Color Me Natural—The Challenge of Replacing Artificial Food Dyes
BY DAVID DESPAIN
Whether or not one agrees with the conclusions of the 2007 Southampton University study—which suggested a link between six food colors and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—the pressure is on for food technologists to replace them with natural colors.
On Wednesday, June 27, a 2012 IFT Annual Meeting session in Las Vegas covered the current challenges surrounding phase-outs of artificial food dyes. The session also offered useful tips on how to incorporate natural colors in food product applications.
Michael McBurney, a nutrition scientist with DSM Nutritional Products, introduced the session by giving a history of the controversy. The perception of a relationship between food dyes and hyperactivity dates back to the 1960s, he said. Regardless of the lack of consensus in the scientific literature, he noted that survey data have found that the perception that food dyes are harmful is only increasing.
Moreover, despite the 2011 FDA Food Advisory Committee’s decision to vote against the need for warning labels, Europe has mandated labeling requirements for foods containing the “Southampton Six” (tartrazine, quinolone yellow, sunset yellow, carmosine, ponceau, and allura red) since July 2010.
Ron Wrolstad of Oregon State University discussed the variety of natural alternatives available for use as food colors: anthocyanins, batalain pigments, and cochineal for red hues; carotenoids for yellow to orange; turmeric and saffron for intense yellow; maillard compounds for caramel; and chlorophyll for green.
Unlike synthetic dyes, however, the natural flavors vary largely in their stability, solubility, and suitability in applications, Wrolstad said. He also said the natural flavors are far from being a “stock commodity” and can be costly.
Cathy Culver of Pepsi-Cola added that food producers and marketers often underestimate cost along with several other factors when considering replacement of synthetic colors with natural ones.
“In a perfect world,” she said, a natural color will be permitted for use in all markets, have no impact on product appearance, have excellent stability, will not change flavor, will not change processing techniques or packaging, and will not change calories.
As for the real world, Culver warns, “I hate to break it to my marketing folks, the cost is always going to go up.”
Culver and Wrolstad published a full review of the issues and challenges for replacement of artificial food colorants in Annual Review of Food Science and Technology (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22385164).