Which Natural Color Is Hardest to Make?

December 18, 2013

And what natural color developments are in the pipeline?

Which natural color is most challenging to achieve? At the recent Food Ingredients Europe trade show, colorants supplier D.D. Williamson (DDW; Louisville, KY) informally polled 31 industry food technologists. The answer, according to 39%? Red. (D.D. Williamson conducted a similar poll last year at the Institute of Food Technologists Food Expo.)

“The poll’s data reveal natural red’s challenge, particularly in the meat, dairy, and bakery sectors,” said Campbell Barnum, DDW’s vice president of branding and market development, in a press release. “Few choices can deliver a heat-stable, naturally derived, customized red hue in products with neutral-to-higher pH.”

Nutritional Outlook spoke to Jody Renner-Nantz, DDW global application scientist, about current sources of red and other natural colorants-as well as any developments in the pipeline.

Regarding the challenging red, Renner-Nantz said that some of the most successful natural red colors include anthocyanins from fruit and vegetable sources. But, she added, colors from these sources are mainly successful at a pH of 3.5 and below, such as in beverages, fruit preparations, and confectionery.

Cochineal extract is still the “gold standard” natural red alternative because it stands up well to heat and light exposure, Renner-Nantz said. But, in recent years, cochineal has come under fire with some consumers upset that the color is derived from a bug source (the Peruvian cochineal bug).

In light of this controversy, technologists are still searching for cochineal alternatives-but it’s a challenge, Renner-Nantz said. “Food product developers have scrambled to match cochineal red. While it's possible to match the hue, its heat and light stability remain unique.”

As for blue and green, blue usually comes from a high-pH anthocyanin that is blended with a yellow-colored source like annatto, turmeric, or beta-carotene. “This blend is stable in powders and low-water-activity products,” Renner-Nantz said. Another blue/green source is sodium copper chlorophyllin, which Renner-Nantz said is approved for use in dry citrus beverages and shows potential in other applications. And, she pointed out, FDA recently approved spirulina-derived blue color was approved for use in confectionery and gum.

Renner-Nantz said color manufacturers will continue improving the stability of their existing natural colors, including through use of such technologies of encapsulation.

There’s a reason manufacturers are looking to hone existing toolboxes. “Most new coloring sources outside of fruit and vegetable juice and cochineal for color require approval through a color additive petition,” Renner-Nantz explained.“This is a costly process, which includes safety studies, and we are not aware of any new color additive petitions in process.”