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What You Need to Know about Hot Tamales Candy

Benzidine-based dyes commonly used in pharmaceuticals are also found in popular candy, which may lead to adverse health issues.
Published Online: Sep 13,2017
Alyssa Pirestani
Since its introduction in 1950, Hot Tamales candy are among the most popular sweet for people of all ages. In fact, in 1999, it was the top selling cinnamon candy. No movie theater is without Hot Tamales on their shelves. 

But under all of the candy’s cinnamon flavor, spicy scent, and chewy texture, hides a danger that many are still unaware of or choose to ignore in exchange for eating the spicy hot treat. 

Did you know that the food dyes used in the candy have a negative impact on your health?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in Washington, DC, discovered a connection between artificial food dyes and behavioral problems in children. This is why they petitioned the FDA to ban artificial food dyes. Further study also revealed that certain approved artificial food dyes can cause hypersensitivity reactions and are carcinogenic.

Let’s Talk Dyes
Among the ingredients of a box of Hot Tamales are the following artificial food colors: Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, and Blue 2 Lake. Benzidine is present in Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, which is a carcinogen that is permitted to be used on human and animals at low, safe levels.

But how can you ensure consumption of benzidine is safe when people may consume Hot Tamales by the box or more in a day, week, or month?

In 1985, FDA calculated that the ingestion of free benzidine increases the risk of cancer just under the “concern” threshold, which is 1 out of a million people. What the FDA failed to determine, however, is the free benzidine released by intestinal enzymes, which increases exposure to carcinogens.

Add to this the carcinogens present in the environment and other food items, and the risk of cancer is significantly high. So why should people be alarmed about benzidine in dyes?

Benzidine-based dyes are used in printing inks, paints, paper, and pharmaceuticals. Clearly, it doesn't belong in Hot Tamales candy—or any other candy for that matter—because eating benzidine is virtually ingesting printer ink or paint.  

Every artificial coloring in Hot Tamales also comes with other health concerns, apart from the risk that benzidine presents.
  • Red 3 (Erythrosine) causes thyroid tumors and has been banned by the FDA.
  • Red 40 (Allura Red) triggers hyperactivity and allergic reactions in children and accelerates tumors in the immune system in mice used in laboratory experiments.
  • Yellow 5 (Tartrazine) triggers hyperactivity disorders, severe hypersensitivity, and other children’s behavioral issues. 
  • Yellow 6 (Sunset Yellow) triggers hypersensitivity in children and may cause adrenal tumors. 
  • Blue 1 (Brilliant Blue) causes kidney tumors in mice used in laboratory experiments.
  • Blue 2 (Indigo Carmine) is shown to cause brain tumors in rats used in laboratory experiments.
Other commercial candy products that use Green 3 (Fast Green) food color may also pose health dangers to consumers. This is because the artificial color has been shown to increase tumors in the testes and bladder of male rats used in laboratory experiments.