Natural colors come from a wide variety of plant and mineral sources, but there are several main types of natural colors that are most commonly used in foods and beverages.  

Anthocyanins

farmer showing cross section of amaize red purple corn

Anthocyanins are water soluble natural pigments responsible for the pink, red, purple, and blue colors of many flowers and edible fruits. The anthocyanin sources most commonly used for natural color production are purple corn, purple carrots, red radish, and elderberry. Other sources like cabbage and purple sweet potato can also be used.  

 Within each plant, these pigment compounds vary in concentration and exact chemical structure making them all slightly different when using them for color in a food or beverage. For example, purple sweet potato appears bright magenta pink in low pH applications, while others like purple corn appear bright red. They are all generally heat and light stable but anthocyanins from vegetable sources tend to be slightly more stable than those from fruit sources. 

Anthocyanins are unique compared to other natural colors because the molecule slightly shifts in structure based on the pH that it is in, causing it to change colors from pink/red in lower pH levels to purple/blue in neutral/high pH levels. Watch it in action!   

Betanins

red beet natural color colour source on wood background

Betanins are the watersoluble pigments that give red beets, or beetroot, their bright red color. They provide magenta pink to red shades in foods and beverages and are one of the most popular natural color sources. They are generally very light stable but will fade during heat processing. 

Carmine & cochineal

Cochineal and carmine are natural colors extracted from the cactus-dwelling female cochineal insect that is native to Latin America. Depending on the method of extraction, it can range in hue from orange to red to purple.  

It has excellent heat, light, and pH stability and works well in a wide range of food and beverage applications, making it popular as a Red #40 replacer when kosher certification is not a requirement.  

Carotenoids

Natural Color Source Annatto orange in hand. Colorante natural naranja de achiote en mano

Carotenoids are one of the most frequently used types of natural colors. They are the pigments responsible for giving plants their red, orange, and yellow shades. For food coloring purposes, they come from a wide range of natural color sources, including annatto, beta-carotene, and paprika. 

Within each plant, these pigmentvary in concentration and exact chemical structure making them all slightly different, but they are widely used in the food industry because they are generally stable to heat, light, and pH. They are most commonly used in dairy and savory applications. 

Chlorophyll

chlorophyll and chlorophyllin green natural color in hands. Colorantes Naturales verdes en manos

Chlorophyll is naturally found in the chloroplasts in green plants and its abundance in nature and vibrant green color make it ideal for use as a natural food color. When originally extracted it is in an oil soluble form called chlorophyll but can be converted into a watersoluble version called chlorophyllin. Since chlorophyll[in]s are not the most stable or vibrant options for food or beverage applications, they can be stabilized by ‘coppering’ – creating copper chlorophyll and copper chlorophyllin 

These are vibrant green options that have good stability to heat, light, and pH.    

Curcumin

Curcumin or Turmeric on wood background

Curcumin, also called turmeric, is a vibrant yellow pigment extracted from the root of the turmeric plant, which is in the ginger family. It has a long history of use as a spice and as a medicinal supplement.  

This color has excellent heat stability, making it perfect for bakery, soups, and extruded snacks, but it performs best when it has opaque packaging because it will fade when exposed to light.

Phycocyanins

blue spirulina extract natural color colour powder on wood background

Phycocyanins are one of the newest types of natural colors to be approved. They are the water-soluble pigments responsible for the blue color extracted from the algae Spirulina. It occurs naturally in freshwater and marine habitats and has a long history as a food supplement in many countries.  

The color is a vivid blue without any green or purple undertones. Despite its bright color, Spirulina has limited uses because it is susceptible to fading in heat and light and is only stable between pH 4-7. It is most successfully used in ice creams, confections, and dry-mix beverages. 

Want to learn more? Find out how to choose the best natural color for your application here. Or get started with a sample!

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