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The colors of nature

Anything that looks good sells better. Ultimately, the eye eats before the mouth. According to research, more than 80 percent of food color is taken into consideration when making purchasing choices. Therefore, the use of appropriate substances for optical enhancement is a matter of course in the food trade. The downside is that the color usually comes from the laboratory. Even so, artificial additives are unpopular with consumers, and many want more naturalness here as well. It doesn’t always take a quinoline yellow or an indigo to conjure up positive reactions when it comes to cakes, breads, ice cream and other foods.

With this background in mind, it would be worth considering replacing chemical food dyes with natural products. It would also be worthwhile to start by adding “honest colors” to some of the products in the product range.

As opposed to dyestuff, which has to be declared as additives, natural products can easily be labelled as, for example, “coloring food concentrate from elderberry ” in ingredient lists. Price tags must only indicate “coloring plant extract” if the consumer could otherwise be deceived by the color. This might be the case if a higher proportion of eggs is simulated (vanilla cream powder with carrot extract), a cake is much darker than usual and a very high proportion of fruit is to be obtained. On the other hand, a poison-green birthday cake that could actually never be so green on its own, or colorful sugar sprinkles with plant extracts do not need to be identified. This is ideal for the clean labeling sector. Because these instructions are easy to understand, the food producer not only achieves better quality, but he or she also achieves the transparency that is often desired.

Some staining substances from the chemical laboratory have long been suspected of being harmful to health. Researchers have named azo dyes in connection with hyperactivity in children, among other things. Furthermore, such substances could trigger allergies or pseudo allergies, which in turn could lead to asthma or skin edema. In other words, a clean list of ingredients is also good from these points of view.

The application of natural coloring materials is not difficult. First of all, it is essential to know which additives produce the desired color. Here are two examples: spinach powder replaces chlorophyll (E 140), and paprika emulsion replaces capsorubin (E 160c). The natural dyes do not have to hide behind the chemistry. These dyes are strong and reliable – and of course harmless to our health. In all honesty, it has to be admitted that the color of the plant extracts is not quite as intense as that of the artificial ones. This applies in particular when higher temperatures have to be used in the bakery or on the oven. Excellent results can, however, be achieved with expert knowledge and the joy of experimenting. In addition, if there is any doubt about heat, acid or color stability, direct contact with the manufacturer’s R&D department is always recommended. Just give a call!

There are many natural dyes that are used in food production. They can be used to produce virtually any color. Beetroot, spinach or turmeric are the most popular. But also hibiscus, black carrot, elderberry and many others create rich colors. You can even conjure intense blue and green tones with the help of algae. Extracts and concentrates from the various vegetables and fruits or from edible plant parts are ground, pressed or filtered. The juices produced, which are also very color-intensive, are concentrated according to a standardized process or converted into powder.


By law

As of November 2015, the “Guide to the classification of food extracts with coloring properties” applies to all foods containing coloring matters. It classifies coloring food extracts into “coloring food” and “coloring matter”.

In contrast to “coloring foods”, if the extract is classified as a coloring agent, it counts as an additive, i.e. it is subject to approval and must meet specific requirements on purity. It receives an E-number and is titled as “coloring” (e.g. coloring beta-carotene in the list of ingredients).

Crucial to the distinction between coloring foods and colorants is the extent to which pigments are enriched in the production of the extracts compared to nutritive and aromatic components. If both nutritive and aromatic components are still present, this is a coloring foodstuff. If it is not, the extract is considered a coloring agent. One example: if only the pigments are extracted from a carrot juice, the result is a dye. This would have to meet the specifications of Regulation (EU) No 231/2012 as an additive. If not, it should no longer be used as an unauthorized additive. However, if only the water content is drastically reduced, the product is a coloring plant extract, even if it still (slightly) tastes of carrot.


Where and how the use of coloring plant extracts can be put into practice is discussed in detail in our forum.

About Markus Messemer

Seit 2007 intensiv mit dem Thema "CleanLabel" verbunden engagiert sich Markus Messemer für deklarationsfreundliche Rezepturen, Rohstoffe und Technologien.

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