Heineken, the company that brews Newcastle, has announced that it’s going to change its recipe for the world famous beer. According to the Telegraph, the current Newcastle recipe relies on a caramel coloring agent to give the beer its distinctive brown color. However, outcries from consumer groups—prompted by an initial outcry from The Food Babe—have raised concerns about a potential carcinogen in 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), a chemical compound found in caramel coloring.
Photo: Newcastle Brown Ale
A Heineken spokesman told the Telegraph,
“We are in the process of changing our recipe for Newcastle Brown Ale and it will no longer include caramel colouring. The amount used in Newcastle Brown Ale is well within the recommended safe levels set by these bodies.
However, we listened to consumer concerns that have been expressed, particularly in the USA, and chose to review our recipe. We will now achieve the distinctive coloring and flavor of Newcastle Brown Ale, that our consumers enjoy, by using roasted malts instead.”
This could actually be great news for beer purists (regardless of the 4-MEI issue) because traditional brewing methods rely on roasted malts for color, not food coloring added after the fact. Craft brewers often list their individual malt choices (among other ingredients) as a point of pride.
Beer expert Alistair Gilmore seems to agree. He told the Telegraph,
“It is absolutely possible for them to maintain the taste and appearance of the beer by changing the coloring. It should be exactly the same. Some people say they have changed the ingredients over the years but I’m not sure whether they have or not.
People say it does not taste the same as it used to. This could be a mixture of nostalgia, modern brewing techniques or the change in water.”
The BBC notes that other drinks manufacturers, including Coke and Pepsi, have already cut their usage of 4-MEI to color drinks following studies that linked the substance to cancer in lab mice and rats. Also, it’s worth noting that California officially put 4-MEI on its list of carcinogens.
One thing’s for sure: between this and the company’s #NewcastleBandOfBrands campaign (featuring indie darling and official voice of Grumpy Cat, Aubrey Plaza), no one can claim this classic British brand doesn’t care what America thinks.