Skip to Content

In pictures: the factory where candy gets its colors

Plants like the one run by IFC Solutions in Linden, New Jersey make the pigments that color the food we eat.
buckets of food color materials
All photographs by Christopher Payne
December 18, 2020

IFC Solutions in Linden, New Jersey, makes both natural and artificial food coloring in “almost any desired shade,” according to the company. This variety of colors would have been tough to imagine in the mid-19th century, when the first artificial food color (purple) was produced from coal by-products. These “Color Bits” are prized by candy manufacturers because they are easy to mix into hot masses of candy but are low in moisture, which makes for a long shelf life.

Color Bits are made by oversaturating liquid colorants (left, ) and then adding a thickening agent, like corn sugar (right).

Scarlet Shade Red C (left tray) and Striping Red C (right tray) both get much brighter once diluted. If you've eaten a candy cane in the US, the red stripe is likely to have come from a tray like the one to the right. Both are proprietary blends based on Red 40, a synthetic dye also known as Allura Red. Once the resulting cake dries, it is chopped into bits.

collage of food color manufacturing
chopping food color
CHRISTOPHER PAYNE

Component"undefined"is not configured.

Deep Dive

Humans and technology

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

I just watched Biggie Smalls perform ‘live’ in the metaverse

An avatar of the singer, who died in 1997, performed with live rappers on Meta’s Horizon Worlds.

How Twitter’s “Teacher Li” became the central hub of China protest information

In his own words, the Chinese painter shares how he became a one-person newsroom during a week of intense protests against China's zero-covid policy.

Why my bittersweet relationship with Shein had to end

Reflecting on my desire for Chinese-style e-commerce platforms.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.