CHICAGO — Dairy foods consumers have flavor and color expectations. Strawberry milk should be a bright red hue while blueberry yogurt needs to be deep blue. Nacho sauce must look cheesy orange while butter spread is golden yellow.
“In today’s visually centric world, color is equally, if not more important than flavor,” said Megan Longhi, dairy technical service manager, Sensient Food Colors, St. Louis. “Social media has us seeing color in new and exciting ways, like the recent Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino.”
Coloring has been used to enhance food and beverage appearance for more than 2,000 years, with use dating back to when vintners manipulated grape skins and other fruits to achieve desirable colors in wine, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation, Washington. Color has already been important because consumers eat and drink first with their eyes and then with their stomachs.
Food colors perform many functions. They help to correct for color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions. They also assist with correcting natural variations in color and may enhance colors that occur naturally in foods. Lastly, they provide color to colorless foods, rendering them more eye appealing.
Overcoming color challenges
For more than 125 years, U.S. food and beverage manufacturers have had a tool box of food colors — both artificial and those perceived as natural — available for use. The colors are carefully regulated and often reviewed to ensure safety. Both categories of colors are widely used, with natural colors gaining traction, especially in minimally processed and simple dairy foods.
“Dairy products come with a range of unique coloring challenges,” said Christiane Lippert, head of marketing — food, Lycored, Switzerland. “Some colors don’t interact well with high-fat recipe systems. Others can be affected by pH. Probably the biggest challenges, however, come from manufacturing and storage conditions. Many dairy applications expose colors to extreme temperatures, as well as ultraviolet light, which a lot of colorants can’t withstand.”
This is something processors who are exploring clear packaging — glass or plastic — are learning. The trend is to use clear packaging to showcase the product to the consumer, but ensuring desirable color over the course of a product’s shelf life is not easy.
“For example, yogurt packaged in clear cups, especially fruit-on-the-bottom products, can be a challenge to color because of light exposure and color migration,” said Brianna Fyock, applications scientist, Chr. Hansen Inc., Milwaukee. “Turmeric is very light sensitive, thus if a customer is looking for a natural yellow color for a product in clear packaging, I would recommend encapsulated turmeric, a yellow beta-carotene or an orange carrot, all of which have very good light stability.”
Color migration must also be managed. The color in the fruit on the bottom should not move into the white mass on top.
“We know that water-soluble colors have a tendency to migrate between levels of a layered product,” Ms. Fyock said. “This is especially an issue with red and purple fruit preps.”
A better option may be water-soluble emulsions or suspensions, and encapsulated colors. Processors need to be aware that depending on the formulation, there may still be some color migration. This is true for most viscous refrigerated dairy products, including cottage cheese, fromage frais, pudding and quark.
DDW-The Color House, Louisville, Ky., manufactures carotenoid emulsions. The natural colors may help reduce or eliminate the amount of color migration from fruit prep into yogurt.
“Colors sourced as oil soluble are converted into water-dispersible emulsions,” said Jody Renner-Nantz, applications manager. “We produce emulsions that are transparent, including beta-carotene and paprika.”