Unfortunately, there is no formal definition of the word “natural colors” by food authorities, like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States or the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Europe.
To us, however, natural food colors are any colors that are created or extracted from edible sources like fruits, vegetables, seeds, and minerals for the purpose of coloring food or beverage applications. There are many different types of natural colors, but some of the most used colors are:
from sources like:
purple corn, purple carrots, purple sweet potatoes, radishes, and elderberries
charred vegetable matter like coconut husks
from sources like:
annatto, beta-carotene, and paprika
the cochineal insect
The Natural Food Colours Association (NATCOL) offers a similar explanation saying “natural food colours originate from a wide range of sources like vegetables, fruits, plants, minerals and other edible natural sources.” They have been used for many years and are considered safe for use in food and beverage applications.
Synthetic colors, on the other hand, include FD&C Red #40, Yellow #5, Blue #1, etc. (or Allura Red, Tartrazine, Brilliant Blue, etc.), and are created from non-edible sources, typically petroleum. While they are generally considered safe for food use, there have been studies linking them to hyperactive behavior in children and require special labelling in the EU.
Natural food colors are made by removing the pigments from the natural sources through selective physical and/or chemical extraction methods. This means that the resulting material contains primarily pigments from the natural color source and excludes any flavors or nutritive elements.
The resulting colors are concentrated and standardized so food and beverage manufacturers receive the same color each time they place an order and can expect consistent results. See how it’s done below!
Want to try a sample? Request one here.