Thursday, April 27, 2017

Coloring Food Is a Science We Should All Defend—Color Dairy Foods Wisely

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, along with more than 170 other organizations, partnered with the March for Science movement, which is designed to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies and governments. The March for Science, which was held on April 22, 2017, was the first step in this global movement. It is a broad, nonpartisan and diverse coalition of organizations and individuals who stand up for science, advocating for a variety of science-based topics including science education, accessible science, and yes, food science.

I marched at the Chicago installment, along with 45,000 other people, from infants (in strollers or carriers) to the elderly (in wheel chairs). It truly was an amazing—and educational--experience.

The IFIC did a fabulous job of raising awareness of food science and provided many inspirational marching “thank you” sign ideas that can be viewed HERE.

IFIC defended everything from the need for pest management and GMOs, to supporting advancements in fortification, low-calorie sweeteners and coloring technologies. That’s right, food colors.

The IFIC call out states:

Dear Food Science, 
Thank you for both artificial and natural colors so I can eat with my eyes and my stomach.

IFIC explains that “we eat with our eyes” and that food coloring has been in existence for more than 2,000 years, starting in 300 BCE when artificial colors were used to color wine.
View this “Colorful History of Food Colors” infographic from IFIC.

Food colors, both natural and artificial, help to correct for color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions. They also assist with correcting natural variations in color and can enhance colors that occur naturally in foods. Lastly, they provide color to colorless foods, rendering them more “eye appealing.”

Artificial colors, those based on petroleum and in the U.S., known as certified colors, have historically been very cost effective and stable in most food and beverage systems. But, they actually might be too “colorful,” suggesting to consumers that the application is overly processed, even “fake.”

I found the following research fascinating and promising for the future of all things dairy. It suggests the importance of keeping inherently nutritious, clean, simple dairy foods as close to natural as possible.

The Research

Last year, Lycored set out to explore the strength of consumer demand for natural colors within the specific context of the dairy industry, and with particular focus on strawberry flavored milks. The quantitative and qualitative study queried U.S. mothers on the visual appearance of flavored milks colored red naturally versus artificially.

The company tested the stability of two of its natural tomato-based colors versus the artificial colorant Red #3 during and after ultra-high temperature (UHT) processing in a flavored milk drink matrix. Accelerated shelf life tests were carried out to evaluate the stability of the colors when exposed to light, dark and ambient conditions, simulating real-life storage, transportation and retail environments.

When consumers were asked to rate the naturalness of the appearance of the three samples, both of the tomato-based color colored milks outscored the artificial sample.
Then they were asked if they would be willing to pay more for a product with natural flavorings and colors. Almost nine in 10 survey respondents (88%) said they would.

They were then told that the average flavored milk beverage costs $1.50 and asked how much they would be willing to spend on a product if it was made with natural colors and flavors. On average, moms said they would pay up to $2.20, which is 47% more.

In focus groups, moms were asked about the three colored strawberry milks.

Comments on the milks with tomato-based color included: “Looks the most natural to a blended strawberry, therefore potentially most healthy for my children,” “Reminds me of a drink from my childhood…and more likely to appear in nature” and “more attractive to the mom in me. I believe it looks like it has less artificial ingredients in it.”
The focus groups suggested that there’s a “feel-good factor” from buying their children a product that looks more homemade. Other feedback indicated that consumers are turning away from non-natural colors that are too vibrant.

The key takeaway here is that, yes, we eat with our eyes, and yes, foods and beverages must be visually appealing. But, visually appealing is not the same as too colorful or vibrant. Color dairy foods wisely. Thank you food science.

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