Colours are used in foods and beverages to restore colours that may have been lost during processing, reduce batch-to batch colour variance, enhance naturally occurring colours, or to imply a product’s flavour. While synthetics still dominate the market in Asia, the growth of natural colours is outpacing that of synthetic colours due to increased consumer demand for products formulated with natural ingredients.
While the increased demand for natural colours is global, Asia Pacific is expected to grow at the highest rate of any region, with a compound annual growth rate of 5.3 percent, according to MarketsandMarkets.
Caramel is the most commonly used colour, in seasonings
and sauces to bakery and alcoholic beverages.
Natural colours are derived from agricultural, biological, or mineral sources. They have a simple extraction process and long history of safe use. The main driver behind the growth of natural colours in finished products is the consumer demand for foods and beverages formulated with natural, more recognisable ingredients that have simpler labels.
Because health and safety are the main concerns consumers in Asia have when purchasing foods and beverages, transparency in the supply chain is becoming increasingly important as it allows consumers to know where their food is coming from.
With the consumer trend moving towards ‘natural’ and ‘free-from’ products, finding ingredients that not only function in a finished application but also meet this new simple label standard can be difficult.
While some of the colours currently available are extremely stable and applicable in a wide variety of foods and beverages, such as caramel colour and carotenoids, other natural colours change colours in different pH levels or fade when exposed to heat or light. This leaves room in the natural colour industry for new innovations and cooperation between natural colour companies and food product developers.
Natural Brown Colours
Caramel is the most used natural colour in Asia Pacific. Because there are four classes of caramel colour, each with varying hues, charges, and stability, it can be used in practically any application. As also seen in the global market, there has been increased demand in Asia Pacific over the past five years for class I (plain) caramel colours.
Over 75 percent of new product launches containing caramel colour during this time period possessed class I caramel colour.
Ready-to-eat meals, seasonings, sauces (such as soy or fish), bakery, and alcoholic beverages are some of the most common applications for caramel colour in Asia Pacific. But the main challenge with using caramel colour is finding the right balance of stability, darkness, and hue for the application.
Typically, an increase in darkness leads to a loss of stability and a decrease in red/yellow hue. For a caramel colour to be applied in soy sauce, for example, there are two major requirements—hue and salt stability. The caramel colours for soy sauces in Asia need to have stability in 20 percent salt solution and a red-brown appearance. Caramel colours that are not salt-stable will form a haze followed by a precipitate. Class III caramel colours are commonly used in high-salt sauces because they have a positive charge and are salt stable.
The positive charge on class III caramel colours also contribute to stability in beer and malted beverages by preventing protein flocculation. Beer-stable and salt-stable class I caramel colours are recent innovations, allowing for darker toned products while maintaining clarity. Class I caramel colour is used significantly in high proof beverages, such as whisky, due to their inherent stability and hue. By working closely with colour companies, product developers are able to choose the best caramel colour option for their application.
Even though caramel colours are the most commonly used brown colour in Asia, companies are also looking at brown innovations. Caramelising new carbohydrate sources is one way of achieving different shades of brown that are still extremely stable.
Caramelised fruit and vegetables, for example, offer alternatives to traditional caramel colour. They provide brown colours but also add flavour notes. These are similar to burnt sugars, which are mostly found in products in Australia and New Zealand, but are starting to show up more in Asian products such as ice cream and sweet biscuits.
Natural Red Colours
Anthocyanins such as those found in purple corn
can change colours at different PH levels.
The most commonly used red natural colour source in Asia Pacific is carmine. It provides a vivid, red colour that is very stable to heat and light. However, because it is not Kosher, some companies are seeking alternatives. Where carmine is not desired, anthocyanin-based colours are often used.
Anthocyanins are responsible for the red, purple, and blue colours in many flowers and fruits. These pigments, though, can change colour at different pH levels. For example, if an anthocyanin like purple corn is used in a beverage application at pH 3, it will appear to be a vibrant red hue. At higher pH applications, such as ice cream, the colour will shift to purple and become less stable.
The main applications for anthocyanins in Asia Pacific are confections and non-carbonated soft drinks. These applications are ideal for using anthocyanins because they are typically very brightly coloured and anthocyanins will appear red due to a lower pH. Anthocyanins are typically stable to light and can therefore withstand the clear packaging that many confections and beverages use.
Natural Orange And Yellow Colours
Orange and yellow natural colours are typically very heat stable and cost effective in terms of natural colours. Beta-carotene, a carotenoid, is one of the most widely used natural colours in Asia. It provides a bright golden yellow hue that is heat and light stable in a variety of applications. This colour is extracted from algal or fungal sources, however, a nature-identical can also be produced.
Beta-carotene emulsions allow this typically oil-soluble colour to be easily used in water-based applications. In Asia, beta-carotene is primarily added to bakery, soft drink, and confectionery applications. This is due to its ability to withstand heat and lower pH levels while being more light stable than other natural options when using clear bottles or packaging.
Annatto, a carotenoid, is extracted from the orange coloured outer coat surrounding the seeds of the shrub Bixa orellana, which is native to South America, India, East Africa, the Caribbean, and Philippines. Its use in Asia has increased by approximately 30 percent in the past five years, most likely because it is a cost effective and stable option.
Annatto extract can also create yellow hues at low usage rates and deep red-orange hues at higher usage levels, making it a helpful tool for companies wanting to limit the number of colours they purchase.
Turmeric provides a vivid, almost neon, yellow hue to applications and can sometimes be a natural alternative to Tartrazine. In Asia, when it is not being used as a spice in seasonings and sauces, it is most commonly used to colour snacks and confections. However, it is not light stable and requires opaque packaging to maintain its bright yellow hue. Similar to other natural colours in Asia, turmeric use has been on the rise, especially in Australia, Malaysia, and Japan.
Natural Blue, Purple, And Green Colours
Spirulina for colour is extracted from blue-green algae that occurs naturally in freshwater and marine habitats. It provides a ’true blue’ colour option for foods and beverages without any green or purple undertones. However, it is easily blended with beta-carotene or turmeric to create green hues and beet to make purple.
While spirulina provides the best ‘true blue’ colour and can be used as a building block for other natural colour blends, it is not stable to heat and light. This becomes a challenge when attempting to achieve blue, purple, or green colours in bakery applications or beverages in clear bottles. Because of this, product developers in Asia and Australia use sodium copper chlorophyllin to achieve greens that are somewhat more stable than spirulina blends. This natural colour is usually extracted from fescue or nettle and is used primarily for confections in Asia and Australia because it provides a bright green colour typical of the application.
Technology’s Role In Enhancing Natural Colours
Advances in technology are key when working with natural colours. Instruments such as a colorimeter are required when working with natural colours and can improve precision when matching colours, testing stability, and replacing synthetics.
A colorimeter mimics what the eyes see by measuring reflected or transmitted light at various wavelengths within the visible spectrum and quantifies colour based upon a three-dimensional colour space. This technology can help colour scientists create custom blends for customers that better match their desired hue.
High-pressure homogenisers are another technology helping to advance natural colours. These allow for the creation of clear, stable emulsions as well as simple emulsifiers in orange, yellows, green, and red shades made from oil soluble colourants.
Natural Colour Innovations Moving The Industry Forward
Natural colour companies are always looking for ways to increase the stability and functionality of current natural colours to better replace synthetics. For example, creating spirulina with increased light stability or improving emulsion technology to create clear paprika emulsions that allow product developers to replace sunset yellow with a natural alternative will become more prevalent.
New sources of natural colours will also be a driving factor in the future of the industry. These could include petitioning for the approval of natural colour sources that are permitted in some regions but not others. Additionally, transparency in supply chain, sustainability, and scalability are becoming increasingly important. New crop sources that are easily and quickly scalable, such as purple corn, will be necessary for colour companies to keep up with the increasing demand for natural colours.
As the demand for class I caramel colours increases, innovation continues to create products that provide darkness, stability to acid, salt, and beer while maintaining simplicity. For non-caramel brown colours, carbohydrate sources that complement the application have been developed to achieve ’simple labels.’
Additionally, creating powdered natural colour options for the Asian market is important, especially in yellow, orange, and brown hues due to the large amount of seasonings used in readyto- eat meals and instant noodle bowls. New drying methods and materials allow for innovation in powder stability while maintaining cost effectiveness.
Often, it is necessary for natural colour companies to work closely with product developers to create the right hue for certain flavours or applications. By selecting companies with a broad portfolio of colour sources, it becomes possible to achieve a broader range of hues as those sources get blended. Some companies offer these options in house to provide lower costs for customer blends while achieving the customer’s target hue.