From cherry cola to lemonade, to a rainbow of dyed liqueurs, color affects how we experience food and beverages in surprising ways. Humans are hardwired to respond to color which, in nature, is indicative of a food’s nutrient density. That’s why worldwide, color additives are recognized as an important ingredient for creating almost all of the food and beverages we consume.
It’s All About the Senses
Because eating and drinking are sensory experiences, smell, texture, and appearance – as well as taste – impact our enjoyment of food and beverages. But did you know that most of what we consume is naturally bland of color? Without color additives, food and beverages would not look very appetizing: mint ice cream would be beige, cheese would be white, and hot dogs would be gray (yuck!).
Understandably, consumers tend to prefer foods that also look the way they taste: orange-flavored soda should be orange, for example. Enhancing naturally occurring colors and adding color to otherwise “colorless” food and beverages makes them more appetizing – and fun!
Functionally, adding color also corrects natural color variations and offsets color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture, and storage conditions.
To put it simply, we use natural and artificial (or synthetic) color additives, also called colorings, to get the bright and bold colors we crave. Colorings can be sourced naturally through roots, plants, bacteria, and even bugs, or they can be developed in a lab.
How Natural and Artificial Colors Make it into our Beverages
Wherever a beverage’s color additives may come from, they must be tested and approved for consumption by various organizations found around the world. In the United States, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C), serves as the primary governing body for this purpose. The FDA not only determines what color additives can be used in consumable goods, but also the types of food and beverages in which it can be applied, maximum usage amounts, and how they should be identified on labels.
When evaluating the safety of a new color additive or a new use for a listed color additive, the FDA considers several factors: the short and long-term effects of consumption, composition and properties, manufacturing process, stability, likely amount of consumption/exposure, and the availability of analytical methods for determining its purity and the amount in food.
Artificial or synthetic color additives – also known as “certified colors” – are required to undergo “batch certification.” During this process in which the FDA analyzes a representative sample of each batch of the color additive to ensure it meets the required identity and specifications before it can be used. Prior to certifying a batch, the FDA also analyzes the chemical composition of the color.
Surprisingly, there are currently only nine certified color additives approved by the FDA for use in food, only four of which are permitted for use in beverages:
- FD&C Blue No. 1 / Brilliant Blue FCF / (Blue Shade)
- FD&C Red No. 40 / Allura Red AC / (Red Shade)
- FD&C Yellow No. 5 / Tartrazine / (Yellow Shade)
- FD&C Yellow No. 6 / Sunset Yellow FCF / (Orange Shade)
Luckily, these four approved additives come in primary colors, meaning they can be mixed to produce just about any color you can think of.
Deciding Between Natural and Artificial Beverage Colors
A big reason to go artificial is cost. Synthetic dyes can be mass-produced at a fraction of the cost of gathering and processing the materials used to make natural colorings. This is especially true for dark colors: the darker a natural color, the greater its cost.
Another reason is that working with natural colors can be challenging. For example, the lighter the color is, the more susceptible it will be to browning and fading which isn’t very appetizing to consumers, regardless of the “freshness” of the product. There are other caveats, like natural colors have a greater tendency to fade with the presence of Vitamin C.
Regardless of what color additives are being used, it is difficult to know how a beverage’s color will maintain over time without appropriate shelf-life testing on the finished product. That’s why Flavorman, the world leaders in the beverage development industry, not only helps visionaries discover their perfect flavor and color combinations, but also provides quality testing to ensure that every sip is as pretty as it is delicious.