#AskAChemist: Putting the fix in on Trix

In this episode of Ask A Chemist, it’s cereal business. A friend of mine texted me the following:


After a short exchange of texts on why cereal doesn’t require #capscapscaps or that much damn punctuation, we got into what’s going on with Trix.

No need to be so menacing SMG. It’s only cereal.

Back in the day (last month in the internet), General Mills announced it was “REMOVING ARTIFICIAL“.  Again with the caps, but let’s move on… General Mills says they are “…committed to removing artificial flavors and colors from artificial sources from the rest of cereals over the next 2-3 years.” So… they’re going with natural flavors and colors? What does “natural” mean? LOLZ – you’re not trapping me with “natural” again!

General Mills is removing the human-made colors Red 40, Yellow 6, and Blue 1 from a bunch of their cereals – including Trix . All three of these dyes are colorants covered by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), which means they get dubbed “FD&C dyes” or “FD&C color additives“. Red 40 (FD&C Red #40), Yellow 6 (FD&C Yellow #6), and Blue 1 (FD&C Blue #1) are all on List 1 of the FDA’s Color Additive Status List. What does being on List 1 mean?

Color additives subject to certification and permanently listed (unless otherwise indicated) for use in FOOD. Most are also listed for use in DRUGS AND COSMETICS as noted. (None of these colors may be used in products that are for use in the area of the eye, unless otherwise indicated). [excerpt from FDA’s List 1]

The FDA is cool with Red 40, Yellow 6, and Blue 1. Why is General Mills removing them? Because YOU said so.

Lately we’ve heard that artificial ingredients aren’t what you are looking for in your cereal today [excerpt from here]

Why aren’t YOU cool with human-made dyes?

Really, new girl? REALLY?

Well, you might be cool with ’em. But some of yous are clearly NOT. Let’s take a look at the colors that some of yous aren’t cool with.

booted GM dyes

Okay, what about the “natual” coloring agents that General Mills will use? Word on the street is that General Mills is going to use turmeric for yellow. Turmeric in Trix? Ummmmm… could be tasty, but it’s unlikely that General Mills is going to spice-up to their cereal. Curcumin, the chemical that gives turmeric its distinctive chemical color, can be extracted from the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa) and used as a coloring agent. For orange, General Mills is going with annatto, a colorant derived from the seed of the tropical tree Bixa orellana L

more chemicals
more chemicals

For red and purple, General Mills says they’ll use fruit and vegetable juice. Which fruits and vegetables? No official word from General Mills, but a good guess is a class of chemicals called anthocyanins, which are found red-to-violet colored fruits and vegetables like raspberries and blueberries, red cabbage, purple potatoes and grapes, etc.  A cool feature of anthocyanins is that pH causes a color change. From C&EN’s Coloring Food, Naturally:

When it comes to choosing and blending plant anthocyanins to add coloring to food, the most striking variable is the pH of the food. Cyanidin, an important anthocyanin found in dark fruits and vegetables, acts like a pH indicator. In an acidic beverage such as soda, it imparts a bright red color, but as the environment becomes more basic, the molecule loses hydrogen ions and turns purple, then dull blue.

Here’s a peak at cyandidin, a glucose (sugar)-bound anthocyanin:

source: C&EN Coloring Food, Naturally
source: C&EN Coloring Food, Naturally

Blue! We need blue, because General Mills booted FD&C Blue #1!

But getting blue in foods with neutral or low pH calls for more tweaking. “We’re still working on it. If you modify it too much, it’s not natural anymore,” Lauro says. ColorMaker’s new, more stable blue colorant solution is made with red cabbage liquid but also includes aluminum sulfate and sodium bicarbonate as pH buffers. [excerpt from C&EN’s Coloring Food, Naturally]


Wait a minute… if blue is tricky, what does that mean for Trix?! What will the new Trix look like? FEAST YOUR EYES ON THIS!

source: C&EN Chemistry in Pictures


source: C&EN Chemistry in Pictures

The future doesn’t contain turquoise or lime green. As noted by C&EN, “General Mills hasn’t found the right substitute for the bright Blue 1, so the future of the green and the blue pieces is still questionable.” Adjust your wardrobes accordingly.


Have a chemistry question? #AskAChemist!


Featured images from sodahead

Cruel Intentions gif from pandawhale

New girl gif from tumblr

FD&C Red #40 image from chemspider

FD&C Yellow #6 image from chemspider

FD&C Blue #1 image from chemspider

Annatto image from chemspider

Curcumin image from chemspider

Friends gif from ragtagriot

Lizzie McGuire gif from giphy


DrRubidium is an analytical chemist that spends her days finding needles in needlestacks. Also a science communicator, she focuses on the the science behind everyday stuff and pop culture.

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  1. The history of coal tar food dyes is interesting. In 1900 there were 80 odd colours in use but by 1980 only 8 were allowed in the US, 13 in Australia and 16 in Britain.

    In only 5 cases do all 3 countries agree. Of the 3 you mention, the safety status is high except for the FD&C red #40 (also known as Allura Red AC) which is banned in Britain.

    So, yeah, not everybody is cool with all of the things that you may be. Personally I don’t care too much because I am not sensitive to food colourings.

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