Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Art of Coloring Dairy Foods, Naturally

Before I discuss coloring dairy foods with natural colors, I am providing you a real-life example of why all of your product development efforts moving forward should emphasize the use of colors exempt from certification.

(If you don’t want to read the story, skip down to the section “Natural Color Update.”)

The Fanta Orange Experiment

It’s all about Fanta Orange, the States’ version vs. Canada’s. This has been almost a daily topic between me and my almost 14-year-old son…and not generated by me. I find my son’s observations brilliant, and not just because I am his mom. I believe his thought process regarding foods and their ingredients is very reflective of his generation—the kids we are rearing to be foodies. In fact, my son was taught in 7th grade health class that it is smart to avoid artificial colors and flavors.

Anyway, during our Labor Day road trip to Niagara Falls, I allowed my son to indulge on his second-favorite beverage, Fanta Orange. (Number-one, of course, is milk.) His first Canadian Fanta Orange was from a chilled can from the vending machine at our Windsor hotel. His second was a fountain beverage, served in a tinted glass at a dimly lit restaurant in Toronto. He slurped up every last drop of both.

The next day, during my trip to Loblaw’s, I decided to purchase a 12-pack of cans. Upon checking into our Niagara Falls hotel, he filled the ice bucket, put some cubes in a nice clear glass and poured his third dose of Canadian Fanta Orange. I’m not sure exactly what was vocalized, but it was something between a dragged out “yuck” and a gagging sound.(The soda was not the "fake" vibrant orange he expected...but no worries, in the end, he was OK with. Read on.)

Because we were heading out to the Maid of the Mist boat ride under the Falls, I tabled the discussion. The next day I casually brought up how the Canadian Fanta Orange contains no artificial colors or flavors. Front panels even explain it is made with real oranges. Still, he was done with it…at least for the next few days.

The 12-pack made it back to Chicago, but I had my doubts, as border patrol in Buffalo was more challenging than the last time I went to Tijuana. Once settled back home, I convinced my son to do a blind taste test. He chose the Canadian version. (The products do taste different because of the orange juice and sweeteners.)

I explained the differences in the formula, which actually surprised me. The U.S. version contains no real oranges and gets its color from FD&C Yellow 6 and FD&C Red 40.

He concluded he prefers the Canadian version because it is “less fake.” Now he wants me to start importing the product.

Lessons Learned from a Teen-age Boy
  • He understands the difference between natural and artificial colors, and prefers “less fake.”
  • He said that it was not nice that the U.S. product had fake colors to make him think it had real oranges.
  • He really has overestimated his mom’s connections. I cannot import Canadian Fanta Orange!

Natural Color Update

In case you missed my last blog on coloring dairy foods, please read about “Coloring Dairy Foods…The Fine Print” by clicking HERE.

And, if you need a refresher course on food color additive regulations in the States, scroll to the bottom of this blog for “Food Colors 101.”

In general, artificial colorings are manufactured from petroleum-based raw materials. Colors exempt from certification, commonly referred to as natural colors, are obtained from a variety of sources, including plants, minerals, insects and fermentation, resources considered by many to be natural.  Some suppliers do differentiate themselves by only providing “natural” colors from fruits, vegetables and plants.

Many natural colors are available in organic formats, as well as can be designed to be oil soluble. Check out the following color chart to see the range of hues that can be obtained with natural colors…and some that will be attainable in the near future.

Table Source: GNT USA

The Future of Blue
In case you have not heard, FDA recently approved spirulina extract as a natural blue food color for candy and chewing gum. The ruling is effective Friday the 13th of September. This approval was in response to a petition from Mars Inc., filed in January 2012, when the confection giant petitioned that the color additive regulations be amended to provide for the safe use of spirulina blue, an extract made from the biomass of spirulina, to color candy and chewing gum. (There is more on spirulina below.)

According to FoodNavigator-US, Mars said it filed its petition to get spirulina extract approved to color candy and gum last year because “there has previously been no suitable naturally sourced color that can be used to make green and blue confectionery that meets our consumers’ expectations.” (Interestingly, when I pointed out to my son that his favorite snack, YoCrunch Yogurt with M&Ms, was loaded with artificial colors…in those Mars’ candies…he explained he was willing to let it slide.)

Unlike other “natural” blues in the market, which are fruit-juice based and categorized as such, spirulina extract now has its own separate regulation. It can be viewed HERE.

As of now, spirulina extract has not been approved for use in dairy. But, wow, look what it can do in ice cream and yogurt.

Photo source: GNT USA

Understanding Spirulina
According to The Health Professional’s Guide to Popular Dietary Supplements, third edition, a desk reference published by the American Dietetic Association, spirulina is one of many forms of blue-green algae. It is a multicellular organism that grows wild in highly alkaline lakes. Its characteristic blue-green color is due to its chlorophyll and phycocyanin content. These pigments have been studied for their potential anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiviral properties; hence the reason spirulina has long been tabletted and sold as a dietary supplement.

Spirulina is considered an edible plant. In many countries, especially throughout Africa, spirulina are harvested and dried into cakes that are served as a center-of-plate protein, often with flavorful sauces. Dried spirulina contains 60% to 70% protein, 10% to 20% carbohydrate, 9% to 14% lipids, 4% nucleic acids and 6% ash. In many countries, spirulina is considered a superfood, even in the States.

Inventure Foods Inc., recently introduced Jamba Green Fusion fruit and veggie smoothie. It’s the latest in a long line of frozen at-home smoothie kits developed by the Phoenix-based company, in partnership with smoothie retailer Jamba Juice Co. Green Fusion combines green apple, mango, pineapple, kiwi, banana, broccoli, spinach and spirulina to offer a sweet, yet hearty smoothie appropriate for morning commutes, post-workout recovery or a better-for-you snack.

Food Colors 101
The term color additive is legally defined in Title 21, Part 70 of the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 70). Basically, any ingredient with the sole purpose of adding color to a food or beverage is a color additive, with all color additives requiring approval by FDA as a food additive.

In the U.S., synthetic food colors are classified by FDA as color additives subject to certification (21 CFR 74). They are certified with an FD&C number. This indicates that the additive has been tested for safety and is approved for used in foods, drugs and cosmetics, or FD&C. Seven colors were initially approved under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Over time, several have been delisted and replaced. Today there are still seven, which can be combined into an infinite number of colors; hence, the seven are considered primary colors.

The seven synthetics are further classified as standardized dyes or lakes. Dyes are a concentrated source of color and are water soluble and oil insoluble. Lakes, on the other hand, are made by combining dyes with salts to make them water-insoluble compounds. Thus, they are best described as providing color by dispersion. Lakes are considered to be more stable than dyes and are ideal for coloring products that either contain fat or lack sufficient moisture to dissolve dyes.

FDA also provides a list of color additives that are exempt from certification (21 CFR 73). By default, these colors are often characterized as natural but FDA does not consider any color added to as food unless the color is natural to the product itself. For example, consumers expect strawberry milk to have a red hue. If strawberry juice is added for color, and providing that none of the other ingredients in the milk were characterized as artificial, this product could be labeled “all-natural strawberry milk.” Such a description is not possible if beet juice, an FDA-recognized exempt-from-certification color additive, is used for a colorful boost. What is appropriate to say is “does not contain any artificial colors.”

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