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Feeling the heat: Tackling natural colour stability in hot climates

Article-Feeling the heat: Tackling natural colour stability in hot climates

Food and drink companies increasingly are making the switch to natural colours, but when products are sold in hot climates stability can be a major issue.

For food manufacturers, there is strong motivation to source naturally derived colours, as nearly two-thirds of global consumers (61%) say they avoid artificial colours, according to Nielsen data. However, as well as the higher cost, natural pigments tend to be more heat sensitive, creating an additional challenge for companies looking to sell products in warmer parts of the world.

Colours Category Manager at Naturex Nathalie Pauleau explained that carotenoids in general are particularly heat sensitive, such as beta-carotene, carotene, paprika extract, annatto, and lutein or marigold extract. Heat catalyses oxidation, which can discolour a product, affect its flavour, or cause a ring to form around the top of a beverage.

“Avoiding any oxidation will protect the colour and the flavour in the final product,” she said. “…Any oxidation can be accelerated due to light so if you combine light and hot temperature you can have a lot of oxidation. This can be the case for beverages but also for food applications like ready meals and cereal bars."“Any options to make the shipping conditions faster are better, and any cold storage conditions are better for the final product, but it’s not always possible.”

Naturally derived antioxidants

For food and drink makers looking to sell products in warmer climates, Naturex might recommend storing products in cool conditions, and using packaging that protects them from light. However, it also provides ingredient-specific solutions, and focuses on using naturally derived antioxidants when formulating its colours.

“One of the main ones is rosemary extracts. We select the parts of the rosemary extracts that are efficient in protecting the carotenoids,” Pauleau said.

Other options include ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which can be very effective for protecting natural pigments, and combinations of both, depending on the kind of colour. At a low level, antioxidants used in the formulation of the colour do not need to be labelled on an ingredient list, she said, although if they are added to the final product, they do need to be listed.

Seeking global solutions

The company’s aim usually is to provide a formulation that allows products to be sold anywhere in the world, regardless of local climatic conditions – although if there are significant cost savings associated with using a particular ingredient in one market, then it will take that into account, and sometimes regulatory differences mean it is preferable to use different ingredients in different markets.

Those regulatory differences mean that colouring foodstuffs – colours derived from fruits, vegetables and herbs – are often a good globally acceptable solution.

Natural colours the norm

Naturex has also worked on a range of stable red colours specifically for the beverage market. Most are anthocyanin based, derived from raw materials including red cabbage, red radish and black carrot.

“Depending on the source it will have different stability in hot conditions,” said Pauleau, adding that the best solution is often to combine colours from different sources to achieve the best stability.“Red colours are not so sensitive to oxidation but are more sensitive to hot conditions,” she said. …Some have a better stability to light, and others to heat so a good combination and ratio between the anthocyanins can permit a good global stability.”

The stability of naturally derived colours is generally more of a challenge than with artificial colours, but for a majority of food and beverage manufacturers, natural pigments have become the norm. Natural colours accounted for about 55% of the world’s total food colour market in 2015, according to Future Market Insights. While Europe is the world’s largest market for natural colours, demand continues to grow rapidly, particularly in North America and the Asia Pacific region.