Color is important in food, because it evokes emotion and memory. Food colors also enhance or restore color lost in processing. Some 67% of health-conscious consumers surveyed indicate they have color expectations for food and beverages, and 82% of mothers have color expectations for their children’s products.


“There are, however colorful opinions about color ingredients used in food,” explained Todd Katz, technical marketing and applications manager for DSM Nutritional Products, in his Prepared Foods’ R&D Seminar titled, “Carotenoids for Color.”


 The EU-required warning labels in 2010 for products containing the Southampton Six colors, “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” [Editor’s note: The so-called “Southampton Six” refers to research by psychologists at the University of Southampton, UK, into the effect of food additives on children’s behavior. It has led to major UK and European changes in food processing and labeling.]

In 2011, the United States’ FDA Food Advisory Committee stated that “a causal relationship between exposure to color additives and hyperactivity in children in the general population has not been established.” The Center for Science in the Public Interest has urged several major multinational companies that do not use dyes in Europe—to do the same in the U.S. Elsewhere, the International Association of Color Manufacturers stated, “We are confident in reassuring all consumers, including mothers of young children, that both FD & C yellow 5 and 6 are safe ingredients.”


Whether safe or not, consumers prefer healthier colors. Some 60% of consumers are concerned about artificial food dyes, and 38% of moms were aware of the Southampton Study. After learning about the warning label requirements, 62% said they would not purchase a product that contained one of the Southampton Six.


Four out of five consumers think nature-identical beta-carotene is healthier than artificial food dyes. Beta-carotene is an exempt color as listed in 21CFR 73, as either produced by or extracted from a natural source, or chemically synthesized as nature identical. Examples of other exempt colors are lycopene, anthocyanins, turmeric, caramel, betacyanins, apocarotenal and canthaxanthin.


Grouped by function, beta-carotene, astaxanthin and lycopene may be used as both colors and nutrients. Apocarotenal and canthaxanthin are colors only, while lutein and zeaxanthin are nutrients only.


Typically, there are three commercial forms available: water-dispersible forms, such as beadlets, powders and liquid emulsions; and oil-based suspensions and solutions. Specialty forms also are available.


The product form can influence the color in the final product. Oil-based forms are available in suspensions with crystals and solutions with no crystals. However, canthaxanthin is not available in oil-based form, as it has very limited oil solubility.


Katz explained that the ideal pH range for the stability of carotenoids is 2.5-6.5 and that they are retort and pasteurization stable. Ascorbic acid improves their stability to oxygen and light, and carotenoids are compatible with most other food additives.


Stock solutions with standardized concentration of 1mg beta-carotene per 1ml of solution are recommended for adding beta-carotene to foods and beverages. Applicable for water-dispersible forms and oil-based fluid suspensions, complete dispersion of the active component is achieved prior to use. A manual is available that provides detailed preparation methods for each form.


Beverage turbidity is influenced by the size, shape and concentration of beta-carotene crystals. FD&C yellow 5 and 6, and red 40 can be replaced with process- and storage-stable carotenoids. The color of beta-carotene is stabilized by adding 200-250mg per liter ascorbic acid to minimize color changes.


Orange and red color variants of liquid beverage concentrates showed excellent stability during six months storage at 25C in 3oz HDPE bottles. Yellow was not tested. In gummy bears, yogurt and other applications, carotenoids compared well to the color, processing and shelflife stability as that of certified colors.