HomeGeneralNatural Food Colors: Sourcing Clean-Label, Natural Ingredients to Color Your Creations

Natural Food Colors: Sourcing Clean-Label, Natural Ingredients to Color Your Creations

(This article appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)  

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By Eunice Escobedo

Food colors play a huge role in how we choose what we eat. Next to aroma, color is often the first imprint that draws or repels our interest vis-à-vis food selection. Since childhood, we quickly learn to conclude what a certain color will denote in terms of flavor. For example, red may indicate the flavor of cherry or strawberry. It is a lot easier for the consumer to be influenced by color than by other factors. Today, however, a new deciding factor has been becoming what will be our new normal in the food industry: the awareness of clean label and natural ingredients. More and more consumers are wary of eating products they know have been enhanced with artificial or chemically engineered food coloring, and these educated patrons are seeking new ways of incorporating natural sources into their food. 

For thousands of years, natural colors have been used to enrich the appearance of many things other than just food. So why even play with the idea of using artificial colors, when we have natural colors available? While going all-natural is a lofty goal, there are some concerns about using natural colorings. One of the primary reasons manufacturers have not made the full switch is cost. Going a natural green means paying more of your hard-earned green. Working with natural colors that are derived from sources like fruits, vegetables, and exotic natural origins add an extra cost to their production, and that cost aggregates to finished product. Shelf life is another deciding factor; while these pigments are a great resource, prolonged exposure to light will cause some natural colors to fade. Resolving storage and packaging issues are key to keeping those colors vibrant for as long as possible. Whatever your considerations, they shouldn’t deter you from trying more natural offerings. The availability of a varied selection of high-quality natural colors and an abundance of enhanced colors allows consumers to select the preferred medium for enhancing their creations. 

Food colors are available in multiple forms – from powder to liquid to gel to paste –depending on the dessert, confection or beverage that is being created. The two main categories in colors for the food industry are water soluble and fat dispersible (lakes and dyes). What does that mean? A water-soluble colorant works best when the water content in the recipe is higher than the fat content. The best example would be when making macaron batter – the most common selection is a gel or water-based powder color that is easily mixed with the water content in the egg whites. Similarly, a fat dispersible color added to a fat-bases product like chocolate will work significantly better than adding a water-soluble colorant.

The experts at Chef Rubber have developed and launched a full line of natural colorants. These products are derived from vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. Both color categories are available in natural selections of fat and water-based products. Some of these color lines include natural cocoa butter (mostly used in chocolate applications); natural dry powders (these achieve the highest pigmentation and are employed to construct individually preferred colors); and natural glimmer powders (they add shine and radiance to desserts and provide limitless applications). However you choose to add color to your world, remember to experiment and try different options. There is no right or wrong when ushering in creativity, especially one that is inspired by you and nature, working in harmony.

Pastry Arts Magazine is the new resource for pastry & baking professionals designed to inspire, educate and connect the pastry community as an informational conduit spotlighting the trade.