Formulations Software May Help Food Researchers Find Natural Colorant Solutions


Formulations software can help food and beverage formulators optimize product colors -- using only all-natural colorants. Image credit: Flickr user wuestenigel

Formulations software can help food and beverage formulators optimize product colors — using only all-natural colorants. Image credit: Flickr user wuestenigel

For food and beverage companies, optimizing the appearance of a product can be just as important as improving the flavor. Chemical research shows that color and flavor perception are integrally linked. In one study, wine drinkers detected different underlying flavors in a white wine than they did in the same white wine that had been dyed red with a flavorless dye.1  Food and beverage formulators must therefore be careful to ensure that the food colorings they choose evoke the appropriate perceptions in order to establish a loyal consumer base.

At the same time, due to the increasingly prevalent desire among consumers for products that only contain all-natural ingredients, many food and beverage companies are looking for alternatives that come from natural sources. A recent study indicates that it may be possible to significantly expand the range of available colors sourced from natural food coloring options. As these colors become available, companies should be using formulations software to incorporate them in ways that most effectively and efficiently improve the quality of their products.

Consumer Concerns About Artificial Food Dyes

Scientists conducting studies on alternative colorants point out the economic benefits of choosing natural food dyes over artificial food dyes. As customers today examine the ingredient lists on bottled beverages and packaged foods, they are more likely to shy away from products with artificial additives, including colorants.

One of the main reasons behind negative customer perceptions of artificial food colors is the growing body of evidence suggesting that they have negative effects on health. The most influential of these studies were conducted at Southampton University in the UK in 2004 and 2007. These studies tested the effects of artificial food colors on 8- and 9-year-olds who had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In a randomized control study, the researchers found that certain artificial food colors could exacerbate hyperactivity symptoms in children with ADHD after an elimination period, which raised public concerns about the safety of artificial food colors.2 The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not respond to the study with policy measures, but many Americans—especially those with children—became much more hesitant to purchase foods and beverages that contained artificial food colors.

Across the Atlantic, the effects of the Southampton studies were more significant. The UK government requested that manufacturers avoid using certain food colors, and in 2010 the European Union began to require that companies place a warning statement on products containing the following:3

  • Alurra Red (Red 40)
  • Ponceau 4R (E124)
  • Tartrazine (Yellow 5)
  • Sunset Yellow FCF/Orange Yellow S (Yellow 6 or E110)
  • Quinoline Yellow (E104)
  • Carmoisine (E102)

As a result, natural food colorants are particularly appealing for global CPG companies, since the EU warning statement can immediately turn customers away.

Formulating Food and Beverages with Natural Food Colorants

Over the last decade, food and beverage formulators have been experimenting with some of the options for replacing artificial food colors—especially those identified in the Southampton studies—in their products. Some options include fruit juice, vegetable juice and vividly colored spices like paprika and turmeric. However, it can be a major challenge for formulators to optimize color without affecting flavor.

To make matters even more difficult, food science studies show that combinations of natural coloring ingredients that work for products in one category—such as beverages, dairy or confectionary—do not produce the same colors in other categories. As food researchers test different ingredient combinations, modern formulations software can help to ensure that final products retain an ideal color, flavor and texture.

The Future of Natural Food Colorants

A new study suggests that finding natural colorants for food and beverage formulations could get even easier in the future. In a study of 398 genetically diverse types of pigmented maize, the researchers identified 167 that could produce anthocyanins that could potentially be used for food and beverage coloring applications. A subset of these also had a high level of heritability, which means they will be particularly interesting for plant breeders seeking to develop anthocyanin-rich maize hybrids that can be used to produce natural colorants for food and beverage products.4

As plant breeders start applying this research to their practice, more natural food colorants will become available for formulators in the food and beverage industry. Scientific software solutions can help formulators ensure the maintenance of food quality as they incorporate these new natural food coloring options into their products.

BIOVIA Formulations is an innovative software solution that can assist researchers who are coping with the challenge of optimizing the colors of food and beverage products. This software can improve lab productivity and help your company bring high-quality, all-natural products to market more quickly. Contact us today for more information about this software and our other offerings!

  1.  “What you see is what you taste, says scientist,” 2013,
  2. “Artificial food colors and attention-deficit/hyperactivity symptoms: Conclusions to dye for,” 2012,
  3. “When it comes to synthetic food colors: Beware the ‘Southampton Six,’” 2010,
  4.  “Survey of anthocyanin composition and concentration in diverse maize germplasms,” 2017,