No longer 'grey, ugly and expensive'

by Jeff Gelski
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Formulators may be surprised at the quality results they get from using natural or nonsynthetic colors, provided they are used correctly.

"Natural colors in the past have faced the myth they are grey, ugly and expensive," said Stephen Hake, chief executive officer of GNT USA Inc., Tarrytown, N.Y. "Those years are long gone. They can deliver some vibrant red shades, yellow and orange shades."

Susan Brunjes, senior chemist for Sensient Colors, Inc., St. Louis, added, "Natural colors play a key role in the development of products for the health and wellness, natural and organic trends. In addition to allowing for a ‘clean label,’ some natural colors also have health connotations associated with them."

She gave carotenoids, anthocyanins and turmeric as examples of natural colors with health connotations.

Non-synthetic or natural colors tend to fall under the Food and Drug Administration’s list of colors that are "exempt from certification." They include pigments derived from natural sources such as vegetables, minerals or animals. The F.D.A. itself has no definition of natural. Certified colors, according to the F.D.A., are produced synthetically or made by humans.

Non-synthetic colors are seeing more use in beverages, especially with the recent trend of adding antioxidant-rich fruits such as pomegranate and acai, said Stephen Lauro, president of color-Maker, Inc., Anaheim, Calif.

"The age of bold, bright Gatorade colors may be passing," he said. "You may see more subtle, pastel, softer colors."

Stability problems may arise when non-synthetic colors are used, but in many instances a misuse of the product may cause the problems, said Jeff Greaves, president of Food Ingredient Solutions, L.L.C., Teterboro, N.J. "Fading and browning are the main problems," he said.

Whether formulators work with synthetic or non-synthetic colors, they will need to consider stability toward heat, light, pH, ascorbic acid and other factors, Ms. Brunjes said. For example, turmeric, which yields a bright yellow shade, has poor light stability and would not be appropriate for an application that is in a clear package. Red beet juice yields a bright pink/red shade, but it has poor heat stability and typically is not suitable for applications that undergo heat processing.

Using the right raw material in non-synthetic colors may ensure stability in applications, Mr. Hake said.

An example of how non-synthetic colors have evolved may be found in the case of annatto, said Mr. Lauro. Twenty years ago supplies of annatto out of Peru may have had sludge at the bottom of the pail, he said. That is no longer the case.

"The natural color industry is growing up," he said.

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