Growing color options

by Jeff Gelski
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Colors extracted from fruits or vegetables may allow processed foods or beverages to sport a cleaner label. Color suppliers are introducing products to meet this demand, although the Food and Drug Administration provides no definition for natural colors.

Selecting such natural-sounding colors for formulations may present challenges. Synthetic colors tend to have a longer shelf life than colors extracted from such sources as fruits or vegetables, said Campbell Barnum, global vice-president, sales and marketing, for D.D. Williamson, Louisville, Ky.

In 2007, D.D. Williamson launched a stabilized elderberry color with a longer shelf life than a traditional elderberry color. Juice blends and salad dressings are potential applications for the stabilized elderberry color. This year, D.D. Williamson plans to introduce a purple sweet potato color and a stabilized red cabbage color.

Besides adding natural color options, D.D. Williamson wants to increase the capabilities of those colors and let its customers know how to select colors based on their use in a specific food system, said Margaret A. Lawson, vice-president of science and innovation.

Colors from fruits or vegetables appear frequently in yogurts and beverages in the U.S. market, said Jeannette Quinn, vice-president of GNT USA, Inc., Tarrytown, N.Y. GNT, with its world headquarters in Aachen, Germany, offers only colors sourced from fruits and vegetables. In Europe, those colors tend to show up in candy formulations, and that trend may make its way to North America, Ms. Quinn said.

Converting to colors from natural sources allows food and beverage companies to revitalize or distinguish a brand, said Doug Edmonson, director of marketing and technology for Sensient Colors, St. Louis. Many natural color solutions are available, but finding blue and green shades may prove difficult, he said.

"Green is possible with a combination of naturally sourced yellows and FD&C Blue 1," he said. "Blue shades are more problematic. Some companies are promoting natural blue, but it is obtained by using high pH, thus especially prone to stability issues."

Ensuring an adequate supply of colors extracted from fruits or vegetables also could become a problem.

"If consumer product companies broadly switched to natural colorants, there would be broad-based supply shortages," Mr. Edmonson said. "To meet this challenge, Sensient is focused on expanding and improving our supply chain in advance of customer needs as well as investing in longer-term crop development programs designed to deliver higher performance natural color sources."

Sensient Colors this year plans to launch all-natural insoluble Spectra-Flecks for inclusion in a variety of food applications. The company also plans to expand its offering of organic-certified colors, including custom shades, and introduce a preservative-free, bioengineered line of premium natural color products.

Sensient Colors has obtained National Organic Standards Board certification for its St. Louis facility, said Steve Morris, director of sales, Food Colors NA.

Food Ingredient Solutions, L.L.C., Teterboro, N.J., recently launched a new line of natural pigments and natural vegetable colors that behave like FD&C lake colors, said Jeff Greaves, president. The products may provide coverage for coatings, toppings, fruits, tablets and seasoning blends. The company’s new red radish color, for example, is a match for Red 40 at low pHs and is suitable for fuchsia and purple shades at more neutral pHs.

Food and beverage formulators still must determine what makes a color a natural color. D.D. Williamson defines natural colors as those derived from agricultural, biological or mineral sources extracted with a simple process and having a long history of safe use. Non-synthetic colors tend to fall under the F.D.A.’s list of colors that are "exempt from certification." They include pigments derived from natural sources such as vegetables, minerals or animals.

European agency to comment on hyperactivity study

The European Food Safety Agency in the coming weeks should comment on a study suggesting a link between mixtures of certain food colors and the preservative sodium benzoate and hyperactivity in children. The comment could have an effect on the regulation of the six colors in Europe and also on multinational companies based in North America and doing business in Europe.

Originally the E.F.S.A. planned to comment on the study by the end of February. The E.F.S.A. in December said its opinion may come a few weeks later. An E.F.S.A. panel is examining such issues as the robustness of the study design and methodology, the statistical analysis, the role of genetic predisposition and the clinical significance of the findings for individuals or the population in general.

"Examination of these aspects will enable the panel to assess the implication of the findings and their relevance for drawing definitive conclusions on cause and effect and the possible role of particular colors," the E.F.S.A. said.

The study in question involved the University of Southampton’s Schools of Psychology and Medicine. The Food Standards Agency of the United Kingdom commissioned the study.

Researchers studied the levels of hyperactivity in 153 3-year-olds and 144 8-year-olds. Over a six-week period they were given a drink each day. The drink could be fruit juice or a drink that contained one of two mixtures of food colors and benzoate preservative. When the children were given the drinks containing the test mixtures, in some cases their behavior was significantly more hyperactive.

"We now have clear evidence that mixtures of certain food colors and benzoate preservatives can adversely influence the behavior of children," said Jim Stevenson, professor of psychology.

After a story on the study appeared in the scientific journal The Lancet, the London-based Food and Drink Federation responded to the study on Sept. 6.

"It is important to reassure consumers that the Southampton study does not suggest there is a safety issue with the use of these additives," the F.D.F. said. "In addition, the way in which the additives were tested as a mixture is not how they are used in everyday products.

"As a responsible industry, we shall be studying the detail of the research, and companies will clearly take account of these findings as part of their ongoing review of product formulations."

The colors involved

Two mixes of artificial colors were used in a study at Southampton University in the United Kingdom that examined a link between the colors and sodium benzoate and hyperactivity in children.

Mix A

● sunset yellow

● tartrazine

● carmoisine

● ponceau 4R

● sodium benzoate

Mix B

● sunset yellow

● quinoline yellow

● carmoisine

● allura red

● sodium benzoate


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