Natural blue: the quest for the holy grail of food colours

2 Mar 2020

The colour palette for naturally sourced food colours has become increasingly diverse, but blue colours have remained challenging. What options are available to food and beverage manufacturers?

Blue is not a colour commonly associated with natural foods, which makes it a difficult task for suppliers to find a natural, food-safe source. But demand for natural versions of traditionally synthetic colours is at an all-time high, testing the limits of supplier creativity. Now a growing number are finding ways to produce naturally sourced hues, but it is still a niche area, and each option comes with limitations.

Natural blue: the quest for the holy grail of food colours
Stability is still a major issue for most blue colours

Among the most common natural sources are algae (especially spirulina), red cabbage and edible flowers. However, nearly all natural blues suffer from instability issues, including during high heat processing. Sensient is among a handful claiming to have developed a stable natural blue-purple colour that is not from spirulina. The company has called it “a unique anthocyanin”, although it admits it is not suitable for more acidic beverages.

One of the most heat-, light- and pH-stable ingredients is huito blue, for which Wild Flavors holds the patent, and it comes from a tropical fruit called Genipa americana, or huito. The company says it often uses the colour in combination with spirulina to produce a broad range of blue shades.

Some manufacturers were early movers in their search for alternatives to synthetic blues, especially those that already produced blue products, such as confectioners and cereal makers producing foods that were often consumed by children. Consumers are very sensitive to changes in colour, however, and some researchers have suggested colours may even influence taste perception. For food and drink makers, it is therefore crucial to get the colour right.

The challenges associated with finding a suitable natural blue colour meant Nestlé dropped the blue variety from its Smarties confectionery brand for nearly three years, before landing on a spirulina-derived option. Spirulina answered demand for blue and purple colours for many companies, but their bulkiness also caused problems. Many companies needed to change their recipes to replace minute quantities of synthetic colours with the much larger amounts required.

Blue coloured food may help products stand out on shelf, but started to fall out of favour with the move toward more natural foods in general. However, since the initial surge in consumer interest for naturally coloured products, another big trend has taken off: many are looking for novel-coloured foods and beverages with Instagram-friendly appeal.

One of the most influential forces in colourings – from home décor to food and drink – is the Pantone colour company, which announces its ‘Colour of the Year’ each December. While previous on-trend colours have been relatively easy to apply to food – such as its “In Living Coral” shade of 2019 or the “Greenery” shade of 2017 – this year’s colour is “Classic Blue”, which has set some manufacturers looking for new ways to incorporate the hue in their products.

As they do, it has become clear that there is still a long way to go before natural blues can be applied universally in foods – but that many consumers will still find a place at the table for blue coloured foods and drinks.

Related categories

Related tags

Blogs

Related news

C3 on its recent MENA expansion: ‘The region is a hub of tech and culinary innovation’

C3 on its recent MENA expansion: ‘The region is a hub of tech and culinary innovation’

16 Jul 2021

Omnichannel food tech platform Creating Culinary Communities (C3) is bringing its cloud kitchen and food delivery tech to the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, announcing a $100 million joint venture in Saudi Arabia just months after expanding to...

Read more 
Oat milk start-up Bevry on India’s plant-based potential

Oat milk start-up Bevry on India’s plant-based potential

12 Jul 2021

In this article Pradeep Sanker, co-founder of oat milk start-up Bevry, known as ‘the Oatly of India’ talks about challenges and opportunities in India’s plant-based dairy market.

Read more 
Small changes to health claim wording have a big impact on EU consumer engagement

Small changes to health claim wording have a big impact on EU consumer engagement

28 Jun 2021

An EU-backed study is revealing small changes manufacturers can make to the wording of on-pack health claims to make them more understandable and engaging to consumers, all while respecting the health claim regulation.

Read more 
CBD’s health halo will drive 2022 growth despite COVID-19 setbacks

CBD’s health halo will drive 2022 growth despite COVID-19 setbacks

14 Jun 2021

Despite CBD being an indisputably on-trend ingredient, the US CBD market was not immune to the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, particularly due to nationwide store closures, new consumer priorities, and CBD price drops.

Read more 
Lidl Cheddar cheese shows rising popularity of carbon neutral food

Lidl Cheddar cheese shows rising popularity of carbon neutral food

31 May 2021

Hard discounter Lidl will launch a carbon-neutral Cheddar cheese in UK stores before the end of the year. Are carbon neutral products the next big thing in sustainable food?

Read more 
Access in the spotlight this World Hunger Day

Access in the spotlight this World Hunger Day

21 May 2021

The Hunger Project has made huge progress in reducing global hunger, but Covid-19 has worsened poverty and limited food availability in many communities. This World Hunger Day, the focus is on access – to food, but also to essential resources like educ...

Read more 
US sugary drinks tax could be on the cards

US sugary drinks tax could be on the cards

17 May 2021

A federal excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages could be on the cards in the US as a Democrat lawmaker announces plans to resurrect the SWEET Act, which proposes a tiered tax.

Read more 
Brazilian regulators open the door to supplement and probiotic innovation

Brazilian regulators open the door to supplement and probiotic innovation

1 Feb 2021

Health claim approvals for dietary supplements and probiotics in Brazil are opening the door to market innovation, says one expert – but more work is needed to ensure full consumer transparency.

Read more 
Singapore start-up ‘makes bad carbs good’ with plant-based fibre blends

Singapore start-up ‘makes bad carbs good’ with plant-based fibre blends

25 Jan 2021

Alchemy Fibre makes plant-based fibre blends that lower the glycaemic index (GI) of refined carbohydrates without altering their taste, texture or colour.

Read more 
Is it time European policymakers define what ‘natural’ food is?

Is it time European policymakers define what ‘natural’ food is?

18 Jan 2021

Consumers are being misled over products that claim to be natural but contain artificial ingredients. Is it time for a legal definition?

Read more