Pantone LLC recently announced the 2023 Color of the Year, Viva Magenta. It is deep red-pink, reminiscent of a raspberry hue. The striking shade for 2023 is undeniably joyous and is an example of just how much color can inspire and excite our senses. Vibrant and optimistic hues like Viva Magenta are ideal in confectionery applications, where they cue flavor intensity, textural nuances, and novelty.

Unique color applications in confections are also popular today, such as the use of saturated pastels, and combining multiple colors and textures in a single format. Developers face several hurdles when formulating with natural colors in confections, and color manufacturers and suppliers are constantly innovating to develop more effective and stable natural colors.

One simple yet effective way color manufacturers are delivering bright colors for food applications is to extract from natural sources with high concentrations of desired pigments. Common sources are extracts and concentrates from an array of fruit, vegetable, algal, and microbial starting materials.

These can include radishes, beets, carrots, and other roots and tubers; the rhizome turmeric; blue-green algae, specifically spirulina; and fruits and vegetables, such as blackcurrant, elderberry, blueberry, red cabbage, and many more. For example, red sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are rich in anthocyanins, and tailored extraction techniques allow for warmer, and more vibrant red color preparations ideal for the confectioner’s toolkit. 

Ensuring high pigment concentration from the starting material begins with precise cultivation techniques. Today, vertically integrated color manufacturers can control key steps of the crop lifecycle, from crop screening and seed selection to determination of ideal planting conditions, utilization of ideal pesticide and fertilizer systems, and harvesting at maximum color concentration.

Once the ideal color extract or concentrate is obtained, suppliers can work with developers to select the appropriate color for the confectionery application. The most common natural pigments in the food industry include red, purple, and blue anthocyanins; red, orange, and purple betalains; orange, yellow, and red carotenoids, and blue, green, and yellow chlorophylls.

These and most natural pigments are susceptible to degradation amidst environmental factors, such as high temperature, pH, light, and oxidative stressors, so careful selection is key for achieving a bright color in the final product. 

Attributes of the formulation, such as moisture and fat content will dictate which color and usage rate will perform best in the confection through processing and shelf life. Most confections are relatively low moisture systems, leaving little room for water-soluble compounds to dissolve and impart color in the final product effectively. In low-moisture, panned applications, and chocolate-based confections, encapsulated natural colors can offer enhanced shade intensity, uniformity, and stability over shelf life, facilitating the dispersion of traditionally water-soluble pigments.

Once a suitable color is selected based on the desired shade and solubility, confectioners can work with suppliers to determine where and how the color should be added in processing to prevent degradation. In some confectionery matrices, additional ingredients may be used to improve stability of natural colors.

In aerated confections, such as nougat or marshmallow, susceptibility to oxidative degradation can be a challenge. The addition of ascorbate may be used in such cases to help prevent color deterioration. Careful selection of the final packaging for the confection can also help to prevent color degradation from light and oxygen exposure. Confectioners can explore concentrates derived from a comprehensive variety of plant, microbial, and algal sources, and work with their supplier to curate the optimal natural color system and correct usage of same for their product.

Regular contributor Olivia Conrad is a product development scientist and freelance science writer based in Boulder, Colo. She has extensive experience in natural food product development in categories ranging from frozen desserts to meat snacks. She also is an expert in food safety with a strong working knowledge of FSMA and HACCP. Contact her at