R&D: A Rainbow of Natural Options
November 15, 2008
As consumers become more discerning about ingredients, the search for a wider, more user-friendly range of natural color options continues to dominate beverage color development. Ingredient companies are finding new sources for color and new systems to make them more stable in finished formulations.
“With the recent negative press towards FD&C colors, the public has a renewed interest in colors derived from natural ingredients,” says Jason Armao, director of colors for Wild Flavors, Erlanger, Ky. “This growing consumer focus on natural ingredients and clean labels is leading to the increased use of colors derived from natural sources. The amplified use and advances in the technology of natural colors in recent years has allowed these colors to become more affordable to use, also pushing the trend to grow.”
Some natural colors also carry a health bonus, adding to their appeal. Anthocyanins, for example, are the compounds that give many fruits and vegetables their red, blue or purple color, and have received positive press for their health benefits.
“There is evidence that suggests anthocyanins may play a role in delaying the onset of a number of human diseases, including coronary heart disease, cancer and inflammatory diseases,” Armao adds. “Many other natural colorant sources such as beets, turmeric and paprika are also being studied for potential health benefits.”
While natural colors can offer inherent health benefits, the addition of vitamins and other ingredients to a beverage can make natural colors less stable, says Jessica Jones-Dille, Wild Flavors’ industry trend manager.
“Another trend is coloring health beverages with natural ingredients, where the creation of very specific shades match both the flavor of the product â€” which can have many nuances such as honey lavender or orange acai â€” and the packaging/branding message,” she says. “The difficulty with this process can be in choosing colors for healthy products that do not degrade due to the addition of vitamins and other ingredients.”
Wild offers natural colors under the Colors from Nature brand, designed to provide a range of hues that offer heat and light stability. The company recently enhanced the line to feature more options for natural colors that can replace FD&C colors.
Stephen Lauro, general manager at ColorMaker, Anaheim, Calif., says he also is seeing an increasing number of customers looking for naturally derived replacements for synthetic colors. Beverage companies are requesting colors for current products and researching options for potential changes, should the backlash against synthetics escalate.
“I sense a lot of this is what I call preparatory work,” he says. “These companies are preparing for what might happen with respect to synthetic colors. I don’t know that these colors would actually launch.”
Pending labeling changes in the European Union, as well as a petition filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have led these companies to investigate all of their options for colors, he says.
In June, CSPI filed a petition with the FDA to revoke approval for eight synthetic food dyes. In addition, it requested an interim measure to require warning labels such as, “The artificial colorings in this food cause hyperactivity and behavioral problems in some children,” it said in its petition.
Most beverage company requests, Lauro says, have been options for red and yellow colors due to the preponderance of tropical, berry and citrus flavors in the industry.
In addition to alternatives to synthetics, Lauro says the beverage industry has shown heightened interested in colors that have been certified organic, all the way down to sub-ingredients and extraction methods.
“I think the accrediting certifying agencies that are out there are becoming more comfortable and familiar with natural colorants, and so I think they are getting a little more aggressive with the questions they are asking of their customer, which is also our customer, the processor,” he says. “Those R&D groups are in turn asking us: ‘What’s in it?’ ‘How is it extracted?’ ‘How is it made water-dispersible?’”
Brian Sethness, president at Sethness Products Co., Lincolnwood, Ill., says he also has seen an uptick in requests for organic colors, particularly for the company’s caramel color.
“The newest innovation has been in our certified organic line,” he says. “Sethness produces two certified organic liquid caramel colors, and the world’s first certified organic powdered caramel color.”
While he points out there is no legal definition of a “natural” color, “These products meet even the most stringent of clean labeling or ‘natural’ requirements,” he says.
New sources, new looks
The use of new color sources is resulting in an expanded range of natural offerings. For example, ColorMaker partner D.D. Williamson, Louisville, Ky., recently rolled out new natural colors such as a purple sweet potato coloring that can be labeled “vegetable juice color” or “colored with vegetable juice.”
According to Jody RennerNantz, food chemist with D.D. Williamson, the purple sweet potato offers a range of red to purple colors, depending on the acidity of the product.
“The pigment in the purple sweet potato is an anthocyanin and anthocyanins are very sensitive to pH or hydrogen ion concentration,” she says. “At a low pH, 3.5 and below … the purple sweet potato will be red. But as you go more basic, the anthocyanins become more purple in color.”
RennerNantz says another beverage trend that affects color use is the lean toward more translucent rather than transparent colors due to the addition of functional ingredients. Ingredients such as calcium lactate can give a product a more cloudy appearance, which has a side benefit in that it can help protect natural colors.
“From a food science standpoint, the natural colors may be more likely to degrade [in a transparent beverage] because the UV light can pass directly through the beverage, whereas a translucent-type of beverage would actually reflect some light and may have a little bit of a protective effect on the colors,” she says.
Both RennerNantz and Wild Flavors’ Armao say they have seen more beverage companies interested in oil-soluble colors that have been made into water-soluble formats.
“An example may be beta carotene, which is oil-soluble, or an extract of paprika, which is oil-soluble,” RennerNantz says. “But there is technology out there that allows food manufacturers to make these colors more water-soluble or water-dispersible. You see more of those in beverages nowadays.”
Armao says Wild has developed color emulsions that allow some of these oil-soluble colors to be used in transparent beverages. “This patent-pending technology allows beverages that benefit from being clear, such as enhanced waters, to enjoy eye-catching hues of yellow and orange,” he says.
Sensient Food Colors, St. Louis, also has enhanced its natural color offerings with its Fusion Precise Natural Color Systems line. The colors offer “clean labeling” and an “unprecedented spectrum of preservative- and GMO-free natural colors,” the company says.
The company says the Fusion line provides colors developed to exact shade specifications, addressing the inherent inconsistencies in natural colors. The result is bolder colors and visual consistency, with colors that are more heat and light stable than previous offerings.
GNT USA, Tarrytown, N.Y., offers its Exberry line, which it says is derived from fruits and vegetables that are harvested when they are completely ripe and their color is optimal. Colors are created from aronia berries, bilberries, black currants, elderberries, grapes, hibiscus, orange and black carrots, pumpkin, red cabbage and tomatoes. Exberry colors are free from chemical solvents, allergens, genetically modified organisms and preservatives, and are kosher certified.
Chr. Hansen, Milwaukee, Wis., also offers natural colors in sought-after beverage shades such as red, yellow and orange. In addition, the company offers the ColorFruit range, a line that incorporates blends of juice and extracts to obtain a specific shade or improved stability in applications.
It also offers CapColors, a line of colors that are micro-encapsulted, allowing oil-dispersible colors to be used in water-based applications. The company says the colors offer increased light, acid, heat and oxidation stability as well as a vivid color appearance and high tinctorial strength. BI