Spirulina, a microalgae containing a naturally occurring blue pigment called phycocyanin, is currently the only clean-label blue colorant approved for confectionery applications. But using spirulina in confectionery is not quite the same as using a synthetic color. However, with a good understanding of the relevant technical factors, vibrant clean-label blues can be successfully achieved.

The most important technical considerations involve heat and acid. Spirulina is a protein that can be denatured with an excess of either, resulting in color degradation (fading), coagulation, and agglomeration of particles. This can lead to less vibrant coloring, a color-shift towards teal, and/or blue specks in the finished product.

Here, we explain how to get the best out of spirulina in confectionery. These application examples have been created using GNT’s EXBERRY® spirulina concentrates as the reference ingredient.

High-boil candies. High-boil candies can reach extremely high temperatures. There are two main methods to avoid exposing the spirulina to high heat. Firstly, the spirulina ingredient should ideally be added to the hot mass when the temperature is lower than 130°C/266°F. Secondly, a premix blend featuring two parts color to one part syrup (such as corn syrup or maltitol syrup) will help insulate the color once it is added to the hot mass. Direct contact with acidic ingredients—including flavors, some colors and acid solutions—should be avoided. The spirulina should be mixed well with the hot mass prior to adding or injecting acidic ingredients.

Gummies. While gummies are not exposed to the same high temperatures as high-boils, similar principles apply. For starch, pectin, and gelatin gummies, the most vibrant blues are achieved when adding the color at temperatures lower than 97°C/207°F, with even deeper blues at < 90°C/194°F. The specific temperature will depend on the formula and hold times prior to depositing but, in general, minimizing heat exposure as much as possible is advised for optimal results. Once the spirulina is well dispersed into the gummy mass, acidic ingredients can be added before depositing. Specific ingredients like vitamin C or fruit juice that contribute yellow tones in the gummy mass can increase the dosage of blue needed to achieve a true-blue hue rather than a blue-green shade.

Hard-panned & Soft-panned confectionery. EXBERRY® Extreme Blue Powder can be added directly to the engrossing syrup or by pre-diluting in water first. The high intensity powder allows for lower usage levels in the finished product.  Additionally, EXBERRY Blue HP is designed specifically for hard panned applications allowing for homogenous color within the engrossing syrup.

Compound coatings and chocolates. When working with fat-based confections, it is critical that water is not added to the finished product. EXBERRY® oil-dispersible and micronized spirulina powders are perfect for compound coatings and chocolate applications where the colors can be added directly to melted mass at < 55°C/131°F and is easily incorporated.

Originally appeared in the July 2020 issue of Prepared Foods as Clean Label Confections.