Colouring Food With Food

Friday, February 11th, 2022

With clean labels becoming increasingly important to consumers, the choice of colourant may limit food and drink products’ appeal. Plant-based food ingredients with colouring properties can provide an ideal choice for the modern market. Contributed by Nattakan Sornritchingchai, Senior Technical Sales Manager, GNT

Modern consumers want their food and drink products to contain ingredients they know and trust. Research carried out in 2021 shows 71 percent of Asia Pacific shoppers say they became more attentive to ingredient listings over the last 12 months. In addition, 69 percent are now more focused on natural ingredients as a result of the pandemic.

With rapidly evolving attitudes, the choice of colourant can play a significant role in products’ success. In fact, 79 percent of consumers from across the Asia Pacific region feel it is important that food and drink does not contain artificial colours*. Nonetheless, creating visually appealing products with completely clean and clear labels can create a challenge for manufacturers. 

With many brands moving away from artificial food colours, ‘natural’ colours such as anthocyanins, betanin, carmine, and caramels are widely used across the food and drink industry. Natural colours can be derived from a variety of sources, including fruits, vegetables, plants, minerals, and insects. The pigments within these source materials are obtained through selective extraction, often with the use of chemicals. As a result, they are considered to be food additives in many parts of the world. 

Colouring With Food Ingredients

Plant-based colour concentrates – known throughout the industry as colouring foods or food ingredients with colouring properties – can provide a truly clean-label alternative. 

They are created from edible fruits, vegetables, and plants, which are turned into colour concentrates using only water and physical processes such as chopping and filtering, with no organic solvents. There is no selective extraction of the pigments – they are actually concentrates, retaining important characteristics of their source materials such as their taste, odour, and nutrients. Due to the way they are made, they can be eaten at any stage of the manufacturing process.

Food legislation varies from country to country. As such, the legal status and labelling of plant-based colour concentrates can only be clarified on a case-by-case basis. However, in most countries they are considered to be food ingredients rather food additives, qualifying for completely clean and clear label declarations.

For example, in Australia, New Zealand, India and China, they might be described on ingredient lists as ‘colouring food (concentrate of carrot and blackcurrant)’ or simply ‘concentrates (carrot and blackcurrant).’ In Indonesia, they could be listed as ‘fruit and/or vegetable concentrate (radish and carrot)’ or ‘concentrate (radish and carrot).’ However, in Thailand, they are classified as colour extracts from parts of plants, with label declarations including the name of the raw materials and the part used, such as: ‘natural colour: colour extracts from carrot root.’

EXBERRY® Coloring Foods

With 67 percent of Asia Pacific consumers saying they seek out food and drink products that contain recognisable ingredients*, such clear label declarations can provide significant benefits – and many brands are now taking advantage of that. Mintel data shows a 468 percent increase in the use of plant-based colour concentrates across all food and drink launches in the Asia Pacific region between 2010 and 2020*.

Ensuring Optimal Performance

Making the switch to plant-based colour concentrates does not mean having to compromise on performance. They can be used to achieve vibrant shades comparable to synthetics in many food and drink applications. 

However, they are not a plug-and-play solution. To ensure optimal performance, it is vital to consider all relevant technical aspects, which will vary depending on the choice of colour concentrate and the requirements of the application. These may include how the chosen concentrate will respond to the pH value, acidity, density, fat content, and vitamins and minerals in the base product. Additionally, it is important to know how it will be processed, packaged, and merchandised. Extensive testing, including exposing the product to extreme heat and light, should be undertaken to establish the stability of the colours. 

With the right approach, it is possible to find an effective solution for almost any requirement.

Asia Pacific Taking Notice

Plant-based colour concentrates have been gaining greater recognition across the world for some time. As a result, a number of countries in the Asia Pacific region have introduced standards recognising the distinction between plant-based colour concentrates and food additive colourants.

China’s Group Standards for Colouring Foods were published in 2017. Drawn up by the China National Food Industry Association, they decree that they must be made from natural food raw materials and should retain the raw materials’ key properties such as colouring constituents, nutritive constituents, taste, and flavour. The manufacturing process must not isolate the colouring constituents or use organic solvents for extraction, instead relying on chopping, grinding, water extraction, pressing, filtration, concentrating, drying, and other physical processes.

At the end of December 2020, the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India also published a standard on colouring foods, setting out its definition for plant-based colour concentrates. It determines that colouring foods must be made from edible fruits, vegetables, spices, or herbs and processed with water, with no selective extraction of pigments. 

The Natural Food Colours Association (NATCOL)’s ‘Code of Practice for the classification, manufacturing, use and labelling of Colouring Foods (EU)’, meanwhile, was published in 2021. While created for the European market, it will also serve as best practice to support the further regulatory development of plant-based colour concentrates around the world.

*references available upon request


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