Foods That Color Food

The food market is driven by consumer preferences, and the current top three are natural, organic and additive-free. However, after years of growth, new products with “natural” claims are declining, partially due to the fact that there is not an FDA definition for the term. With legal recourse from competitors and consumers, manufacturers are finding that the benefits do not outweigh the risks.

For “organic” claims, the opposite is true. After a few years of decline, “organic claims are now on the rise,” stated Elijah Church, manager–technical support, for ROHA USA in his Prepared Foods’ Seminar, “Foods that Color Food.” Organic claims are rising due to the well-defined USDA, criteria for use of the claim, in addition to the fact that many consumers believe organic means healthier foods and beverages.

“Despite differences between natural and organic, what it comes down to is perception,” added Church. The majority of consumers perceive natural to be similar to organic, as well as locally grown. This perception makes it difficult to justify the price premium for regulated organic products.

“Clean label is another important consumer preference,” explained Church. What it means is free from chemical additives with simple, minimally processed ingredients consumers can pronounce and understand. Clean label can perhaps be considered the middle ground between natural and organic.

Natural and nature-identical colors have been the products of choice for some time. But now, the demand for food products without color added is increasing. However, consumers still want products that look appealing. So, given processing conditions, environment, packaging and shelflife requirements of modern foods, how can a product look good without added color?  

“The answer,” according to Church, “is to use foods that give color as ingredients.” An ingredient can make foods appear more appealing, while simultaneously meeting consumers’ desire for a clean label. A number of foods can be used for a variety of purposes.

In Europe, coloring foodstuffs legislation states that a color-yielding ingredient that can exist as a food on its own is processed with no selective pigment extraction. And, it is considered an ingredient, not a food additive, and does not require an E number. In the U.S., there is no such legislation to address this issue. FDA policy, in summary, is: Anything that is approved for use as a food color and is used to color a food needs to be labeled in the ingredient declaration as a color.

Ingredients that yield color can be utilized in a number of ways, the more common being as extracts, flavors, nutraceuticals and antioxidants. There are many ways to incorporate color into food without utilizing a color additive. Multiple factors should be considered when attempting this, including target market, cost, stability and shade. Discussion with suppliers as early as possible in the process helps guarantee the best results.


“Foods That Color Food,” Elijah Church, manager–technical support, ROHA USA,, 888-533-7642

—Summary by Elizabeth Pelofske, Contributing Editor


Maximizing the Challenge: Color Replacement

Color plays a key role in food choice by influencing taste thresholds, sweetness perception, food preference, pleasantness and acceptability. People usually eat with their eyes first. If food does not taste good, people will not try it again; but, if food does not look good, they may not try it at all.

In addition to aesthetics, food manufacturers use natural-derived colors to enhance a product’s natural color; to offset colors that may be lost in storage and distribution; to reduce variations in color from sourcing or processing; to provide a product’s flavor identity; to color products that are colorless; or to protect sensitive flavors or vitamins.

A survey taken at IFT in 2013 showed that pH is the greatest challenge when using naturally derived colors, like anthocyanins. Stability of natural colors is challenging because of the effects of pH, heat, light, storage time and interaction with other components.

“However, a number of factors influence manufacturers to choose natural colorants, including consumer perception, clean labeling, product differentiation, price premium and brand identity,” offered Jody Renner-Nantz, global application scientist for DDW The Color House, in her Prepared Foods’ R&D Seminar titled “Maximizing the Challenge to Replace FD&C Red 40, Yellow 5 & 6 Dyes for Beverage and Fruit Prep Developers.”

Some hues are more easily attained than others in the natural color market. Blues, greens and purples are a little more difficult to attain. New products with natural colors are definitely a growing trend. A consumer perception exists that naturally derived colors are “good-for-you.” FD&C colors do not have that same appeal.

When switching from FD&C colors, expectations of the customer need to be managed. Considerations include increased cost, decreased stability, difference in color strength and shelflife, technical differences and regulatory issues.

In U.S. regulations, there are two types of colors. First are those exempt from certification: naturally derived from plants, insects or minerals (titanium dioxide for example). 21CFR73 lists color additives exempt from certification.

21CFR74 lists the other type, color additives subject to certification (FD&C colors). 21CFR 101.22 gives options for color labeling of naturally derived colors not otherwise required in 21CFR73 to be declared by their respective common name, as “artificial color,” “artificial color added” or “color added,” or “colored with _______” or “_______ color” (the blank being filled in with name of the color additive listed in the applicable regulation in part 73).

Color measurement is an important tool in color replacement, helping to match the new color. Usually, one color source is not going to work to replace FD&C color. Blends are usually necessary, and the pH of the application is important. Often increased amounts of natural colorant need to be used, compared with when FD&C colors are used.

Technical questions need to be asked up front, such as what type of packaging is used, because, for example, turmeric is sensitive to light. Another question to be asked is what other additives are present, because vitamin C causes anthocyanins to fade, but it improves the stability of carotenoids. This information needs to be collected before determining how to replace FD&C colors in an application.

Replacement of red 40 in a sports drink, for example, may require a blend of natural red colors, like elderberry, red radish, turmeric, caramel and/or cochineal. Similarly, for lemon drinks, turmeric and beta-carotene may be blended to replace yellow 5. Yellow 6 replacements, typically more orange than yellow, may require a blend of paprika and caramel colors.

In dairy products like strawberry yogurt, red 40 was successfully replaced with red beet and caramel colors with help of the colorimeter. In powders like beverage mixes, particle size is also a factor in color matching. One thing to remember is that naturally derived colors will always be more expensive and also needed at higher concentrations. Suppliers are available for assistance when needed.


“Navigating the Challenge to Replace FD&C Red 40, Yellow 5 & 6 Dyes for Beverage and Fruit Prep Applications,” Jody Renner-Nantz, global application scientist, DD Williamson,, 502-560-5318

—Summary by Elizabeth Pelofske, Contributing Editor