While colloquially those in the baking industry may use the term “natural colors” to describe those color ingredients derived from plants and insects, this term is not approved by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA). This is largely because the FDA has not defined the term natural, and ingredients like strawberries and chocolate that could contribute color aren’t considered color additives, the ingredients the FDA refers to in Title 21 of the CFR, parts 70-82.

The FDA separates color additives into two categories: certified colors (FD&C) or exempt from certification colors, which are those that are so commonly referred to as natural colors. Exempt colors are typically sourced from plants or minerals and comply with identity and purity specifications. Getting colors added to the list is also challenging. Unlike other ingredients, there is not a generally recognized as safe exemption to color additives. Adding new colors requires a petition to the FDA for approval with evidence of its safety. These kinds of studies can take two years.

“It’s hard to justify because colors is just a small market,” said Jeff Greaves, Eastern US and international sales, Food Ingredient Solutions.

Regulations are often changing, too. Just this year, the European Food Safety Authority issued a scientific opinion that titanium oxide is no longer considered safe as a food additive. This naturally occurring mineral plays a big part in the food industry as a go-to for whitening. While this scientific opinion does not amount to a ban of the additive, it does raise concerns in the food industry around removing the additive from formulations.

“The whitening from titanium dioxide gives the brightness and opacity you’re looking for in a purely white icing,” said Emina Goodman, senior director, commercial color development, ADM. “But now we have customers wanting to remove that, so we have a variety of options to replace that whitening agent.”

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