Bakers Journal

Final Proof: Naturally in demand

April 21, 2021
By Jane Dummer

Using nature for colour in baked goods to create clean-label and entincingly bright baked goods

Breads like the one above made with beets are the result of increasing requests for natural colours. Photo credit: © ulyanakhorunzha / Adobe Stock

Natural dyes including plants, insects, and minerals have been used to colour food for thousands of years and date back to several civilizations. Today, due to consumer demand, natural colours are trending in the baking industry. However, choosing natural colours have not always been the simplest nor most cost-effective.  Sandy Golden-Dukes, VP Business Development, IFC Solutions describes the consumer demand, “People are more ingredient conscious and interested in what they are putting in their bodies. While synthetic dyes are still approved in Canada, many consumers want to see a recognizable ingredient on their product label vs a “chemical sounding” name. Given the choice between ‘Allura Red’ and ‘Beet Red’, they’re starting to prefer the latter.”

Jeannette O’Brien, Vice President, GNT USA, explains, “Plant-based colours are proving increasingly popular as consumers seek out products with clean and clear labels. For example, research gathered by FMCG Gurus in 2020, shows 52 per cent of shoppers worldwide look for ingredients they do not recognize when checking labeling, while 62 per cent have concerns about ingredients that ‘sound chemical’.” 

Natural colours can be problematic because of several factors including heat stability, pH range, and fat content. In the baking industry, these factors are necessary to think about when choosing colours. Susan Frecker, Senior Application Scientist, Chr Hansen Natural Colors LLC illustrates, “When thinking about a baked product, there are now pigments available that are more heat stable.  Our Hansen sweet potato™ provides a more heat stable alternative for a red-based product at neutral pH. There are innovative pigment sources available providing a broader, brightly colored pallet and are both water and oil dispersible for frosting/icing/fondant and fat fillings. Spirulina, from algae, works for frostings and icings and allow for a wide range of blue, green and purple.”

O’Brien concurs, “Plant-based colours are not a plug-and-play solution. To ensure the best results, it’s essential to understand the technical aspects that affect the chosen application. With the right approach, EXBERRY® colours can be used to achieve the full spectrum of shades, but we continue to add new products to our range to make life even easier for manufacturers. For example, we often introduce products in specialized formats to ensure optimal results in challenging applications such as chocolate and fat-based coatings.”


Overall, these innovations and improvements in natural colour production have resulted in more cost-effective ways to incorporate them into baked formulas and recipes. Frecker explains, “Innovative colours that contribute less flavour and require lower dosages are gaining in popularity and allow for the bakery product’s texture and leavening to be maintained. The lower dosages are beneficial for ease of use in production, and potentially offer a cost savings.” 

Red continues to be popular; consumers want bakery products that stand out and make an impact on social media, but is challenging to create. Golden-Dukes explains, “Of the sources of ingredients that are used to make colours, the ones that make red are some of the hardest to work with. Anthocyanins have pH instabilities, beets are not very heat stable, and cochineal is not kosher. Finding an easy to use ‘drop in’ red colour from natural sources is often difficult. We learn as much as we can about what our customer is looking to achieve and then offer something for that specific application.”

Recent improvements in ingredient technology have resulted in brighter and more stable natural food colours. Providing a clean label, and proving to be cost-effective are both welcomed outcomes.

Jane Dummer, RD, known as the Pod to Plate Food Consultant, collaborates and partners with the food and nutrition industry across North America.

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