It is a beautiful face. A large freshly prepared paella with the contrasting colors of lobsters, mussels and the distinctive yellow rice. But what is it that gives paella its specific color? There are several ways to give paella a yellow color. The color is created by the combination of saffron, yellow colorant and the other ingredients of the paella.
Saffron, the red gold
Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world. The nickname ‘the red gold’ is entirely in place. But, if saffron is red, how can it make the paella so intense yellow? Saffron is not.
Because saffron has a deep red color and dissolves this dye well in water, the water certainly gets a yellowish color. However, very little saffron is used to make a paella.
The amount of saffron strings in paella is far too little to give the dish an intense yellow color. The addition of saffron is not for the coloring of the paella. It is for the taste.
Saffron has a robust and hay-like taste, which fits very well in a dish like a paella. To extract maximum flavor from the saffron, it is good to rinse the saffron strings for a while in a bit of hot water.
During the rinsing process, the saffron does not only give off flavor but also colorant. You can see the water turning yellow slowly at first. However, you’ ll soon see that it is not concentrated enough to color the entire paella.
Dye gives paella its specific color
Saffron positively contributes a bit to the coloring of paella. In most cases, however, it is a synthetic dye that gives paella its specific color. This is Tartrazine.
Tartrazine, also known as e-number E102 is a synthetic dye that gives the paella an intense yellow color. In Spain, this dye is often referred to as ‘ Colorante.’
Because tartrazine can trigger intolerance symptoms or hyperactivity on children, the dye is now banned in a couple of countries.
Within the European Union, however, the product may be used. It is often used in yellow-colored candy and yellow-colored desserts, for example, to reproduce the color of vanilla.
So are you going to eat paella and are you going to be served a tremendous yellow paella? There is a good chance that it has been colored with tartrazine.
Natural alternatives to artificial coloring
An increasing number of restaurants and producers work exclusively with natural dyes and do not use synthetic variants anymore.
Alternatives that are being used more and more often, instead of tartrazine, are turmeric, or turmeric and saffron extract.
Turmeric, a magical herb
In contrast to synthetic products, which are not very good for your health, turmeric is given almost magical powers.
Turmeric, for example, is said to have an anti-inflammatory effect, it helps people lose weight and may even fight some types of cancer. Science does not yet entirely agree on this, but let’s say that it’s not bad for you.
The downside of using turmeric is that the yellow powder hardly dissolves in water. Therefore it cannot be absorbed by the rice. As a result, there is a yellow layer on top of the paella, but the rice itself is not colored yellow.
Another natural alternative for coloring the paella is saffron extract — a concentrated form of the dye of saffron.
Saffron extract is 100% natural and is an excellent product to give the paella a beautiful yellow color. However, it will not be as intense as with an artificial coloring agent. And perhaps that’s a good thing.
Saffron extract is often used in ready-to-use bags of paella herbs. These bags can be added to the paella during cooking, so you immediately have a good mixture of herbs.
Also, the ingredients give a paella color
In addition to the use of natural dyes or not, other products give a paella some color. For example, tomatoes are often added to paella, just like pimenton dulce, or sweet paprika powder with intense red color. The remains of baking the ingredients and stock used in some variants also give color.
Altogether, it is indeed not only the saffron or the dye that gives paella its specific color. It is the mix of ingredients and the method of preparation that has the most significant effect on the color.
How to make your own paella?
Would you like to make a delicious paella on your own? Then take a look at the Paella Recipes page elsewhere on this site. Here you’ll find the most delicious and authentic paella recipes for the most popular types of paella.