Nutrition Meets Food Science

Natural Colour for Healthier Food Products by Dr Hormaz Patva, Technical Director Sensient India Private Limited

Even before a consumer tastes a food product, the propensity to buy is enhanced by colour of the product. An attractive colour is associated with quality and freshness. Consumers select food products based on an attractive colour.

Why go Natural?

One of the most significant studies deterring consumers from artificial colouring was the Southampton study published in September 2007, “The Lancet”, which found that a concoction of artificial colours led to hyperactivity in children. These are called southampton “6” and include E102 tartrazine, E104 quinoline yellow, E110 sunset yellow, E122 carmoisine, E124 ponceau 4R and E129 Allura red.

Colours are one of the most important ingredients added to food products for providing an attractive appearance to foods that otherwise looks unappetizing. Help preserve identity or character by which foods are recognized & thus aid in product identification. Serve as visual indication of food quality. Restore original appearance of food where colour has been lost by heat processing & subsequent storage. Ensure uniformity of colour due to natural variations in colour intensity. Intensify colours naturally occurring in foods to meet consumer expectations.

Stability of Natural colour in various food applications is based on proper selection of natural colour within regulatory framework while understanding stability parameters. pH,  temperature, light, water activity are important factors to be considered for colour to be retained in food product till desired shelf life. Another important parameter is to look at cost in use of natural colour in formulation, which may not be on par with synthetic colour replaced, however an appropriate selection of Natural colour based on application helps provide appropriate pricing.

Natural Colours are safe and are associated with various health benefits-

Curcumin is the principle pigment of turmeric, a spice obtained from the rhizomes of Curcuma longa. As the spice turmeric, curcumin has been a component of the diet for many years. It is obtained by extraction from the plant to produce an oleoresin, which is purified. Curcumin provides a bright, strong yellow shade in solution. It is an oil soluble pigment that is available in convenient, water-dispersible forms that are used in a wide range of foods. There are various health benefits associated with curcumin like increasing the antioxidant capacity of the body. Curcumin is associated with lower risk of heart disease, may help prevent cancer, may be useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease has benefits against depression and help delay aging and fight age-related chronic diseases.

Carotene is extracted from various edible sources. It is one of several hundred carotenoids that are found occurring naturally and is distributed very widely. Nutritionally, it is valuable as vitamin A and has always played a significant role in the diet.

b-Carotene is divided into two groups, mixed carotenes from both vegetable 160a (ii) and algal 160a (iv) origin, and b-Carotene made by chemical synthesis 160a (I) or by fermentation from Blakeslea trispora 160a (iii). Carotenes are effective singlet oxygen quenchers & radical chain breakers at low oxygen pressure.

Lutein is the yellow xanthophyll (Tagetes erecta) that is found in all green leaves and is responsible for the attractive yellow orange colour of marigold flowers. Although lutein is oil soluble it is also available in specially formulated water dispersible powder and liquid forms and thus finds application in a wide range of food and drinks. Various health benefits are associated to lower risk of age-related macular degeneration and acts as an antioxidant.

Lycopene is a member of the carotenoid family of phytochemicals and is the natural pigment responsible for the deep red colour of several red fruits and vegetables. Extracted as an oil soluble colour, it is also available in convenient to use emulsion and powder forms. Health benefit include most powerful carotenoid quencher of singlet oxygen, frequent lycopene intake is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus”. The vivid crimson stigma and styles are collected and dried for use mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food. It exhibits good Antioxidant effect and Anti-inflammatory properties.

Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments responsible for the attractive red, purple and blue colours of many flowers, fruits and vegetables. They are sensitive to pH change, being reddest in strongly acidic conditions and become more blue as the pH rises. Their stability decreases as pH tends to neutral.

Anthocyanins are particularly recommended for the colouring of soft drinks, jams, most types of sugar confectionery and other acidic products such as fruit toppings and sauces. The majority of anthocyanins provide red to purple shades. Anthocyanins are water-soluble and convenient to use. Stability to heat and light is generally good. Changes in pH affect their shade and stability and, in general, they are used in products in which the pH is below 5.0. Elderberry and grape extract has been associated with health benefits and exhibits antioxidant effects.

Plant based alternatives/VEGAN: Whether motivated by dietary lifestyle, environmental sustainability, health aspirations or animal welfare, half of meat, alternative buyers ate MORE meat alternatives in the past years and nearly 40% ate LESS animal meat. Consumer demand not only continues to fuel growth in this category, but also the ability to patent meat substitute products makes the category highly attractive to investors.

However, the sensory component of developing visually appealing and great tasting meat analogues with acceptable mouthfeel presents a potential barrier to enter this market—these are highly technical and challenging products for food scientists.

Natural colours from red anthocyanins to yellow/orange carotenoids to natural brown colours can be used to elevate the attractiveness of plant-based products to replace animal products like meat, egg and dairy which is currently very much in demand in market.

Apart from vegan category, natural colour solutions can be used in other healthier options like extruded snacks, low sugar Indian traditional sweets.


Dr Hormaz Patva

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