Colors exempt from certification are often sourced from botanicals, which means they bring to a formulation not only their own pH but also sugars, moisture and flavors, which can all have an impact on the ingredient system. Just as these colors can have an impact on the whole formulation, other ingredients can also impact color.

“Consider including the natural colors in the initial regulatory review and prototype development process,” said Susan Frecker, senior application scientist, Oterra. “Optimizing the baked product’s pH, leavening system, baking time and temperature, and flavor from the start will help to improve the probability of launching a successful product.”

Acid, sugars and moisture from the colors could all have an impact on the finished baked good and require adjustments either in the formulation or the process to bake out added moisture. For example, the leavening system may need to be rebalanced to accommodate any extra acid from the color ingredient, Ms. Frecker explained. This will optimize crumb texture, but bakers also might need to reevaluate the leavening system based on the dosage of color.

“Correcting for added moisture contributed from a liquid color will also ensure the formulation performs well,” Ms. Kraszewski added.

Any extra moisture will need to be baked out or other liquids will need to be adjusted to prevent absorption or shelf-life issues down the line.

The various fruits and vegetables lending their colors to baked goods also come with a lot of sugar and starch, both of which provide functionality in baked goods. ADM uses its proprietary technology to extract sugar and starches before concentrating the color pigment without these extra ingredients that could impact the ingredient system.

Dispersibility is another component formulators will want to consider when choosing an exempt color. Whether or not a color ingredient is water- or oil-soluble will help steer bakers in the direction of what kind of color to choose.

“In the case of compound coatings or chocolate, oil soluble colors are used to give a uniform color,” said AnnMarie Kraszewski, application scientist, Oterra. “If adding natural colors to a frosting, adding a water soluble color to the water portion first allows for ease of use and prevention of specking.”

Blue and red colors that are sourced from spirulina and vegetable juices like beet, sweet potato and radishes are all water-soluble. Oterra developed a line of oil-soluble and oil-dispersible colors for those applications that cannot use water-soluble colors. Encapsulated colors can also provide more concentrated colors with improved solubility.

Oil-soluble colors are important for those formulations that contain a lot of fat, like icings. By supporting the emulsion of water and oil, cakes remain moist while colorful and colors from the icings don’t bleed into the cake.

“If the icing is just a powder, sugar and flavor, we can use standard liquid color, but if you have butter in it, you have more fat, so then you need an oil-soluble color,” explained Emina Goodman, senior director, commercial color development, ADM. “You need the emulsion that gives you the brightness so you don’t have the bleed from the icing into the cake.”

When working with colors derived from sources such as beets, cabbage and paprika, the obvious question is whether these colors will impart a flavor or odor to the finished product. Food scientists are finding ways to protect finished product from these unwanted flavors and odors.

Oterra’s Hansen sweet potato, for example, contributes less flavor than beets in highly colored products like red velvet cakes.

ADM has worked on breeding out taste and smells but also developed its deodorized technology that not only concentrates the color but also removes unwanted odors and taste.

When trying to build up a vibrant color, bakers can also look to other ingredients in the system to build that color or potentially reformulate to help neutralize the base color so they don’t have to rely solely on a high dosage of the color additive.

“Sometimes we call it the base color, which is the color of the formulation without color, and it can be helpful or a barrier to reaching the desired color,” said Alice Lee, applications manager, GNT. “With red velvet cake, for instance, everyone wants an intense red on a dark chocolate base. But do you need that dark base, or can you reformulate by using some flavor to reduce the cocoa powder for a lighter color batter?”

Red velvet cake is one of the barometers for the vibrancy and efficacy of a natural color. The intensity of the color and the high pH level of a cake batter come together to make this a tricky application.

“The biggest challenge has been to make a nice stable red color for red velvet cake as a replacement for red 40,” said Jeff Greaves, Eastern US and international sales, Food Ingredient Solutions. “Of course, carmine works well for red velvet cake, but not everyone wants to use it because it’s not vegan or kosher.”

Carmine is considered a natural color as it is derived from the cochineal insect, but being an insect means the carmine color additive is off-limits to achieve a kosher or vegan label. Instead of carmine, bakers can turn to radish, red cabbage, beets, paprika and even sweet potatoes. Even when one color additive is determined to work, it might not work in a different formulation or a different bake profile.

With an extensive list of colors exempt from certification, bakers should be able to find the right one for their particular product and process, or even blend several to create beautiful colors.

“So many of the synthetics have been delisted, we no longer have a complete palette of colors on the synthetic side,” Mr. Greaves explained. “Without a natural color, it’s hard to make a really good violet color. It won’t be as good.”

With the extensive palette of colors exempt from certification at their fingertips, bakers don’t have to be limited by these label-friendly ingredients. Instead, they can embrace the opportunities they present to get creative.

This article is an excerpt from the July 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Colors, click here.