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Dyes found in Chicken tikka masala

March 24, 2004 08:26 IST

Less than 24 hours after British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised business process outsourcing as a potential benefit to the United Kingdom's economy, another Indian export has come under attack from different quarters.

Chicken tikka masala has arguably done more to raise India's profile in the UK than the Kohinoor diamond or even the Taj Mahal. But now the dinner dish, which is reportedly even more popular than fish-and-chips, has tested positive for food dyes that may cause hyperactivity, asthma and even cancer.

Random checks carried out on 102 samples found that more than half were using dangerous quantities of dyes that exceeded the permissible limits.

Chef James Martin, who carried out the tests on behalf of Surry County Council, focused on three chemical dyes known as Tartrazine, Sunset Yellow and Ponceau that are each linked to hyperactivity in children.

He specifically concentrated on these three because they are the most widely used by Indian restaurants -- but the proportions to be used are limited by law.

His report emphasises that the dyes are only dangerous if taken in excess and over a long period of time. Some of them are nevertheless banned in certain countries.

Tartrazine, a dye made from coal tar, is banned in Norway, Finland and Austria. It is used elsewhere in cakes, soft drinks and sauces although it is said to be dangerous for asthmatics and aspirin users.

Sunset Yellow, banned by Norway and Finland, has been linked to chromosome damage, kidney tumours, abdominal pain, hives, nausea and vomiting.

Ponceau, banned by the US and Norway, in believed to cause cancer in animals.

Chad Rahman -- executive chef of the Mumtaj restaurant in St Albans on the outskirts of London -- believes restaurants should use more natural ingredients like turmeric, saffron and paprika, said. "I'm staggered that so many are using these materials at these levels," he said. "There is no need to do so because their presence is merely for aesthetic reasons."

In comments highlighted on Tuesday morning in the UK national media, he commented, "The reason why these restaurants use it [in such quantities] is because else the customer will say: It's not bright red, this is not chicken tikka masala; and restaurants fear losing trade. Colouring does not enhance the flavour of the food but a lot of people eat with their eyes.

"If consumer awareness is increased, it would encourage restaurants to avoid the colouring agents and concentrate on the customer's health."

Shyam Bhatia in London