As more foods go natural with ingredient choices, formulators face the question of color additives. Nothing boosts the eye appeal of baked foods and snacks more than colored icings, fillings, toppings and seasonings, but achieving that allure is a matter of form as well as source.

“Most natural colors are dyes, which color solutions but do not color opaque materials,” explained Jeff Greaves, general manager, Food Ingredient Solutions, Teterboro, NJ, a company with more than 100 years of combined experience in color additives. Dyes color by transmittance, absorbing light passing through the object, particularly a liquid, and not by reflectance, bouncing light off the object, as a solid does.

Dyes work well in high-moisture systems, but icings, fat-based fillings and topically colored-and-coated snacks require a dry form: the lakes. The term “lake” refers to a color additive created by adsorbing or chemically combining the water-soluble dye with an insoluble material such as aluminum hydrate. Lakes are more stable than dyes and work well for coloring foods containing fats and oils or items lacking sufficient moisture to dissolve dyes. They are especially helpful for foods that may go through multiple freeze-thaw cycles, which can cause water-soluble colors to bleed.

The problem of choice didn’t improve when Europe’s long-simmering debate about artificial colors boiled over during 2007. A study funded by the European Food Safety Authority at the UK’s Southampton University found that a beverage mixture of certain food colors and the preservative sodium benzoate may affect hyperactivity in children. Suddenly, natural was in and artificial out as companies scrambled to get rid of the azo dyes (Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6) that European regulators decided would require warning labels on foods.

The heated discussion also scorched food coloring choices made by American processors; however, in the US, the Food and Drug Administration reaffirmed the safety of these food dyes, classified as FD&C certified color additives. Even so, many American formulators turned their attention to finding natural alternatives to artificial dyes, but the search hasn’t always been easy when working with baked foods and snacks.

“Moreover, there is growing concern over the amount of aluminum in the diet,” Mr. Greaves said. He observed that lakes may soon be regulated in the EU to limit aluminum content. “Finding a good substitute for synthetic lakes has proved elusive until now.”

Clearly, a need exists for alternative color additives that function in fat-based systems or topically. Food Ingredient Solutions offers a range of natural pigments that do the job. These include colors plated on proteins, starches, silicone dioxides and other materials. Most recently, it added Vivapigments, which it markets through an exclusive arrangement with Colarome, Inc., a private Canadian company based at St. Hubert, QC.

“These patented pigments are made by encapsulating natural dyes into a rice protein matrix by extrusion and micronizing the resulting extrudate in a fluid-bed air-jet mill,” Mr. Greaves explained.

Vivapigments perform in food applications like synthetic lakes, meaning they color by pigmentation and reflectance. They can be dispersed in water or oil and do not bleed. “In addition to modifying the performance, the grinding increases the tinctorial strength of the colors, and the encapsulation masks the off-flavors of some natural dyes such as curcumin,” he noted.

Usage rate varies by application. Because natural colors are weaker, typical substitutions use 10 parts of natural color to replace one part of synthetic. The color additives come in straight powder form, blends, sugar dispersions or other bases or systems. “The unground extrudate can be used to provide color specks in candies, baked foods, snacks, spice blends and similar foods,” Mr. Greaves observed. The colors are certified kosher by MK (Vaad Ha’ir of Montreal).

Audited under British Retail Consortium standards, Food Ingredient Solutions offers color shade matching and prototype development in its pilot plant, along with stability and heat testing. For details about Vivapigments and other natural color options, go