Colorant Makers Become Key Allies in Meeting Need for Naturally Derived Colorants

Colorant makers are becoming key allies in helping food and beverage companies meet growing demands for naturally derived colorants.

By David Feder, RD, Technical Editor

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The economy may be sinking but demand for more natural ingredients in foods is still strong. To that end, colorant specialists are helping food and beverage manufacturers with naturally derived products that deliver vibrant-yet-real tints for products to keep appeal high but chemistry to a minimum.

“The Southampton study on issues with artificial colors definitely prompted a renewed interest in natural colors,” says Thierry Jones, general manager-North America for Diana Naturals Inc. (, Valley Cottage, N.Y. “Even in areas like confectionary, typically not open to natural colors, we’ve seen increased interest from companies desiring to switch to naturals, in spite of additional cost and [occasional] hurdles.”

The 2007 study by Southampton University, funded by the British Food Standards Agency, was the one that made a connection between six artificial colors (when consumed with sodium benzoate) and hyperactivity in children.

“I have to ask [customers], ‘How do you define natural?’ ” says Dave Tuescher, technical director at Sethness Caramel Color (, Lincolnwood, Ill. “I can tell you how our caramel color stacks up against your definition, point by point. But only you can decide if it’s natural.”

“There’s actually no such thing as a ‘natural’ food color from a regulatory perspective, except when you use a juice, extract or powder of the same fruit or vegetable as is (prominent) in the product,” says Winston Boyd, colorant expert and technical director of R&D for Lawrence Foods Inc. (, Elk Grove Village, Ill. “The term ‘natural color’ from the standpoint of U.S. regulation is deemed to mean color that is natural to the specific product in use and not that the color itself is derived from nature, as is commonly believed.”

The FDA has defined natural flavors, but not natural colors. “For example, an ingredient statement might read: water, sugar, orange juice concentrate, natural flavors, annatto extract (color), sodium benzoate. The FDA permits the use of the word natural to modify a flavor ingredient, but not to modify a color additive,” says Jennifer Guild, global food science and regulatory manager at D.D. Williamson (, Louisville, Ky.

“It is the position of the FDA that ‘natural color’ may imply the additive is a naturally occurring constituent inside the food,” she continues. “The FDA has set forth multiple examples of how to declare color additives exempt from certification on an ingredient statement, including ‘colored with annatto extract,’ ‘annatto extract (color)’ or ‘color added.’ ”

Boyd describes the practical impact: “If you use strawberry juice concentrate to color strawberry preserves, it can be labeled a ‘natural color.’ If you use the same strawberry juice concentrate to enhance the color of raspberry preserves, that color is now artificial and must be labeled according to regulatory guidelines.”

But this hasn’t stopped ingredient makers from staying on-trend with natural alternatives to synthetic colors. Moreover, they’re stepping beyond the traditional vendor roles to partner with food and beverage manufacturers in effecting such transitions.

D.D. Williamson provides processors written guidelines and personal assistance focusing on naturally derived blends, especially organics. The company developed a full line of organic extracts of the annatto bean, a carotenoid that can be employed along the yellow-to-red spectrum. It also offers natural colors based on beta-carotene, paprika extract, turmeric, betalains (from red beets), anthocyanins from various dark fruits and vegetables, carmine and cochineal extract, chlorophyll and caramel.

Dual action

Carotenoid- and other nature-derived colorants often have another advantage: the nutraceutical component. When a colorant can serve as a functional health ingredient, it enhances marketability of the end product.

Sensient Technologies Corp. (, Milwaukee, expanded its offerings of natural colors equally promoting health and wellness. Its line of preservative- and GMO-free “Fusion Precise Natural Color Systems” is one example. 

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