Coloring can be of critical importance in overall acceptance or rejection of the finished food.

As with all foods, the flavor of ice cream and other similar frozen desserts is influenced by all elements that affect taste (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami); texture (chew and smoothness); aroma (yes, ice cream smells); and appearance. Since nothing travels faster than light, we see ice cream before we actually taste it, thus, the importance of appearance to sensory appeal. Besides elements such as inclusions (particulates and variegating sauces), the color of ice cream itself can be of critical importance in overall acceptance or rejection of the finished food.

Ice cream does not really need added color. There are no standards or requirements related to the addition of color. Milk can provide all the background whiteness ice cream needs. This whiteness is not due to any color per se, but to the absence of color due to light reflecting off insoluble, ultra-small casein micelles and homogenized fat droplets. This ignores the contribution of a green-blue tint from the vitamin riboflavin. The number and size of insoluble particulates affect color perception. The more particulates there are, the smaller their size and the whiter the mix. The same is true if the mix is abused (overheated) in any way. In this case, the mix can darken due to browning. The composition of a mix also can contribute to non-enzymatic browning. When air (i.e., overrun) is added, ice cream lightens and whitens even further. So, composition and processing affect the color of ice cream mix—even without added color. In some instances, no color is added to ice cream. The resulting “color” of such “uncolored” ice cream can be pretty stark and not very appealing (or appropriate) for any given flavor.

Color is added to ice cream to reflect the nature of added flavor and make product appearance match the desired sensory experience. Certainly, color should be compatible with whatever the declared flavor. From here a wide variety of coloring options exist.

Exempt and Non-exempt Colors

Exempt colors are the so-called “natural” colors. (There are no real “natural” colors, per se.) Exempt from regulation (other than GRAS status), these ingredients are typically declared as their common and usual names. Some examples of these include carrot oil, which produces a red-orange color; caramel color for golden yellow to dark brown; and annatto for orange-yellow coloring. (See chart “Exempt Colors.”)

Developers should remember that cocoa powders also provide “natural” color to chocolate and similar flavors. Composition, processing, chemical history and use rate of any given cocoa powder is reflected in the ultimate color of, in this case, chocolate ice cream.

Note that colors from exempt ingredients often are related to purity, concentration, use rates, etc. and can be further affected by the chemical environment of ice cream mix (oxidation, microbiological growth, acid/base reactions, heat and light). Packaging forms (packaging materials, windowed lids, plastic pails, etc.) also affect color.

Non-exempt colors are those that are true additives and must be pre-approved by regulatory authorities before use in any food. Such colors include FD&C Blue #1, which produces a brilliant, turquoise blue or FD&C Green #3, which provides foods with a sea green hue. (See chart “Examples of Non-exempt Colors.”)

Unlike many exempt materials, these non-exempt colors yield extremely precise and stable colors. However, under certain conditions of use, they too can lose color quite dramatically.

Other Considerations

Besides knowing how one or more colorants react in any given frozen dessert mix’s shelflife, other considerations such as cost, allergenicity and kosher status need to be taken into account.

Some considerations are specific to ice cream. The background whiteness of ice cream affects the final color of the food, no matter what other colorant is added. Thus, it is important to know the potential interaction between the ice cream itself and any added color. Factors to consider include:

  • Sensory appeal of the flavor to be made: There are many colors of vanilla ice cream. No one color or combination of colors really defines it. The color of ice cream depends on consumer preference in any given market. Offering distinct coloring is one of many ways to differentiate one ice cream from another, even within the same flavor category.

  • Finished weights: The higher the overrun, the lighter the color of the base ice cream. Thus, the amount of color to add may be unusually higher than normal to accommodate the addition of air to the mix. Low overruns are dark; high overruns are light.

  • Oxidation/Reduction potential: Under conditions where oxidation can occur, certain colors are apt to bleach-out. This can occur at any time for a variety of reasons and can result in off-color, unnatural color or uneven color of the product.

  • Microbiological growth:  Bacteria can affect the oxidation/reduction potential of any mix and become a source of color instability.

  • Heat: As noted before, heat can cause browning, but it also can accelerate oxidation reactions.

  • Light: In ice cream, light can be problematic in plastic packaging; in windowed, lidded containers; or even in ice cream exposed to dip-shop lighting conditions. Effects related to flavor also must be understood.

  • Packaging:  How a given color reacts with or is compatible with packaging design and materials is also critical to color stability.


    Sometimes, despite manufacturers’ best efforts, ice cream still experiences major defects. They can be grouped into the following areas:

  • Wrong shade or color: The product is not really compatible with the declared flavor. Red is not a classical color for vanilla.

  • Unnatural: Perhaps the item is the right color, but the wrong shade or tone. Dark brown may not be compatible with milk chocolate.

  • Uneven: A blotchy, uneven, spotted appearance is simply not appealing.

  • Modification of applied color: Bleaching and oxidation can cause serious color changes. When red turns green, strawberry ice cream is not strawberry ice cream.

    Delivering the right color (tone, shade, intensity, etc.) at the right time and under the right conditions helps promote the sensory appeal of the finished ice cream and lets consumers enjoy the rest of their sensory experience (smoothness, creaminess and flavor).

    Good-for-You Considerations

    The following section was first published under the title of “Inclusions in Good-for-You Frozen Desserts” in the May 2005 issue of Dairy Foods magazine. It was written by Steven Young, Ph.D. and Bruce Tharp, Ph.D.

    Key considerations when formulating “good-for-you” ice cream are what you wish to accomplish and what you want to promote about the finished food. These are determined by balancing marketing and other business-related objectives with regulatory limitations and allowances. That is, when considering a specific “good-for-you” claim, consider finished weight (pounds per gallon) and compositional limitations amongst other objectives. Working backward from a target finished weight per serving can help fix levels of certain compositional factors such as total fat, total saturated fat, total sugar(s), total carbohydrates, calories, etc. Further, if nutritionally efficacious ingredients (i.e., “nutraceuticals”) are to be added, their use rates need to be worked into the basic ice cream mix and be compatible with the predominance of scientific peer-reviewed literature for that specific nutrient or ingredient and the physical performance needs of the mix.

    Nutrient content targets are critical when considering nutrient content claims. They are also critical when health claims (implied, expressed or qualified claims that couple ingestion of a nutrient with a specific disease) or structure/function claims (claims that “help maintain good health”) are desired. Health claims are strictly regulated and often require one or more nutrient content claims or targets and general dietary restrictions to apply the claim. Structure/function claims are less restrictive, but require sound scientific principles and evidence to support the eventual claim. As always, seek the counsel of appropriate scientific and regulatory authorities when considering product claims of any type.

    Other factors also need to be taken into account. Flavors and flavorings can add significant amounts of total fat, sugars, etc. The addition of particulate and variegated inclusions can make or break any nutrient content target and, thus, any claim being sought. Economics become important, as any given “good-for-you” ice cream may, or may not, meet financial objectives of the business. Direct or indirect claims, such as “natural” or "'organic," can also affect what can or cannot be done.

    Do not forget manufacturing limitations in the plant. These can include the logistic effects of introducing new mixes with regard to production scheduling, mix storage space, and equipment operation and performance. One must also consider the need to deal with high levels of dry ingredients, such as the bases often used in the production of sugar-modified products, and/or the use of small containers of liquid ingredients such as polyols. Mix and ice cream flow and fill, as well as machinability at the freezer and management of multiple freezer options, should also be considered (e.g., sorbet swirled into ice cream or frozen yogurt to achieve specific nutrient content targets).

    The impact of composition modifications on shelflife is also critical, particularly if the modified product will be exposed to more stressful distribution temperature conditions. “Good-for-you” compositional changes can significantly change the heat-shock resistance of any ice cream through effects on the dynamics of ice melting and recrystallization. This can be dealt with by knowing the specific rigors of market distribution, then engineering appropriate heat shock protection into the formulation process. The very best way to manage this is to compare the freezing profile of candidate compositions with each other and with those of current or known finished products. This will help assess compatibility with the operational and distribution needs of the product and provide a good sense of ultimate heat shock resistance and success.

    Here, we have discussed a few general aspects of what needs to be taken into account when formulating ice creams that address certain consumer health concerns. In many respects, developing specific compositions can follow the same guidelines that apply to standard ice creams, such as those involving total solids, fat/SNF balances, sweetness, water immobilization needs, etc. More information about specific considerations is archived in Tharp & Young On Ice Cream columns at, including formulation of ice cream modified relative to fat (reduced, low and fat-free); carbohydrate (lactose-free, no sugar added, sugar-free, low carbohydrate and low glycemic index); and other nutrition-related “hot topics.”

    Showcase: Inclusions and Coloring Ingredients

    A line of lipid-based inclusions was created to impart sensory experience to a variety of baked good needs. SensoryEffects™ are multi-component, custom-designed delivery systems that deliver flavor, aroma, color, texture and nutrition in a convenient, cost-effective way. They help enhance existing products or help to create new ones. Because the technology platform is lipid-based, they can provide better sensory characters than carbohydrate- or protein-based inclusions, notes the supplier; they protect and deliver exactly what is necessary for a finished product. SensoryEffects, Tina Parsons, 800-957-3130,

    Sometimes individual FD&C colors just do not accomplish the desired effect. Gold Coast Ingredients specializes in blending diverse colorants (including FD&Cs, lakes, botanical extracts, organic extracts, caramel colors and beta-carotenoids) to create the desired result and/or label declaration. Color changes, bleeding and fading are some of the problems faced whenever colors are used. Professionals working together can minimize these problems to achieve their goals. Free samples available. Gold Coast Ingredients, 800-352-8673, Michele Trent,,

    Whether coloring dough or batter, natural color blends deliver a soft, pastel color to baked goods and can survive baking temperatures. colorMaker has created a series of powdered natural color blends for dough systems and a series of liquid natural color blends for batters. These blends easily mix with the dough or batter to produce a soft, homogenous color that survives the internal temperatures associated with baking. Recent examples include strawberry red muffins, banana yellow breads and pumpkin orange cookies, providing innovative natural color blends that are compatible with clients’ products, packaging and processing requirements. colorMaker Inc., Stephen Lauro, 714-572-0444,,

    In need of a natural color solution? Look no further than Kalsec®. Whether yellow, orange or red, a full line of pigment colors and blends is now available from vegetable sources to help achieve the right hue, naturally. Kalsec can also provide natural color solutions—including paprika and annatto—for use in organic foods (95%) and foods made with organic ingredients (70%). Kalsec, 800-323-9320,

    A new range of colorants combines anthocyanins from different sources to obtain specific shades and/or improved stability to low-pH food applications. The Chr. Hansen ColorFruit™ formulation of blends utilizes proprietary technology to optimize the intermolecular interactions of key anthocyanin molecules, resulting in enhanced stability for many applications, including beverages, fruit preparations and confectionery. ColorFruit’s shade range varies from violet to red to yellow-red. Chr. Hansen Inc., Erin O’Harrow, 414-607-5779,

    Now there are two high-quality carotenoid colorants offered to the food and beverage industry. LycoRed Ltd. offers Tomat-O-Red®, derived from tomato lycopene and Lyc-O-Beta, a yellow-to-orange colorant from Blakeslea trispora. These colorants offer three important market advantages. They are all-natural, 100% vegetarian and deliver antioxidant health benefits along with great color. Tomat-O-Red and Lyc-O-Beta are stable under a wide range of temperatures and pH changes and come in two ready-to-use formulations that dissolve easily and provide homogeneous coloring. P.L.Thomas, LycoRed USA, 973-984-0900, ext. 214,,

    A caramel color from a leading manufacturer can be used to achieve food colors from light yellows to deep browns. Sethness’ caramel colors are available in both liquid and spray-dried powder specifications and are highly stable for application flexibility, versatility and economy. The line includes GMO-free caramel colors as well as Certified Organic caramel colors. Used in virtually every segment of the food industry, Sethness’ caramel color applications include beverages, baked goods, sauces, soups, cereals, dry mixes and pet foods. Sethness Products Company, 888-772-1880,,

    Looking for a natural source of orange color or vitamin A? DSM Nutritional Products now offers CaroCare® Natural Beta-Carotene 20% V free-flowing beadlets. The beta-carotene is obtained by fermentation from Blakeslea trispora (fungal-derived) in a corn-starch coated matrix. For typical beverage applications, a stock solution in warm water would be prepared. At 5 or 10ppm level, the color is perceptibly more orange than traditional 10% water-dispersible beta-carotene beadlets. This product is OU kosher-certified, allergen-free, animal-free and has vitamin A activity of 333,400 IU/gram. DSM Nutritional Products, Diane Hnat, 973-257-8675, Bill Brown, 973-257-8288, 

    Color foods the natural way with 100% natural, pure dark-roasted barley ingredients. Black Malt Flour and Black Malt Extract from Briess add color to baked goods, gravies, dry blends and pet foods without adding flavor or enzymes. Black Barley Grits add eye appeal to seasoning blends, salsas, sauces and other foods. Use grits in small quantities for no flavor or at more than 5% for a hint of roasted flavor. Briess, Ann Heus, 920-849-7711,

    For more detail on formulating "good-for-you" ice creams, including use of mix freezing profiles, join Dr. Bruce Tharp and Dr. Steven Young at a “Tharp & Young on Ice Cream” technical short course, workshop and clinic to be held December 5-7, 2007, in Las Vegas, Nev. The fully updated and revised program and registration is available at, or call 610-975-4424 or 281-596-9603. Tharp & Young also offer custom, on-site training programs to cover specific needs held at mutually acceptable locations and times.