Natural high points in blue

by Jeff Gelski
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Synthetic blue colors offer advantages. They may be cost-effective color options with wide pH ranges and an ability to withstand heat and light. Synthetic blue colors also have a significant drawback. They are synthetic.

Many food and beverage companies, looking to offer products with ingredient lists that sound more natural, seek alternatives to synthetic colors. They have found little to nothing available in blue, but the situation appears to have improved. Ingredient suppliers now are offering non-synthetic blue colors sourced from fruit and cabbage. A blue color sourced from algae is another possibility.

News stories in November demonstrated the demand for non-synthetic blue. According to Innova Market Insights, simplicity will become a top trend of 2010 as consumers seek more natural, “clean” label food. The new Archer Farms’ Simply Balanced line offered at Target stores will have no synthetic colors in its products. General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, specifically lists blue color that is sourced naturally as a goal within its Worldwide Innovation Network (G-Win).

Wild Flavors, Inc., Erlanger, Ky., launched a new non-synthetic blue color earlier this year. Made from whole fruit, it may be defined as fruit juice concentrate (color) on the ingredient list. The blue color remains stable in a pH range of 2.5 to 8.0. It has good heat and light stability comparable to other fruit juice concentrates used as color additives, according to Wild. Potential applications include beverages, confectionery items, baked foods, dairy products, dips, sauces, dressings and marinades.

“Unlike previous attempts to achieve blue colors for applications by leveraging the stabilization of red cabbage or other anthocyanin-based colors at a neutral pH, Wild’s new blue color additive is unique in that it is truly acid-stable,” said Kevin Gates, chief operating officer.

colorMaker, Inc., Anaheim, Calif., launched a blue colorant naturally-derived from anthocyanins extracted from vegetable juice. It has been shown to work in a lower pH range than conventional anthocyanin colorants, according to the company. D.D. Williamson, Louisville, Ky., distributes colorMaker’s color blends globally.

Colarome, Inc., Saint-Hubert, Que., offers a blue pigment derived from anthocyanins extracted from red cabbage in its Vivapigment line. The natural pigments may be applied to a product’s surface to yield stable colors, according to the company.

Spirulina is a blue-green algae, said Rodger Jonas, director of national sales for P.L. Thomas, Morristown, N.J. The company distributes organic and conventional spirulina from Parry Nutraceuticals, Oonalyur, India, and has found a way to extract the blue colors out of spirulina. The blue color has no issues with heat or pH range, Mr. Jonas said. Spirulina has multifunctional benefits because of its protein and antioxidant content, he said.

The government plays a role in what colors are permitted for use in foods and beverages. The Food and Drug Administration has a list of certified colorants that generally are synthetic or artificial. Other colors are exempt from certification and generally are from natural sources.

The F.D.A.’s stance on copper chlorphyllin affects non-synthetic green colors. Food Ingredients Solutions, L.L.C., Teterboro, N.J., plans to submit test results to the F.D.A. and hopes to gain F.D.A. approval for the use of copper chlorphyllin in food and beverage applications, said Jeff Greaves, company president. Colarome uses copper chlorphyllin in its green Vivapigment.

Chr. Hansen, Horsholm, Denmark, launched CapColors Green 100 WSS along with CapColors Yellow 100 WSS and CapColors Black 100 WSS at Food Ingredients Europe Nov. 17-19 in Frankfurt, Germany. However, both the green color and the black color are not permitted legally in the United States. The patent-pending colors are based on turmeric, chlorphyllin derived from spinach and other natural chlorphyllin sources, and carbo vegetabilis or vegetable charcoal.

Instead of two color categories in synthetic and non-synthetic (exempt), Stefan Hake, chief executive officer of GNT USA, Tarrytown, N.Y., said he divides colors into three categories. He considers synthetic as one category and then splits non-synthetic into two categories, one being heavily formulated colors and the other being fruit juice and vegetable juice colors.

The heavily formulated colors may be naturally-derived, but they also may involve such practices as chemical solvents and selective extraction, he said. Food and beverage companies may view these colors as a simpler way to get rid of synthetic colors.

“What we see are two situations,” he said. “One thing is just to remove them (synthetic colors), to do it because you have to do it. So you use the next best thing, maybe a formulated color. The next step then is for somebody to say my strategy is to identify with something that is a food that has coloring properties.”
Colors from fruit juice and vegetable juice fit that strategy. Examples of how they may appear on the ingredient list include “cherry juice for color,” “carrot and cherry juice for color,” and “fruit and vegetable juice for color,” Mr. Hake said.

GNT USA specializes in colors that are manufactured from fruits and vegetables. Mr. Hake said the industry continues to search for acceptable blue and green colors sourced from fruits and vegetables.

“It’s a big challenge definitely,” he said.

Seeking alternative names for natural

Non-synthetic colors sourced from nature may give food products a more natural-sounding ingredient list, but food and beverage companies may want to avoid saying “natural colors” in promoting products.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, “natural color” may be interpreted erroneously to mean the color is a naturally occurring constituent in the food, which the F.D.A. would object to.

“The term natural is something in general, not just in colors, that is a very difficult subject with the F.D.A.,” said Stefan Hake, chief executive officer of GNT USA, Tarrytown, N.Y. “It’s difficult to define what is natural.

A more practical approach is to communicate what it is. You used the carrot to impart color.”

GNT USA specializes in colors that are manufactured from fruits and vegetables.

Organic is a word that may be used with colors. For example, D.D. Williamson, Louisville, Ky., and Sethness Caramel Color, Lincolnwood, Ill., both include organically certified caramel colors in their ingredient portfolios. Sethness Caramel Color also draws upon the search for “clean” food product labels by promoting “plain” caramel colors produced by heating high dextrose corn syrup, fructose or sucrose without adding any ammonia or sulfite reactants during the process.

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