It looks and tastes great, but is it affordable to commercialize? Profitability for bakers often comes down to ingredient sourcing, with the primary ingredient in many applications — wheat — vulnerable to Mother Nature’s temperament. Improving production processes and reducing waste helps, but another way to tighten costs is to choose color systems wisely.

Early in the formulating process, bakers must decide on their priorities, including ingredient claims. Is natural necessary, or is artificial acceptable? Is clean and simple labeling important? Are certifications such as organic or Non-GMO Project verified required?

“Consumers are demanding even more transparency from manufacturers, wanting to know where and how ingredients are sourced,” said Susan Frecker, senior applications scientist, natural colors division, Chr. Hansen, Inc. “That means even cleaner ingredient labels. Fortunately, there are options manufacturers have when it comes to using natural colors in their baked goods, while reducing ingredient costs.”

When it comes to colors, artificial ones made from petroleum and requiring certification by The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C) are typically the least expensive. They are valued for their consistency, stability and low-use levels.

Bakers, however, are increasingly choosing colors exempt from certification to remove the FD&C listing from ingredient statements. Because there is no legal definition of natural color, those that do not require certification are often deemed as such. But there are many exempt color options, and they vary in their naturalness and cost.

“The cleanest natural colors today are minimally processed, such as those from fruit and vegetable juices,” Ms. Frecker said. “They are extracted without solvents and preservatives. Because these colors come from a natural source, growing, harvesting and purifying these pigments is more expensive than synthetically producing them.”

Food Coloring

Such natural colors also tend to be more sensitive to light, heat and oxygen. They often require refrigeration and special packaging, further adding cost.

“The next tier includes colors from natural sources,” Ms. Frecker said. “These are extracted using solvents and are emulsified. The third tier is nature identical. Produced artificially, the chemical composition is identical to pigments found in nature.”

The latter group tends to be the least costly color exempt from certification, but it is also the most prohibitive for package claims. While these colors cannot be distinguished from their naturally extracted counterparts, they are, in fact, synthetic.

Beta carotene, a carotenoid that provides hues in the orange to yellow range, is a typical example. While it is abundant in many fruits and vegetables, naturally derived industrial beta carotene is typically sourced from the mold Blakeslea trispora. It is also easily and very economically produced synthetically. When the nature-identical form is used, the label cannot read “all natural.” Rather, the ingredient may be listed as “beta carotene, for color.” If natural labeling is important, Jeff Greaves, president, Food Ingredient Solutions LLC, suggested using annatto in place of beta carotene for yellow color.

With any heat-sensitive color, Mr. Greaves said it is best to add annatto as late in the process as possible to minimize heat degradation. This is especially true with beet juice, which is often a source of natural red violet for use in frostings, icings and even red velvet cake.

“Another way to reduce color cost is to plate it on something to increase the surface area of the color, allowing for a reduction in usage,” he said. “Plating, however, may result in more pastel shades. To deepen bold colors, it is possible to reduce use by adding a bit of caramel color with the primary shade.”

Bakers can also get creative in application. Swirling a color into baked foods, for example, will add visual interest while managing dosage level, said Jeannette O’Brien, vice-president, GNT USA, Inc.

“Swirling can be done by coloring a portion of the batter or dough and making creative designs in a wide range of baked products,” she said. “Creatively adding natural color to toppings and inclusions, like colored crumb toppings, stained cereal or granola, or colored sugar crystals, will showcase a colorful effect and bursts of color.”

Purple corn, with its exceedingly high level of anthocyanins, has become a simple and often economical way to include a natural purple color in baked foods. In many applications, it is grain with the added benefit of color.

Early in the formulating process, bakers must decide on their priorities, including ingredient claims.

“The versatility of the anthocyanins found in purple corn also enables product development specialists to create various shades of purple depending on a product’s pH level,” said Terry Howell, Suntava Purple Corn ingredient expert for Healthy Food Ingredients. “Companies can create beautifully colored cereals, snacks, breads, muffins, crackers, pasta and more by incorporating our purple corn flour, meal, snack meal or grits into their finished products.”

Another way to get natural purple into baked foods is with purple sweet potato juice concentrate, said Paul Verderber, senior vice-president of sales, Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients.

“We also offer a nutrient-dense, domestically sourced cloudy sweet potato juice that delivers functional benefits, including natural flavor, an orange/amber color and a boost of nutrients to snack and bakery products,” he said. “All of our ingredients are sourced from upcycled sweet potatoes, giving them a compelling waste and sustainability story as well.”

This article is an excerpt from the October 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on flavors and colors, click here.