Natural colors in the food industry

Technology to revolutionize the natural food color industry

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The color of processed food plays a vital role in consumer acceptance by visually stimulating one’s appetite. When we think of an orange beverage, we instantly associate it with a bright orange color, similarly tomato ketchup with rich red, strawberry ice cream with a unique pink color, and mint candy with green. These are the innate colors of the vital ingredients of food. However, during processing, there is often a loss in color intensity. Hence, additional colors are used in the food industry to restore the color of food lost during processing and to create uniformity in the product (for every batch). These added colors can either be artificial or natural. Artificial colors are chemically synthesized, whereas natural colors come from agricultural, biological, or mineral sources.

Natural colors market

Natural colors are increasingly replacing artificial coloring in the food and beverage industry. There is an increasing demand for natural food colors and consumer preference for ‘free-from’ labeled products. The need for enhanced product appeal and extensive R&D in the food and beverage industry are significant factors driving the market for natural food colors.

According to Research and Markets report, the global market for food colors is expected to reach US$ 4.65 billion (approximately Rs 33,000 crore) by 2024 as against US$ 3.027 billion (about Rs 21,000 crore) in 2018. Market growth is anticipated to remain high in the APEJ (the Asia Pacific excluding Japan) region with a CAGR of 8.3% between 2018 and 2028.

Global players in the food color industry are Archer Daniels Midland (US), DD Williamson (US), Naturex (France), Chr. Hansen Holding (Denmark), FMC (US), Koninklijke DSM (The Netherlands), Döhler (Germany), GNT Group (The Netherlands), Color & Fragrance (US), DowDupont (US), Sensient Technologies (US), Lycored (Israel) and ITC colors (India). The most commonly used natural colors are carotenoids, chlorophyll, anthocyanin, betanin, caramel, and turmeric.

Carotenoids

Carotenoids (E160a – 160g) are a class of deep red, yellow, or orange-colored pigments found in fruit, vegetables, and plants. The common carotenoids are α-carotene, β-carotene, β-cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene. Carotenoids are fat-soluble, heat-stable, and are not affected by pH change. Hence, they are a good choice for coloring dairy products such as margarine and cheese.

Chlorophyll

Chlorophyll(E140) is a green photosynthetic pigment found in all green leafy vegetables. It is a green oil-soluble color used in confectionery and dairy products that use mint or lime flavors.

Anthocyanins

Anthocyanins (E163) are water-soluble red, purple, and blue pigments found in flowers, fruit, and vegetables. They are pH-sensitive that is anthocyanins are red at acidic pH and blue at alkaline conditions. Non-carbonated soft drinks, jams, jelly, and sugar confectionery use these colorants.

Betanin

Betanin (E162) is a water-soluble red dye obtained from beetroot. Similar to anthocyanin, betanin also changes color with pH. A bright bluish-red color between 4 and 5 at pH, betanin becomes blue-violet as the pH increases. At alkaline pH, betanin hydrolyzes, leading to yellow-brown color. Betanin is used for frozen or dried products with short shelf life such as yogurt and ice creams since it is less stable when subjected to light, heat, and oxygen.

Caramel

Caramel (E150a – E150d) is the color obtained through the controlled heat treatment of carbohydrates that are acquired to form glucose corn syrups and sugar cane. This water-soluble color is associated with the color and flavor of baked foods. There are four classes of caramel with different colors, charges, and stability. Each class has specific functional properties to ensure compatibility with the particularities of food and beverage. Ready-to-eat meals, seasonings, sauces, bakery, and alcoholic beverages use caramel colors.

Turmeric

Turmeric (E100) is a flowering plant, with a root that has a bright yellow color due to the pigment curcumin – demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. Traditionally used for imparting flavor and color in cooking, the yellow color obtained from turmeric is used in bakery products, dry beverage mixes, ice cream, sauces, soups and frostings.

A promising role for natural colors

Technology has the power to revolutionize the natural food color industry by providing solutions to several existing problems. Current barriers in the use of natural colors in the food and beverage industry are their high production cost, low heat and light stability, poor shelf stability, and selective (oil or aqueous) solubility. For instance, Döhler’s natural colors have developed color emulsions (cloudy and clear emulsion) that are highly stable and capable of delivering intense color even at low doses. On the other hand, Sensient’s microfine technology has produced natural colors that disperse evenly in foods and eliminate the typical specking issues associated with natural powders.

The R&D departments in the food industries are continually coming up with innovative solutions to overcome the issues associated with natural colors. Being safe and aesthetically appealing to consumers, natural colors have a promising role in the food and beverage industry.

Source: Anu Bhusani is a doctorate in Food Technology from CSIR – The Central Food Technological Research Institute, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

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