Bakers Journal

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Flavours and colours for holiday baking

Inspired by food and festivities, bakers can adapt taste and colour pairings to make treats both ‘edgy’ and ‘sweet’

December 7, 2021  By Jennifer Zhou, ADM


Bright red icing with a cherry flavour may suggest “sweet” treats while a deeper, darker red that tastes like sour blackberry may imply a “edgy” indulgence. PHOTO; sandoclr / getty images

Colours and flavours can influence our perceptions of the world around us, from seasonal décor to food on our plates. Holidays and seasons can evoke specific moods and memories, including feelings of comfort, joy and excitement. For instance, our memories of Christmas, Hanukkah, Lunar New Year and other winter holidays are painted in vivid shades of red, green, gold, silver, white and blue. Our senses of taste and smell are primed to anticipate cozy delights like crusty breads, fruit pies, colourful cookies, decadent chocolates and crispy crackers. Inspired by these sensorial experiences of food and festivities, bakers can adapt taste and colour pairings to deliver treats both “edgy” and “sweet.”

Bold natural colours

Achieving memorable colour in food applications is not easy when steering away from synthetic colours. ADM Outside Voice research finds that more than 60 per cent of consumers say they actively avoid artificial colouring in foods and beverages, including bakery items and snacks. However, colours can be sourced from ingredients like fruits and vegetables, including carrots, beets, turmeric, and many other herbs, spices and botanicals. The food industry is hungry for a naturally sourced blue that is as vibrant as synthetic colours but delivers on a cleaner product label. ADM sources its patented blue shade from the juice of the Amazonian huito fruit. It’s the only acid-, light- and heat-stable, sourced-from-nature blue colour currently on the market, and it enables colourists to achieve various tones of green, blue, purple and brown.

By applying the same ingredient at different levels, colourists can create a spectrum of shades that may influence consumer perceptions. For example, bright red icing with a cherry flavour may suggest “sweet” treats while a deeper, darker red that tastes like sour blackberry may imply a “edgy” indulgence. Both shades can be achieved using a colouring like black carrot juice. Depending on the story the baker or brand wishes to tell, tints of natural colours can be specialized for holiday dough, icing and embellishments, Valentine-molded chocolates, frosted birthday cakes and more.

Unfortunately, replacing synthetic hues with shades derived from nature is often one of the last characteristics manufacturers consider when designing new recipes and products. These replacements are not simple, and many factors can affect the appearance of colourful baked goods, such as base colours; temperature and processing conditions; pH levels, light and packaging; chemical interactions with other ingredients and shelf life. Specifically, beet juice is used often for a bold red colour, but the vegetable’s natural sugars can brown when exposed to high heat. ADM’s Colors From Nature have been tested for bake stability, and its beet juice colouring has starches and sugars removed to improve stability as a product bakes.

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Luscious natural flavours

During colder months, bakers rely on rich spices of ginger, cinnamon and clove, buttery caramels, refreshing peppermint and energizing coffee for desirable flavour and colour profiles.

To replicate the nostalgic tastes of the holidays, flavour chemists and food technologists research how best to deliver those experiences through flavour and colour. Whether the flavour is delivered in dough or within an icing or topping, flavour experts design for stability and performance in the application as well as to exceed consumers’ taste expectations. Choosing the correct shade to preface and enhance flavour is not easy, but a seasoned team of product developers can pull it off in all types of baked goods with a delicate balance of science and art.

It’s often said that we eat with our eyes first, and taste is king. Bakery brands are engaging consumers by stimulating the senses with visual delights and delicious flavours. To ensure baked treats and snacks taste as good as they look, product developers can rely on an expert partner with the latest tools and technologies, formulation expertise and a full pantry of colour and flavour ingredients sourced from nature. 

Whether indulgences are positioned as “edgy” or “sweet,” bakers help consumers celebrate the season and enjoy delectable eating experiences at any time of year. / BJ


Jennifer Zhou is Senior Director of Product Marketing, North America, ADM.


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