Change colors with caution

by Jeff Gelski
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Food and beverage manufacturers wanting to use non-synthetic colors, or those derived from natural sources, should keep two groups in mind. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration may have a problem with how a product is promoted as natural, and consumers may have a problem with any changes to a favorite product.

"If the color is not right, people don’t buy it," said Cathy Culver, a principal scientist for PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y., in her opening remarks at the "Global Outlook for Food Color" conference held last month in Atlanta. "If they don’t buy it, we’re out of business."

Other speakers focused on the emerging market for naturally-derived colors and the challenges that market brings.

The United Kingdom already is shifting away from the use of synthetic colors. The U.K.’s Food Standards Agency called for a voluntary removal of six artificial colors in 2009 following a 2007 study at the University of Southampton. The study showed children became hyperactive after consuming juice drinks that included the six colors of sunset yellow (FD&C Yellow No. 6), carmoisine, tartrazine (FD&C Yellow No. 5), ponceau 4R, quinoline yellow and allura red (FD&C Red No. 40).

Since then, U.K. companies have replaced artificial colors as a way to differentiate their products, said Stefan Hake, chief executive officer of GNT USA, Inc., Tarrytown, N.Y.

"The negative media attention is really what most companies are afraid of," he said.

U.S. companies wanting to use naturally-derived color sources to promote a product as natural may want to know F.D.A. rules. The companies cannot say "contains natural color," said Dr. Arthur L. Lippman, Ph.D, a supervisory consumer safety officer in the F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Companies also may not call a product natural if a foreign substance is used as coloring. For example, beet juice would qualify as a foreign substance if it were used to color yogurt, Mr. Lippman said. Finally, Mr. Lippman said even if a substance is used mainly for another purpose, such as flavor, it’s still a color if it adds significant color.

Another speaker warned about a changing political landscape.

"We are used to a fairly low level of F.D.A. enforcement," said Sarah Roller, a partner for Kelley Drye & Warren, L.L.P., Washington. "The new administration and the new Congress could make a difference."

The F.D.A. has a list of certified colorants that generally are synthetic or artificial. Examples include FD&C Red No. 40, FD&C Yellow No. 5 and FD&C Blue No. 2. Other colors are exempt from certification and generally are from natural sources. Examples include annatto extract, grape skin extract and saffron.

The colors from natural sources may not be as bright as synthetic colors, and they may not stay as bright as long. Consumers that enjoy yogurt that practically glows in the dark may shun yogurt that is not as bright, Mr. Hake said. Thus, he said he has seen several U.S. companies choosing to create entirely new products featuring colors from fruits and vegetables instead of replacing synthetic colors in established products.

When switching to non-synthetic or naturally-derived colors, companies should consider performance, stability, cost, shade, resource viability and regulatory areas, said Byron Madkins, director, food and beverage, development and applications: color for Chr. Hansen. Some examples of replacing synthetic colors include using carmine, anthocyanins or beets to replace FD&C Red No. 40, and using turmeric or beta-carotene to replace FD&C Yellow No. 5, Mr. Madkins said.

It’s more difficult to create green and blue colors from natural sources. The F.D.A. is reviewing a petition concerning a green color from natural sources, Mr. Madkins said, while color companies are examining blue color options approved in other parts of the world.

Color suppliers are finding ways to improve the use of naturally-derived colors. This year, St. Louis-based Sensient Food Colors, Inc. released its Fusion Precise Natural Color Systems. The Fusion brand draws on Sensient’s capabilities in supply of natural sources, shade development, color system manufacturing and product application.

Know options for naturally-derived colors in confections, beverages

Companies wanting to switch to naturally-derived colors from synthetic colors may find two categories ripe for innovation: confection and beverages. Speakers at the "Global Outlook for Food Color" conference held last month in Atlanta talked about technologies and ingredient launches in the two categories.

Natural pigments for confection

Colarome, Inc., St.-Hubert, Que., in February plans to launch natural pigments that may be used to color the surface of confections. Other potential applications include cereal bars with a yogurt coating and cake icing.

The pigments are powders made of natural dyes that are encapsulated in a water-insoluble rice protein matrix. Optionally, the color coating may be covered with a shellac or wax to provide shine. The pigments are tasteless and odorless.

Colarome has applied for a patent for its proprietary technology. The pigments are sourced from such items as red cabbage, beet and turmeric. Red cabbage is the coloring principle for purple, blue and turquoise. Beet is used for red. Turmeric is used for yellow, and annatto is used for orange. Copper-chlorophyllin works for green while caramel color is used as the coloring principle for dark brown, medium brown and tan.

Using red pigments may cost 5c to 14c per kg (2.2 lbs). Using purple pigments may cost 8c to 13c per kg, and using yellow pigments may cost 1.5c to 3c per kg.

The trend of using naturally-derived colors in confection and other food and beverage categories already has started in the United Kingdom, where the Food Standards Agency has called for a voluntary removal of six artificial colors in 2009.

Overseal Natural Ingredients, Derbyshire, U.K., has created color solutions specifically for the confectionery industry, including for such applications as hard-boiled candies, gums and jellies and sugar-coated confectionery. Color options to replace synthetic colors are either naturally-derived colors that are pigments produced by nature or coloring foodstuffs sourced from fruit and vegetables. RFI, Blauvelt, N.Y., distributes Overseal Natural Ingredients’ colors in the United States.

Keeping bright juices bright

Red cabbage juice and purple sweet potato juice perform best as colors in beverages with pH measures between 2.5 to 4.5, said Jody Renner-Nantz, a food science chemist with D.D. Williamson, Louisville, Ky. They may stay red longer and give more of an impression of a berry flavor. Purple sweet potato juice may provide a vibrant pink color up to one month after application, she said.

Vegetable-based anthocyanins tend to provide a more stable color in beverages than other fruit and vegetable sources, she said. Anthocyanins are soluble glycosides that produce colors in flowers and plants. Still, formulators may need to compensate for color loss when switching to naturally-derived colors from synthetic colors in beverages, Ms. Renner-Nantz said. They may use a higher dosage of naturally-derived color, or they could put the beverage in translucent packaging, thus prolonging the life of the anthocyanins.

About 400 to 500 new beverages per year contain beta-carotene, an isomer of carotene found in dark green and dark yellow vegetables and fruits, said John Foley, technical service manager, nutrition: Food and Beverage Applications, for BASF. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A. Studies have shown vitamin A to provide benefits in vision, immunity and skin protection from sunlight, Mr. Foley said.

Beverage formulators may microencapsulate carotenoids, he said. They may use modified starch, soy protein or fish gelatin as carriers. When replacing synthetic colors with naturally-derived colors, potential problems include sedimentation, ringing, cap staining and bottle stain. Possible reasons for the problems include using the wrong beta-carotene, applying the beta-carotene at the wrong time and needing a stabilizer. Juice or gum may stabilize colors, Mr. Foley said. A beverage with no juice may prove to be the most challenging system.

DSM Nutritional Products, Inc., Parsippany, N.J., claims its carotenoids deliver better stability than food dyes, especially in the presence of vitamin C. Coloration of a juice drink may include 10% beta-carotene. Potential non-juice beverages include a lemon lime beverage with 10% beta-carotene.

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