The State of Natural Colorants [Presentation]

Originally Published: August 4, 2022
Last Updated: October 14, 2022

Abstract: “You eat with your eyes.” This saying expresses the importance of a food’s appearance, with color often crucial. Consumers are increasingly turning towards natural colors in their foods, mainly from fruit and vegetable sources, but their optimal use in formulated foods and beverages becomes challenging. Often using anthocyanins as an example, this presentation looks at the properties of natural colorants and significant issues with their application. This includes their compatibility with the matrix, the challenges of reproducing the desired hues and shades, their stability, and how to approach these challenges. It then investigates the few new-to-the-category ingredients, with a look into future colorant research.“

M. Mónica Giusti, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, Dept. Food Science and Technology, The Ohio State University, The State of Natural Colorants [Redacted Version], Speaker at the 2022 Clean Label Conference.

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Extract from Summary of this Presentation titled: The State of Natural Colorants: Advice on Applications to Updates on Recent Research 

Switching to natural colorants involves determining the appropriate color for your product; your target market; and staying within regulatory restrictions in various countries. Some companies want a “universal” product that will give the same color in all applications. This is practically impossible, due to different colors being expressed depending upon various chemical properties of the product and its environmental factors—such as temperature, light and the presence of oxygen.

Five of the 30 colorants exempted from FDA Certification (e.g., FD&C colorants) and approved for human consumption were added to the list as recently as 2000. These colorants include butterfly pea flower extract, lycopene tomato extract or concentrate, mica-based pearlescent pigments, soy leghemoglobin, spirulina and sodium copper chlorophyllin.

Soy leghemoglobin, for instance, turns a reddish-brown color when cooked and is used in plant-based meat applications. It is the vegetable equivalent of meat myoglobin and is produced using genetically modified yeast, noted Giusti.

Anthocyanins are found in various fruits and vegetables, including raspberries, pomegranates, berries and grapes. The basic unit of anthocyanins is a multi-ring chemical structure typically linked to sugars and sometimes acids. Due to the multiple attachments found in these compounds, vegetable sources of anthocyanins tend to be more stable, because they are more complex structures.