In 1962, with European Union’s directive on the use of colorants in foods, the E number was born. This meant that although the name of the food colour changed depending on which of the 23 official EU languages was used on ingredients list, the E number remained the same.
The directive featured 20 natural colours and 16 synthetic, all of which were deemed safe for human consumption and authorised for use by the food industry.
This list has been updated since to remove certain colours, such as Chrysoine S (E 103), Fast Yellow AB (E 105), Orange GGN (E 111) and Scarlet GN (E 125), over safety concerns.
E numbers include preservatives or flavourings but those used to colour foods all lie within the 100 – 199 range, with the ‘E’ standing for Europe.