications and risks

Some studies suggest that E151 might break down into harmful compounds under certain conditions. Additionally, some azo dyes, including E151, have been linked to:

  • Allergic reactions: People with allergies, especially asthma, may experience reactions such as wheezing or hives.
  • Hyperactivity in children: Although inconclusive, some research suggests a possible link between E151 and other synthetic colorants and hyperactivity in children.

Limiting the amount of E151 in the diet

Given the controversies surrounding synthetic dyes like E151, there is growing interest in natural alternatives. Natural black food colorants include:

  • Charcoal powder – derived from activated charcoal.
  • Black sesame paste – used in various Asian cuisines.
  • Squid ink – common in mediterranean dishes.

These natural alternatives are often preferred for their perceived health benefits and lack of synthetic chemicals. Check food labels and opt for naturally colored foods whenever possible.

Remember that regulations regarding E151 vary by country. Look for products with clean labels or those that use natural additives. By installing the InfoCons app and scanning the barcodes of food products, you can find out the number and type of food additives in the app.

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Author – Cosmina Nițu

Master in Nutrition – Infant and new born nutrition


https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/ – European Food Safety Authority

https://www.researchgate.net – Research Gate

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov –  National Center for Biotechnology Information


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