BetaCarotene: The Ideal Colouring For Cheese

Friday, January 11th, 2019

Christiane Lippert, Head of Marketing (Food) at Lycored expresses her thoughts on natural cheese colourings and the importance of  factors such as stability and food safety in selecting the ideal food colouring for Asia Pacific’s rapidly growing cheese industry. 

Traditionally, cheese is not featured heavily in Asian diets, but this is changing. Urbanisation, the growth of the middle class, and growing interest in western cuisine have all contributed to a rapid increase in demand for cheese in the Asia-Pacific Region. New cheese product launches in China, for example, grew by 46 percent between 2013 and 2017. And a recent Rabobank report predicted that the country’s annual cheese import volumes will near 200,000 tons by 2023.

Meanwhile, demand for natural ingredients is particularly high in the region. According to Nielsen, 80 percent of consumers in Asia-Pacific markets are concerned about the long-term health impact of artificial ingredients. This is higher than the worldwide average of 75 percent.

Therefore, manufacturers looking to satiate the growing demand for cheese in Asia-Pacific may be interested in recent research that has investigated the performance of two natural sources of colour ― annatto and BetaCarotene.

Annatto, a yellow-orange colourant, has been used to colour cheese for hundreds of years and is currently the most popular cheese colourant globally.  However, it is coming under increasing scrutiny from regulators and manufacturers due to safety concerns. In Europe in 2016, the EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS) was asked to re-evaluate the safety of five annatto extracts processed in di­fferent ways and it concluded that the safety of annatto extracts could not be assessed due to the lack of data. Resulting in doubt over the safety of some annatto food colours. Similarly, the presence of annatto has been a concern for infant formula manufacturers using whey. At a minimum, they demand proof of zero trace of annatto in the whey that they purchase so as to comply with regulatory requirements. This is also because studies have raised concerns about allergic reactions linked to annatto.

Hence, due to such concerns, there is a need for an alternative, safe, natural and comparable colour source. BetaCarotene, an antioxidant and yellow pigment, is increasingly seen as that alternative and it is also an excellent source of colour in cheese. In fact, it might even be seen as the original cheese colourant. It becomes visible during the manufacturing process, lending a natural buttery yellow colour to cheeses from grass-fed cows.

Recent research has investigated the stability of BetaCarotene colours in cheese and how they compare with annatto. It explored the performance of both colour sources in terms of stability and shelf life, in varied packaging, storage and light conditions, for colour intensity and concentration efficiency in the final cheese, and in varied cheese production types. And it was demonstrated that BetaCarotene-derived colours in cheese were highly stable across a wide range of pH, light and high-temperature conditions. Also, the colouring was particularly in vacuum-packed products, across cheddar-type hard cheese processes and in Gouda-type cheese with lighter yellow shades. Furthermore, it does not impact cheese composition at di­fferent acidity levels.

The colour of cheese is hugely important to consumers, who use it to build expectations of characteristics such as quality, taste, maturity and liking. Betacarotene an excellent source of natural colour for the growing Asia-Pacific cheese market. As well as being acceptable in whey, it is versatile, allowing any yellow to orange/red shade to be reached. And as the recent research shows, it delivers the same, if not better, stability as other natural alternatives.