Keeping Food Fresh: When Food and Beverage Companies Go Natural

ELN, Food and Beverage

food and beverage
Kraft recently announced their plans to remove synthetic coloring from their mac and cheese meals. Other food and beverage firms are sure to follow.
Image source: Flickr CC user Mike Mozart

When I walk into a grocery store these days, I’m bombarded with labels proclaiming “100% organic” or “all-natural ingredients.” I still remember when these products were relegated to a single aisle. Not so anymore! From produce to packaged drinks, you can find these identifying labels everywhere.

Food and beverage companies have worked hard to meet this growing consumer demand. While superfoods rise and fall in popularity, it’s safe to say the desire for all-natural foods can longer be considered a trend. Last month, Kraft Foods announced it was removing synthetic colors and preservatives from its signature macaroni and cheese meal. The decision came about as the company strives to keep up with shifting consumer preferences. Any college student will tell you: mac and cheese is convenient and cheap, but it’s hardly the poster child for all-natural, non-processed foods.

Synthetic coloring has long been a staple of many packaged snacks and meals. In particular, it’s used to achieve the bright, intense colors in many products marketed toward children. However, food dyes are not without their detractors. The European Union requires warning labels on products containing certain food color additives because they’re associated with increased hyperactivity and attention deficiency in children. No doubt Kraft’s move is, in part, influenced by similar studies. Prior to this decision, critics of the company pointed out that it uses food additives that are banned in countries outside the U.S.

While the decision seems inevitable in hindsight, it’s not without complications. There are natural alternatives to many synthetic color additives used by food and beverage firms, but they’re not direct substitutions with zero effect on the final product.

Here are a few things food and beverage R&D laboratories should take into consideration:

Color

Artificial food dyes usually result in bright, often-neon colors. Think of the sweet snacks we buy and give children — most of them fall along the technicolor rainbow.

There are alternatives to these synthetic food additives, though. Kraft plans to rely on natural sources like paprika, turmeric and annatto. Perhaps to achieve a deep red, R&D can use beets. The root vegetable is infamous for its ability to stain everything red, after all.

While the switch to natural coloring sources seems like it’d be easy, there are many factors to consider. Will the color intensity be similar? How much will be needed to achieve the color depth offered by synthetic dyes? R&D labs have a lot of variables to contend with, so it’s important to store the data in a system that allows for easy reference later. A digital tool like an electronic lab notebook makes data analysis and sorting simple.

Taste

The one advantage synthetic food coloring has over natural sources is that it generally doesn’t impact taste. Most natural food sources will. For example, paprika does add orange hues but it is primarily used as a spice. We can achieve a yellow color by using onions, but most children will not want onion flavor in their sweet desserts.

An electronic lab notebook can keep track of how natural color sources affect the taste. Chances are there’s a sweet spot in terms of how much natural ingredient to add versus its effect upon flavor. Firms will want to add enough to get the ideal color, but not so much that it inadvertently makes the food bitter. In many ways, it’s like cooking!

The flavors of natural color sources can be also used to enhance taste. The flavor profile may not be exactly the same as the original product, but that doesn’t mean change can’t be good.

Nutrition

Many of these natural color sources also have health benefits. Fruits like blueberries contain antioxidants and vitamins. Turmeric is known for its cancer-preventing properties. Spinach contains iron and calcium. Given the fact that public demand for organic foods stems from the perception of being healthier than processed ones, food and beverage companies would do well to highlight these benefits.

With an electronic lab notebook, R&D can use the indexing features to determine promising natural color sources. They can then use that information to see what nutritional benefits they can use to promote their products. After all, what pasta lover doesn’t like knowing the spaghetti they’re preparing for lunch also includes 3.5 servings of vegetables, thanks to the pureed spinach used to make it green?

Digital Tools May Be the Answer for Food and Beverage Companies

To stay competitive in today’s market, food and beverage firms will likely need to adapt to the increasing demand for all-natural products and ingredients. This means lessening the amount of artificial coloring and preservatives used. While it can seem daunting at first glance, there are many options available. By using digital tools like electronic notebooks, R&D may find it easier to efficiently determine viable and tasty solutions. Visit our website today to learn more about the BIOVIA Notebook and how it can aid your R&D efforts.

8 thoughts on “Keeping Food Fresh: When Food and Beverage Companies Go Natural

  1. I think electronic information recording and sharing has allowed us to do more complex tasks like using natural ingredients that impact more than one aspect of a product. Synthetic products like food coloring were really a way of breaking things into an individual part that wouldn’t impact anything else, and a good reason it was done that way is it was just easier. If you can more easily track more information and understand how different factors influence each other, it becomes much easier to use more complex ingredients that work together to influence multiple factors like color, taste and texture while improving the health benefits of food.

  2. Electronic notebooks definitely have a part to play in the mass production of processed foods. They can help make connections between ingredients and desired attributes that would take many years of manual research.

  3. I agree – I never thought about how many different attributes natural ingredients have, but now that I do, using them seems all but impossible without the use of technology like an ELN. Manually tracking and monitoring so many different factors with the change of a single ingredient and then doing it over and over again until you get every factor perfect would at the least be time consuming, but more likely prohibitively expensive. It seems like the more technology advances, the more organic and natural options are available. I’m sure ELNs deserve a much bigger thanks than they are getting for these improved choices.

  4. I’ve always preferred natural foods, but a lot of times it’s sad to say the processed foods just taste better and traditionally eating organic and natural means preparing your own meals, something that’s time consuming and not always possible with a busy schedule. It’s good to see that electronic record keeping is allowing for better tasting and easier to prepare options among the organic and natural selections.

  5. Electronic notebooks definitely boost efficiency. I can’t wait to see what new food products come on the market in the future.

  6. That’s true. Given the demand for healthier food with no artificial ingredients, I bet we’ll see more companies adopting this approach.

  7. It does seem like there’s a correlation between technological advances and more natural food options. Hopefully, this is a sign of even better things to come!

  8. I think diets that are heavy with processed foods actually change the way our tastebuds work. But maybe with more natural food options, we can change them back.

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