From bright whites to brilliant blues: Color innovation in F&B

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Color Colours

‘We eat first with our eyes’ – and the saying is all the more true in an age of social media. But color is not just about good looks: it’s also about meeting consumer demands for natural and sustainable alternatives. We take a look at some of the latest tech driving forward color innovation.

Brilliant blues from spirulina

Israeli start-up Gavan says it has overcome the ‘blue challenge’ in hot and cold drinks with a heat-stable, natural, and vibrant colorant.

The color blue is rare in nature, and as such, the pigment has been highly sought after – in textiles and paints alike – for millennia.

An ‘eye-catching’ and ‘exciting’ color, blue has also proved an attractive hue for food and beverage makers.


In the drinks category, well-known blue drinks range from blue lagoon cocktails to berry-flavored soft drinks, blue lattes and functional sports beverages. But as the clean label trend continues apace, consumers are increasingly looking to avoid artificial synthetic colorants.

While delivering a health-stable, naturally derived, vibrant blue for products with low pH is ‘tricky’, as any heat treatment or shift in pH can influence the color’s shade, Gavan believes it has found the solution in spirulina.

A type of blue-green algae, spirulina contains a pigment-protein known as phycocyanin, which produces a pure blue color.

Revealed in March, Gavan’s proprietary, non-GMO technology extracts phycocyanin and optimizes the colorant ‘gently, without damaging the source, and enables the extraction of multiple compounds from the whole spirulina, without waste.

The result is a stable, blue colorant developed from technology that protects it from fading, event at pH as low as 3.0 or when pasteurized at 90°C for 30 seconds, noted the start-up.

Gavan says its platform allows for a ‘full spectrum’ of stable shades of blue,​ but as blue is a primary color, it also ‘opens a window’ to producing other colors, from non-chlorophyll green to purple shades.

The start-up’s natural coloring formulation can be used for hot beverages, such as tea and coffee, as well as functional drinks and sports drinks.

Bright whites

ADM has launched PearlEdge, a new coloring line derived from natural sources such as corn starch that delivers whites that are bright, stable and consistent.

The plant-based white colorant is designed to address the ‘toughest formulation challenges’ and perform ‘where other plant-based white colorants fall short’, according to the ingredient supplier.

PearlEdge meets an important need in the market. In Europe, common white coloring titanium dioxide (E171) is being phased out by EU regulators over concerns it could be linked to cancer risk​​. This has spurred a wave of reformulation in the region as food makers seek out alternatives to achieve bright whites in their end applications.

But the E171 backlash was not the only rationale prompting ADM to develop a new whitening alternative. According to Hélène Moeller, Vice President of Global Product Marketing at ADM, there has been a market need for a plant-based white coloring solution for some time.


“While the introduction of our PearlEdge line of proprietary white color solutions comes at an ideal time with the approaching EU ban of titanium dioxide, we saw the need for plant-based white colorants that tick the boxes on brilliance, stability and uniformity much earlier,”​​ she said.

“Achieving a uniform, bright white can be challenging, and many current alternatives to TiO2, such as modified starch, calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate, can present a broad-spectrum of formulation drawbacks and don’t always meet consumers’ clean-label expectations. Modified starch has poor solubility in cold water and high viscosity when gelatinized, requiring chemical modification to overcome these complications. Additionally, formulators using calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate may need to incorporate them at high usage rates to achieve desired whitening, negatively affecting texture and impacting cost,”​​ the ingredient expert elaborated.

These attributes are likely to be particularly appealing to confectionery and chewing gum manufacturers whose products are ‘most associated’ with ‘brilliant white offerings’.

However, Moeller identifies that other categories – particularly beverages – present a ‘clear need space’​ in the industry.

“The line performs exceptionally well not only in confections, but also in powdered drink mixes and beverages; bakery icings and fillings; sugar-free offerings; soups, sauces and dressings; dairy and dairy alternatives; meat alternatives; and even pet food,”​​ she said.

PearlEdge is available in both powdered and liquid emulsion forms, allowing for a precise formulation approach depending on the food or beverage. Applications including confections, frostings, coatings, icings, meat and seafood alternatives, are likely to leverage the powdered solutions for best ‘vibrancy and texture’. For beverages, liquid emulsions perform the best to mitigate ringing, precipitation, sediments and staining.

Precision fermentation 

Founded in 2018 by biotechnology entrepreneurs Halim Jubran and Tal Zeltzer, Israeli start-up Phytolon is on a mission to ‘revolutionise’ the natural colors industry.

Rather than source natural colors from fruits, vegetables, and plants, or make synthetic colors from petrochemical sources, Phytolon is turning to precision fermentation.

The result is a range of stable natural colors covering the full yellow-to-purple spectrum.

To date, hundreds of artificial food dyes have been developed by converting petrochemicals, via synthetic chemistry, into a wide range of colors. As consumers increasingly seek out more sustainable and ‘natural’ products, Phytolon is responding with solutions that offer equivalent pigment vibrancy, but which come from biological – rather than petrochemical – sources.

The start-up has developed a patented process for producing betalain pigments through precision fermentation of certain yeast strains. The process, it says, is as simple as brewing.

What are betalains? They are natural pigments responsible for coloring some of the most vibrant plants on the planet, for example in beetroot and cactus fruit. The water-soluble pigments retain color stability at wide pH range, as well as when exposed to heat and light.

In leveraging precision fermentation technology, Phytolon is also working to disrupt the natural colors sector, which relies on pigments derived from fruits, vegetables, and plants.

The start-up’s novel production technology requires less land use, water use, and has a reduced carbon footprint compared to conventional natural pigment manufacture, Phytolon suggested.

To take Phytolon’s innovation to the next level, the start-up announced a collaboration with US biotech Ginkgo Bioworks in March.

Phytolon is expecting its precision fermentation derived colors to reach the market next year.

Yellow and green from organic safflower

Colors supplier GNT has expanded its EXBERRY organic range with new yellow and green shades made from organic safflower.

The Netherlands-based company said the organic market is seeing ‘exceptional’ growth as modern consumers pay closer attention to food and drink products’ health and sustainability credentials. In response, GNT has launched two new organic products. ‘Fruit & Veg Yellow’ is made from organic safflower and organic apple, while ‘Veg Green’ is made from organic safflower and organic spirulina.

GNT’s Market Development Manager Maartje Hendrickx said the new colors aim to liven up manufacturer’s organic ranges. “Organic labels are a great way to appeal to modern consumers as they can really boost products’ health and sustainability credentials,”​​ she said. “Nonetheless, there can be a perception that organic food and drink is less enjoyable. That’s why color is so important – it can help products look appetizing, stand out on the shelf, and even influences enjoyment of the flavor.”

The colors in GNT’s organic range are created from edible fruit, vegetables, and plants using traditional physical processing methods such as boiling, pressing and filtering.

Launched in April, the new products​ extend an organics range that already features red, purple, blue, and orange options. They can be used in the vast majority of food and drink applications, including confectionery, dairy, baked goods, plant-based products, and snacks.

The colors are fully complaint with the Organic Regulation (EU) 2018/848. However, colors made from safflower are not currently permitted in the USA based on current legislation.

Bold blues from blueberries and blackberries


Premium fruit and vegetable ingredient supplier SVZ sees an increasing number of brands across beverages, dairy and bakery turning to fruit and veg as a natural source of color. “We see a lot more focus on natural color – and the color of blueberries and blackberries is very intense,” ​said Johan Cerstiaens, commercial director, SVZ. Similarly, strawberries and raspberries can deliver bold red colors.

And – conversely – its clients also want vegetable ingredients for their lack ​of color: delivering a chunk of nutrition without any color impact.

“Clients are also looking for neutral vegetables in color and taste, so people can introduce it as a stealth vegetable so they can introduce it into products without a huge impact on flavor or smell or color. That’s definitely a trend we want to answer: we work with white pumpkin, white carrot, beans to get the impact on the taste as low as possible but the nutritional value boosted with a lower calorie intake.”

Pictures top to bottom: getty/taramoore; getty/galiskaya; ADM, WRBM

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