Trix before and after natural colors
Natural colors do not provide the same intensity and vibrancy of artificial colors.

Promise and delivery

It may seem obvious, but when it comes to flavors and colors, the most important aspects of these ingredients are the profile they promise. Unfortunately for natural flavors and colors, the actual profiles delivered in the ­final product can be a bit wanting.

“Natural colors do not provide the same intensity and vibrancy of artificial colors, and they do not maintain their color over shelf life as well as their artificial counterparts,” said Elsa Howerth, senior flavorist and R.&D. director of Kerry, adding that this issue can be due to a lack of stability in the ingredients as they go through formulating and processing of the final product. “Colors such as green and blue are more challenging to create as a natural color and more affected by pH changes in the products in which they are used."

Natural flavors also pack less of a punch to the taste buds than artificial ones; however, this is less of an issue with snack foods, said Donnie Moran, national sales manager of flavors for Prinova USA.

Lightly salted potato chips
In snacks like light-salt potato chips, consumers expect the taste to be subdued, allowing more use of natural flavors.

“Wholesome snacks are less taste-sensitive than sweeter, more decadent products,” he said. “In wholesome snacks like light-salt potato chips with light salt or vegetable shoestrings, consumers expect the taste to be subdued, allowing more use of natural flavors, which tend to be more mellow.”

Baked goods have a more uphill battle with natural flavors.

“In decadent or sweet categories like candies and cookies, natural flavors present bigger challenges because they can become more difficult to use and maintain the same taste profile,” Mr. Moran said. “Wholesome snacks are a perfect fit for natural flavors, while the strong taste required in decadent snacks can demand a more vigorous natural approach.”

Prinova addresses this challenge with flavor application work. The company uses dry and liquid natural flavors in conjunction with vegan, non-G.M.O., allergen-free, organic alternatives and a line of PureCircle stevia leaf extracts to create flavor profiles that can replace artificial or blends of natural and artificial flavors.

Clean label baking - nutrition bars
To remain cost effective, flavors and colors must live up to bakers' and snack makers' expectations.

While natural flavors may not be as potent as their artificial counterparts, natural colors can also present a challenge: They can sometimes have an impact on taste, bestowing off flavors. For example, Katie Rountree, CFS, associate application scientist for DDW, said current natural options for blue and green bakery products can deliver muted hues and also may contribute off flavors in the final product picked up from their vegetal sources.

Natural color blends need to be balanced to provide the right hue while also maintaining the expected taste. To achieve this balance, Land O’ Lakes’ R.&D. team works closely with suppliers to develop proprietary blends of natural color compounds. These blends aim to provide the color experience bakers and snack producers are looking for while still minimizing possible undesirable flavor impact.